I Am Not Okay With This is instantly relatable and era-shifting


By Maddy Raven, 2nd Year Theatre & Film

I Am Not Okay With This (2020-) is a clever distillation of the past few years of pop culture in a relatable and recognisable reflection of teenage angst with a superhero spin. However, is that enough to keep the show going?

The show rings of The End of the F**king World (2017-19), It (2017), Stranger Things (2016-) and Lady Bird (2017). It’s unclear exactly which time period it is set in, not dissimilar to Sex Education (2019-), but the creators of The End of the F**king World have pulled from all of these popular shows and films.

Lillis and Oleff play the central characters who battle romance, puberty, and superpowers in one | IMDb / Courtesy of Netflix

The music choice in particular is very, very good: this is what anchors a lot of the show to the eighties, which has become very popular in the past few years of television programming. Sophia Lillis stars as Sydney Novak, a ‘seventeen-year-old white girl’ who is struggling to control her mood swings which have worsened in the wake of her father’s death. Wyatt Oleff, Lillis' It costar, plays another Stanley: believably awkward, complete with montages showing him spraying himself with ridiculous amounts of Lynx.

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However, being just a clever amalgamation of the last few years of pop culture isn’t enough – creators of the show have woven in a complicated web of feelings between the teenagers of the show. Matters are complicated by Sydney’s growing abilities, which seem to be triggered by moments of great stress and anxiety, which she is not unfamiliar with as an angsty teenager with a dead parent. In fact, when she first starts to notice the strange things happening around her, such as causing someone’s nose to bleed, she dismisses it as 'just puberty'.

It’s not Stanley who Sydney has her romantic angst over – it’s her best friend, Dina. Because Sydney is balancing her growing sapphic feelings with superpowers, the show’s open attitude towards non-heterosexual content exists without too much fuss, as it should: both Sydney and the viewers have bigger things to worry about.  

Sofia Bryant plays Sydney's cool friend Dina - girlfriend of a jock, she is much of what Sydney is not | IMDb / Courtesy of Netflix

I Am Not Okay With This truly is pubescent – the anger, the truthful arguments with friends and family, the struggles with sexuality. The show doesn’t attempt to skew these arguments in Sydney’s favour.

She’s not a bad person, but her anger and pain are clear to see, and when she justifies herself to her diary, which she narrates the show to, we both believe and don’t believe her. We don’t cheer Sydney on as she blatantly lashes out at her mother, but we do see someone in pain, and the abilities she develops, almost as a response to all this emotion, become all the more realistic because of it.

The music choice anchors a lot of the show to the eighties, which has become very popular in the past few years

Some moments of the show are jarring: at first, it seems to be happily trundling in a Teen Wolf (2011-17) direction, where Sydney, best friend Dina, and Stanley, all become a crime-fighting gang of misfits - that is where I could see it going, given a particular sequence with some CCTV footage and a wrecked library - and then, it seems as if Sydney’s abilities are a larger metaphor for mental illness.

The '80s aesthetic pervades through the show, making the era difficult to pin-point | IMDb / 8FLiX

This is sobering, for about half an episode, until Sydney and her mother finally sit down and have The Talk about why her father is dead. And then, it’s back to normal programming: Sydney has to learn how to deal with her superpowers.

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It’s easy to see where I Am Not Okay With This came from, but it’s difficult to see where it’s going. Perhaps this is because it’s so new to us, that what we assume and demand from the show going in is not fulfilled because our imaginations are so limited. So, perhaps it’s time to expand our imaginations and enjoy the show.

Featured: IMDb / Courtesy of Netflix

Do you see a future for I Am Not Okay With This' superhero misfits coming-of-age crew?