Adapted by Jonathan Entwistle and Christy Hall from Charles Forsman’s 2017 graphic novel of the same name, I Am Not Okay With This follows Sydney Novak, an alienated, self-described “boring 17-year-old white girl” as she struggles through her awkward teenage years. She’s coping with the loss of her father, a best friend who’s dating a terrible jock, a love-struck stoner neighbour she can’t seem to reject romantically and psychic powers that emerge with destructive force when she’s angry.
Creators: Charles Forsman (comic), Jonathan Entwistle, Christy Hall (series)
Cast: Sophia Lillis, Sofia Bryant, Wyat Oleff
Seasons: 1 (2020)
Streaming on: Netflix
A super-power story with a difference
I Am Not Okay With This employs tropes commonly found in fantasy and horror. The opening scene in which Sydney (Sophia Lillis) is covered in blood and the idea of adolescent psychic powers are obvious hat tips to Stephen King’s novel Carrie. Even in Spider-Man, young Peter Parker struggles to balance his personal problems with his growing responsibility as a superhero. What distinguishes the show from its horror and fantasy peers is that it’s a great coming-of-age story. The series shines when it gets into Sydney’s relationships with the supporting characters, especially her best friend Dina (Sofia Bryant) and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), who starred alongside Lillis in the adaptation of Stephen King’s It. She has a complex character arc: a young woman who doesn’t exactly conform to the typical definition of femininity, who struggles with her sexuality, copes with grief, poverty and super powers. She hooks up with Stanley, but she’s not sure if she likes him. She’s not even sure if she likes boys. She has a strong attachment to her best friend Dina who is dating a stereotypical jock. All this narrative tension is bolstered by charming performances from Lillis and Oleff. Watching her learn to overcome her hang-ups and as she puts it, be less of a d**k, is compelling.
Another love letter to the ’80s
I Am Not Okay With This is just as besotted with the 1980s as Stranger Things. This is unsurprising as the show comes to us from Stranger Things executive producers Dan Cohen and Shawn Levy. Given that both series are dripping with ’80s nostalgia and feature female characters who can destroy things with their minds, the comparisons to the popular show were inevitable. But the irreverent I Am Not Okay With This has enough differences to stand on its own. While the series is set in the present, it seems to take place in its own time bubble. The characters mention cellphones, but not a single one is seen on screen. They listen to vinyl and dance to ’80s anthems like ‘Jessie’s Girl’. The whole series aesthetic, from the clothing to the cars screams late ’80s to early ’90s. However there’s a charm to the anachronistic setting.
A touching coming-of-age story with solid performances and a super power twist. The show is short enough to devour in a single evening.