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Courtesy of Netflix

April 6, 2020

‘I Am Not Okay With This’ Fails to Meet its Potential

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Upon seeing a teaser for I Am Not Okay With This (2020), I was excited; not only did the description of the show seem entertaining, it was also directed by Jonathan Entwistle who had directed the first of the two seasons of The End of the F***ing World (2017), one of my all time favorite shows. For those that haven’t watched TEOTFW, I highly recommend it; the story follows a pair of deeply flawed and dysfunctional teens, James and Alyssa, as they experience one tragedy after another on their journey across England. What made TEOTFW brilliant was the story’s fantastic yet believable storyline, as every choice made by the characters seemed like plausible decisions desperate 17-year-olds would make. The gritty and dark style was something I really looked forward to in IANOWT, especially after seeing a short clip of the protagonist Syd Novak running down a dim, empty road covered in blood. The twist that I was particularly excited about was that instead of everything being based in a realistic world, Syd had supernatural powers that were deeply tied to her emotions, and I expected to enjoy watching her grow in both power and emotional intelligence.

Instead, I was deeply disappointed with Syd’s development. What I had hoped to be another heartfelt story about a child’s unexpected path to maturity turned out to be a bland, rather directionless show of sappy, overly dramatic teenage angst.

There were many parts that I really liked, of course; Syd, who was resentful of her mother and her own living situation after her father mysterious suicide, learned to eventually respect her mother’s efforts in keeping the family together. Her struggle with her sexuality was also engaging. The first person narration by the protagonist that made TEOTFW so fun and immersive was also present in IANOWT, and made me empathize a lot more with Syd. But the good parts of the show end there. What made TEOTFW unique and engaging was upsettingly absent in Syd’s story, with the entire plot following a cliche and boring storyline of the average teen drama and a predictable love triangle filling up a lot of the screen time. Giving Syd supernatural powers didn’t make the show any more enjoyable either; instead, it seemed out of place, serving no purpose when she fails to control or overcome it by the end.

The “surprise” in the season finale was arguably the worst part of the entire show; after a seemingly perfect day, Syd is eventually confronted about her powers, leading to her to accidentally murder the whistleblower and run away. She is then met by a mysterious figure made of smoke and wind, who ominously states that “they [others] should be afraid” and “let’s begin.” What began as an average teenage drama was morphed into a crappy super villain backstory in the span of a single episode. And with that, Netflix leaves the viewer on that cliff hanger. If the show gets renewed, you can expect Syd to be back with a slightly annoying evil laugh, a desire for revenge and a gaudy and poorly designed costume.

It was in the end credits that I discovered that the entire show, like TEOTFW, was based on a graphic novel by Charles Forsman — this led me to wonder: Is the story of the graphic novel poorly written, or was IANOWT simply poorly adapted?

Thankfully, I found myself thoroughly enjoying Forsman’s version; the plot was much darker, touching upon issues such as domestic abuse and teen pregnancy, giving a much grittier feel to the general story. The style of the drawings, though more simplistic, made reading it even more entertaining, as it allowed for one’s own imagination to picture everything else. The ending in particular provided significantly more closure and satisfaction as well; although she still accidentally kills someone, the act is instead one of control and not the lack of it. The emotional conflict regarding her father’s suicide is less prominent as well, as she is hinted to have assisted in his death. She ultimately decides to end her own life in order to lighten the burden for her family, a reflection of her father’s decision earlier on, leaving the reader with a feeling of melancholy and somber contentedness.

So what went wrong? Plot changes aside, Forsman’s medium arguably was better suited to convey the thoughts of a teenager; the fun art style embodied Syd much more, whereas there wasn’t anything quite as distinct in the show or the cinematography besides some edgy teen cussing. Perhaps not all good stories are suited for TV adaptations, but in the case of IANOWT, the lack of creativity in the new plot doomed it from the very beginning.

 

Brian Lu is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He currently serves as Assistant Arts Editor on The Sun’s board. He can be reached at blu@cornellsun.com.