Home Theatre: Not quite a superhero
A fortnightly column that focuses on notable content available on the streaming platforms around you, and this week, it's I Am Not Okay With This, streaming on Netflix
The title of the new Netflix Original series, I Am Not Okay With This, is what first got my attention. It seemed to speak to our zeitgeist. There are so many things to not be okay with in today's world. But the things that Sydney Novak, the protagonist of this show — based on the comic book of the same name by Charles Forsman — grapples with are not on quite such a grand scale. Her concerns are of a much more personal nature. She's a 17-year-old high school student living in a small town, Pennsylvania, struggling to come to terms with her sexuality and unrequited feelings for her best friend, while also dealing with lingering grief over her father's suicide a year ago. Oh, and she is starting to realise that she has superpowers.
In a way, Sydney is the antithesis of the heroine of Ghost Bride, the series I wrote about in the previous edition of this column. I called Li Lan a very human girl caught in a supernatural web of circumstances. Sydney, on the other hand, can move things with her mind, kill unsuspecting pets, cause nosebleeds, and more, but her primary concerns are very much human. Her first-ever best friend, Dina, has just started dating the school's most popular jock. She begins a half-hearted relationship with her neighbour, Stan, only to find it's really Dina she cares for and is attracted to.
Sydney's home situation is no better. Her father hung himself in their basement without even leaving a note and her mother, who works long hours at the local diner to make ends meet, is hardly around. Her little brother, Liam, is the one ray of light, but she is left to take care of him so much she lashes out that she might as well be his mother.
Add to all this, her lack of control and understanding over her superpowers, which flare up whenever she is angry, scared or embarrassed, and it's no wonder she is snarky and mean most of the time. Despite her circumstances, Sydney would be a hard character to like given how sarcasm-laden even her diary entries are, if it weren't for Sophia Lillis' portrayal of her. Lillis shoulders the entire show with her absorbing performance. And this includes her "Dear Diary" voiceover narration through the whole of it. Voiceovers can quickly get tedious, so full credit to Lillis for selling it here. It also helps that the writing uses the device to add humour via contrast. Sample this — Sydney calls her brother's hedgehog a fun pet, voiceover Sydney immediately adds: "That hedgehog didn't do s**t."
Another device used to add contrast and accentuate scenes is the show's soundtrack. It is filled with retro rock music ranging from The Kinks to The Pixies and Echo and the Bunnymen. The sound somehow fits the tone of the show and the sleepy, small town setting. But it is the juxtaposition of the lyrics with what's happening on screen and/or the narration that's the real winner. Take, for instance, the way the show opens. Sydney describes herself as a boring 17-year-old white girl, who is not special. The soundtrack, meanwhile, proclaims "I'm not like everybody else!" Later in the show, Sydney feels like she is being followed but wonders if she's just imagining things. "What if I'm just going crazy?" she asks and the soundtrack replies, "No, of course, you haven't."
The best use of a song, though, comes at the very end. Sydney, who has been struggling in vain to control her power all through the series, has just exhibited the most violent example of it and is walking away shell-shocked. The soundtrack to this scene is Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen, which features these famous lines: "Fate up against your will. Through the thick and thin. He will wait until you give yourself to him." She can try to fight it all she wants, but fate is patient and will win in the end. Or so it seems so far, anyway.
My only real complaint about the show is how short it is. The entire first season is only 7 episodes long, each averaging around 20 minutes. So the whole thing is essentially as long as a movie, which is great for binge-watching, but not so much for story-telling. It feels like we have just gotten to the good part when it ends, leaving us in suspense till the next season comes around. I suppose we, like fate, must be patient too.