Such is the state of existence for Sydney Novak, the main character in Netflix’s newest production, I Am Not Okay With This. On the outside, Sydney is dealing with the typical high school angst-ridden existence. Trouble with friends, awkward around boys, fighting with her mom, looking out for her little brother, just generally feeling the weight of the world in a way only a 17-year-old can truly appreciate.
As if this weren’t enough, there’s this other little issue, something that keeps cropping up at unexpected times and in unfortunate places. No it’s not feminine issues, but rather Sydney’s nagging feeling that she might have, well, superpowers. It’s starting to seem that when the world becomes a little too much around her, the little (and sometimes big) things in her proximity start moving or breaking (or much more).
From the opening moments of the first episode when we see a blood-soaked Sydney wandering shellshocked down her small-town streets you might instantly call back to the movie Carrie since it ended similarly to the way I Am Not Okay With This begins. You wouldn’t be wrong, there’s significant overlap between the two stories.
But where the 1976 horror classic dealt with a much darker ethos, I Am Not Okay With This takes a decidedly different bent. The Netflix show ranges much more comedic as it follows Sydney’s constant struggle to figure out what the hell is actually going on inside of her while navigating the existential disaster that is high school.
Sydney’s “powers” are of the moving-things-with-your-mind category. Throughout the show’s seven episodes of I Am Not Okay With This we are slowly introduced to what exactly is going on with her. We learn alongside her, trying to figure out just how superhero-y her powers really are, what she can and can’t control, where they come from and what in the hell to actually do about them. It’s an excellent ride.
Based on the comic book series of the same name by Charles Forman, you might even recognize some of the angst, tone and style from another Netflix darkly-themed teenage show The End of the F***ing World which Forman also created. Both that and I Am Not Okay With This deal with tough themes while also keeping the style tongue-in-cheek and even laugh out loud funny at times.
I Am Not Okay With This is one part superhero origin story and one part 80’s high school flick with a little Stranger Things thrown in there and plenty of good music. Much of the show’s dialogue plays out inside Sydney’s head, either in the form of her aforementioned diary writing or through peeks into her inner voice when shit is hitting the fan.
I Am Not Okay With This is a uniquely-paced show that spans just seven episodes with each one running well less than 30 minutes. It plays out much more like a film than your standard television fare. You can and should knock a binge-watch out in a short afternoon. Once you start you won’t be able to stop and that’s exactly how you’ll roll through the show.
Because of I Am Not Okay With This’s insular structure, the show is carried by the fantastic lead performance of Sophia Lillis who plays Sydney. Her awkward approach to multiple aspects of her life (love, friendship, telekinesis) is perfectly believable and almost understated. Making a role like this so realistic is incredibly difficult but Lillis makes it look rather easy. You will believe she’s actually dealing with all of this crap.
Sydney’s lack of self-esteem in the face of a tough high school life leads the character to more often begrudge her newfound abilities rather than embrace them. Treating the ability to move things with her mind more like an incredibly embarrassing zit is a refreshing way to approach a genre where it seems like almost everything has been done before.
Sydney is flanked by Wyatt Oleff who plays Stanley Barber, Sydney’s, well, I’ll describe it as “friend” but that doesn’t do it justice. He’s perfect in the role as a lovable loner with some demons of his own, but an authentically goofy approach to life that steals most scenes he’s in.
Showrunner and creator Jonathan Entwistle also worked as executive producer on The End of the F***ing World whose story apparently happens on the same timeline and in the same world as this show. Entwistle directed all seven episodes in this show’s run which helps maintain consistency in story and pacing.
If you can’t tell already, I Am Not Okay With This is excellent television. It’s a perfect cross-section of coming-of-age teen drama and dark superhero comedy. The show stays in its lane while still nodding to bigger secrets and issues in the world they are building.
But we rarely need worry much about these macro problems, because high school is tough enough. When the weight of the world is crushing you through hormones, family problems, sex, drugs, booze, AP Bio and detention then the ability to move stuff with your mind takes a backseat. And that’s the beauty of I Am Not Okay With This. It’s perfectly paced and spends as much time on “real” problems like teenage love as it does on how a hero begins on her path. And man, what a path this one might be for Sydney. She just has to get through senior year first.