The Gloriously Messy Adolescence of I Am Not Okay With This

by thethreepennyguignol

I’ve written about a lot of coming-of-age stories on this blog. Harry Potter, Carrie, a Series of Unfortunate Events, Glee, Riverdale, Sugar Rush, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Skins, you name it – if it’s about adolescence, I’ve thrown myself at it with a cheerful abandon and an attempt to obliterate the memory of my own spectacularly awkward adolescence in the process.

Cut to the drop of new Netflix series, I Am Not Okay With This – a coming-of-age dramedy with a gay, supernatural, and gay supernatural twist – and I was there in the proverbial front row with popcorn and my own clammily queer teenage years to boot. Starring Sophia Lillis and Wyatt Olef of IT, one of the best tales of spooky adolescence I’ve ever seen, and with an episode run that didn’t stink of the dreaded Netflix bloat, I’m in. Spoilers ahead!

And, of all the coming-of-age stories I’ve seen in the last few years…ugh, guys, this one is just so outrageously perfect I can hardly stand it. I wrote a few weeks ago about the aspirational bullshit of so many teenage shows, and their complete inability to embrace the inherent grossness and discomfort of being stuck in this body in this world that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do with you. But I Am Not Okay, despite the awesome soundtrack and killer outfits, is totally, joyously teenage – gross, spotty, pimply, emotional, awkward, uncontained, it’s a rapid-fire, chaotic nightmare of hormones and bad hair.

But there’s more to it than just the hectic horrors of adolescence. The story is set shortly after the suicide of Syd’s (Sophia Lillis) father, as her family grapple with the complex feelings that surround a suicide – the guilt, the anger, the resentment, and the practical day-to-day struggle of maintaining a family with a missing member. Beyond that, Syd is also figuring out her sexuality – honestly, this has got to be one of my favourite looks at teenage un-straightness I’ve seen in a long time, because it presents her experimentation and exploration without judgement. She’s got feelings for her best female friend, sure, but having sex with a guy is something that has to happen for her to figure that out. The show isn’t working towards the application of a label, but rather that careering, terrifying, slightly exhilarating sense of figuring out that something you thought was a given about yourself never has been.

And, of course, in the middle of all of this, there’s those superpowers to think about. The development of supernatural powers as a metaphor for adolescence (especially amongst women, because, you know, female puberty is essentially just us growing into our witchy, spooky potential and should be greatly feared). But this, for me, is an exploration of that notion that skips out on a lot of the unfortunate pitfalls that so many writers plunge into in telling these stories. The powers are uncontrolled, violent, confusing, disturbing, a reflection of the unbearable emotion that Syd is dealing with for most of the series’ run. This isn’t about a young girl embracing sexual power, having gory periods and boobily titting herself into her gifts, Stephen King’s Carrie, but rather the powers acting as an incidental reflection of the shifts that are happening around and inside her.

I Am Not Okay With This is already one of my favourite shows of the year – for all the darkness, and it’s certainly there, it is a show that joyously embraces the utter mess of being a teenager, running the full gamut of emotion and experience without trying to smooth out the edges that so many coming-of-age stories do. And for that, I’m already counting down the days till season two. And stalking Stan’s outfit hauls, because those are the looks I want to be serving.

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(header image via Radio Times)