It would not be unfair to say that Netflix miniseries “I Am Not Okay With This” (2020–) is a cultural ley line, the convergence of two different ideas at once that leads to a product drawn heavily from its component parts, but often in conflicting ways.
Released on Feb. 26 with directing and producing talent from other Netflix hits like “The End of the F***ing World” (2017–19) and “Stranger Things” (2016–), “I Am Not Okay With This” is a coming-of-age tale with a supernatural bend that pits protagonist Syd (Sophia Lillis) in a struggle against a gallery of threats, from high school jocks to zits on her thighs to a slowly rising supernatural force that grows inside her by the day. If that last sentence felt as though its priority wasn’t in order, then the tone of the show has been fairly articulated.
“I Am Not Okay With This” is, at its core, a show about relationships, and the strongest elements of the show are drawn directly from them. Syd wrestles with her romantic feelings toward high school friends, balances the caretaking of her precocious brother and all while attempting to maintain an increasingly strained relationship with her overworked mother after her father’s suicide.
The show presents exposition from Syd’s counselor-mandated diary, which conveys both her words and thoughts by highlighting the dichotomy between what she thinks and what she says. So often narration of this sort can feel hackneyed, but Lilli’s delivers Syd’s lines with a perfect blend of vulnerability and gradually acquired self-confidence. Other characters are, for the most part, exceptional; the highlights being Syd’s best friend Dina (Sofia Bryant), her brother Liam (Aidan Wojtak-Hissong) and her mother Maggie (Kathleen Rose Perkins), while other characters like her friend Stan (Wyatt Oleff) can fall victim to cliché and overwritten dialogue.
Direction by Jonathan Entwistle is another strength of the series, particularly his use of color. The dilapidated Pennsylvania hamlet is shot in 70s-era pastel colors, instilling a feeling of warm anachronism. The bold colors covering the aging buildings and barren streets provide an exceptional visual metaphor for Syd’s masking of her internal turmoil.
The storyline around Syd’s mysterious abilities is where the series loses its footing, though. Ideally, the two plots would work together to move the story forward to a logical conclusion, yet the supernatural elements don’t feel meaningful enough to justify their inclusion until at least the fourth of seven episodes. The audience is given clues as to the origins of the abilities, but the hints feel more like a handwave than a meaningful explanation. The relationships at play are so intriguing that it’s far more interesting to watch Syd argue with her mother than it is to watch her practice throwing bowling balls with her mind.
“I Am Not Okay With This” often feels at odds with itself — on the one hand, it has created a show with realistic and heartfelt relationship drama that will keep any viewer engaged — on the other, its pseudo-superhero story feels underdeveloped and might have benefited from a more central focus.