Have you ever watched a television show or movie feeling as if you really should love it more than you are but there’s something not quite clicking into place?
I Am Not Okay with This is that type of show. The elements are all in place; it’s got a great cast headed by Sophia Lillis, all seven episodes are directed by Jonathan Entwistle who worked on End of the F***ing World and even has a similarly weird, quirky cine-literate atmosphere to that series, and has a storyline ripe for something wonderful.
Yet, it doesn’t work.
You sit there watching it wondering why the show doesn’t quite come together. The obvious thing to say is that Sophia Lillis is wonderful in all seven episodes. If there’s one thing that literally carries the series it’s that her work here is superb and very engaging, and any cracks in the scripting here are filled in brilliantly by the nuances that Lillis brings to the main character of Sydney.
Same goes for IT co-star Wyatt Oleff. Yes, the series does function as something of an IT reunion with Oleff playing a considerably different type of character to Stanley, bringing a more extroverted edge to his role as Stanley here (yes, he is once again playing a character also called Stanley).
The series has that lovely visual sense that Entwistle also brought to End of the F***ing World and is set in a world that is very decade neutral. There are no cell phones in use, VHS is proclaimed to be the best format there is, and everyone seemingly listens to vinyl, yet an LCD television is glimpsed, as are USB sticks, and let’s be honest, everyone has returned to listening to vinyl today, anyway.
The world is crafted beautifully and is visually gorgeous, and yet there is something slightly hollow in some of the approach to everything here.
Stranger Things has been one of the biggest examples of a work of pop culture that has taken the 80s and helped make it into a cultural thing again (although sometimes it feels like our love of that decade has never fully vanquished), but it’s also led to an influx of series that want to take place in the present day but in one saturated with love for that decade, and while some shows and movies that utilised that to great effect, it almost feels as if the decision here to do so has been done because ‘hey, the 80s are cool with the kids, right?’.
The series is based on a graphic novel by Charles Foresman and it’s possible that element was baked into the concept of the source material, but it still rings as hollow on screen.
The idea of taking a superhero origin tale of sorts and turning it into a quirky, indie flavoured style story is neat and wonderful. The series has visual references to Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Carrie, a ‘Dear Diary’ voiceover that reminds one of Winona Ryder’s in Heathers, as well as an episode that pays tribute to The Breakfast Club, all the while exploring in somewhat darker detail what it means to be a teenager grappling with having supernatural powers.
Just writing that above paragraph makes one wish that this was a substantially better show; it’s like preparing the world’s greatest meal with the greatest ingredients but then realising that the oven isn’t up to par and the final product hasn’t come out as well as it should.
The superhero genre is so ripe for doing something different with, and while the majority of the genre has been given over to crashing skyscrapers and stories with large scale stakes, to take the notion of a teen character finding out she has powers and exploring it in a television series that has the ability to mix and match genres (there are elements of horror here, but also quirky comedy and coming of age drama) should be a hell of a lot better than this.
Even the central idea of filtering these ideas and themes through a female character marks it out as somewhat different and which makes one wish it was better. We’ve followed male teens such as Peter Parker through so many reboots of Spider-Man on the big screen being happy and okay with an abundance of ‘great responsibility’ and yet the core of I Am Not Okay with This is a character who is dealing with a genuine sense of teen angst that is never portrayed in a glossy way. It never gives way to trite, silly fantasies about saving the world, and instead builds up one hell of a head explosion that is nauseatingly hilarious.
It’s not terrible, but it cannot help but be a massive disappointment either, and yet all seven episodes are carried wonderfully by Lillis who is the genuine star of the show. Any shortcomings of the writing here are offset by great work from its star, and the one thing that the audience will come away with is thinking how great she is. Engaging and deeply sympathetic, her work here is an example of an actress literally carrying a show.
The series ends its seventh and final episode with a cliffhanger that everyone involved clearly think they’ll get to return to. Since this aired two months ago and nothing has been announced regarding a second season, that is looking very unlikely. The series feels as if it’s going somewhere come the final episode, but then it ends just at the point when a key piece of information is about to be revealed and which the season seemed to be building to, and it’s that point you realise I Am Not Okay with This hasn’t really went anywhere and it just leaves it a viewing experience more emptier than ever.