Our protagonist’s narration in I Am Not Okay With This begins with the war cry of thousands of young girls coming into their awkward adolescence before her — “dear diary” — and while she proceeds to rattle off sardonic monologues of crushes and pep rallies, the audience is faced with something in sharp contrast to the usual coming-of-age story.
Sydney Novak (Sophia Lillis) runs down the dark street with fear in her eyes and blood splattered all over her. We don’t know how she got there just yet, but we do know that family problems and losing her virginity are the least of her concerns.
I Am Not Okay With This is a fresh take on the traditional coming-of-age story with a supernatural twist. Syd’s teenage hormones are portrayed through the sudden onset of telekinetic powers that shatter and destroy the world around her whenever she becomes overwhelmed by emotion. Her story is rather charming and elevated by Lillis’ performance, but the show itself is subdued.
The show’s real draws are Lillis and Wyatt Oleff as Stanley Barber, Syd’s weirdo neighbour who thinks he’s doing a decent job masking a crush on her that overwhelms them both. Stanley is sweetly eccentric, every move he makes reeking of an uncomfortable attempt at feigning confidence but adorably so. He’s light and airy to Sydney’s firmly grounded stiff straight man.
The pair, both in character and actor (they’re both former members of the Losers Club, speaking to their chemistry), fit together beautifully. A lot of the series’ most memorable moments happen as a result of their interactions; for instance, the gross-out battle that ensues when they take turns stripping down (in the most innocent of ways) to show off their relentless teenage acne, a moment that quickly turns into a heated make out session. She later sets the scene for her best friend Dina (Sofia Bryant), her little brother overhears and inquires about it later, prompting Sydney to awkwardly fill in some blanks on her feet: no, Stan was only “going down” to Mexico and he’s “really good at it” because he’s great at packing for his travels. It’s teenage awkwardness in its purest form.
Sydney’s strained relationship with an unloving mother also provides some brilliant — though painful — moments. Already dealing with the loss of her father and often prompted to take care of her brother, the stress of Syd’s home life is collapsing in on her the same as the trees surrounding her do when she receives a burst of anger and magic in the same moment. It’s depressingly true to life, especially when taking into account the fantastic acting, the detectable disdain that drips from every word they say to each other, but it’s all handled with care.
However, these moments get lost in the rest of the show, which is slow-moving. A slow burn is seldom a problem but episodes of this show are contained to roughly 20 minutes each and do little with that time. We see a glimpse of Sydney’s powers strengthening every episode, as we spend most of these episodes building on her relationships with those around her. This would be more fruitful if the rest of Syd’s life was as interesting as her supernatural powers.
When we see her take on her high school party or shyly admit to her best friend that she had sex for the first time, the dialogue is too bland and reveals too little about the characters for the scenes to leave any impact or even be read as anything more than a hallmark of a typical coming-of-age story. This is not a typical coming-of-age story, however; this is Sydney’s story, yet not enough of her heart is poured into it. As a result, moments like these feel rather lacklustre, especially when there are clear standout scenes like those with Stan that prove the rest of the show could’ve had more finesse to it.
As the episodes go by, more unintentional destruction befalls Sydney both in her personal life and through the newfound powers she cannot control. The parallel between the two is a beautiful premise, a take on Carrie that speaks to the modern teenager, but falls flat more than it stands strong. The slivers of promise shine bright, though; if it’s to get a second season, this one can operate as a decent foundation to build something much better off of.