We’ve seen I Am Not Okay With This before, but that’s the point

I Am Not Okay With This netflix daybreak end fucking world sophia lillis wyatt oleff it stephen king carrie jonathan entwhistle charles forsman charlie covell

Cynically, it isn’t hard to guess why I Am Not Okay With This was commissioned: a Netflix executive demanded a version of The End of the F***ing World they wouldn’t have to share with Channel 4.

Even before one considers the actual content of the show – though in a moment we will – I Am Not Okay With This invites comparison to its transatlantic predecessor. Most obviously, both are based on graphic novels by Charles Forsman, but they’re also both being adapted by the same people, too: Jonathan Entwhistle, credited as the creator of I Am Not Okay With This, directed most of The End of the F***ing World’s first series, and served as producer on the second. It’s no surprise, then, that one coming-of-age show narrated by its teenage leads, with a timeless-by-way-of-the-80s aesthetic and an indie music soundtrack, all told in twenty-ish minute episodes, felt like another coming-of-age show narrated by its teenage leads, with a timeless-by-way-of-the-80s aesthetic and an indie music soundtrack, all told in twenty-ish minute episodes. I Am Not Okay With This comes as close to feeling like The End of the F***ing World as it plausibly could without hiring Jessica Barden, Alex Lawther and Charlie Covell.

Of course, I Am Not Okay With This isn’t just imitating The End of the F***ing World, and wears its other influences on its sleeves too. Most obviously, it’s been shaped by Stephen King – not just in borrowing some iconic imagery from Carrie, but also taking its two leads from It (2017) – and shares a producer with Stranger Things, one of Netflix’s few remaining megahits (which itself was, of course, influenced by King’s work, antecedents folding in on one another). It’s this that offers an insight into I Am Not Okay With This’ most significant departure from The End of the F***ing WorldI Am Not Okay With This is the latest in a long line of genre shows to use the supernatural as an extended metaphor for their teenage protagonists’ (and audience’s) real-life concerns. In this case, it’s a framework to approach mental health issues: lead character Syd, in the months following her father’s suicide, develops telekinetic powers while struggling with angry outbursts and volatile mood swings of her own. I Am Not Okay With This is hardly subtle in its metaphor, but in fairness, it doesn’t exactly need to be.

It feels – obviously – familiar. There’s a shape to it, to its content and form, recognisable from each of these antecedents and more: alongside The End of the F***ing World, Carrie and Stranger Things¸ Netflix’s latest offering shares certain similarities with Sex Education and Riverdale, as well as arguably Buffy the Vampire Slayer and one episode late in the run models itself on The Breakfast Club. There’s a sense that everything here you’ve seen before, in some constituent part or another, somewhere else on television.

Is that familiarity a bad thing though?

i am not okay with this netflix sophia lillis wyatt oleff jonathan entwhistle dan levy stranger things breakfast club detention

Not necessarily.

First and foremost, it’s worth noting that – by plenty of different metrics, some more meaningful than others – I Am Not Okay With This is quite a good television programme. In a sense, that’s not a surprise; we’ve already illustrated how the show has been built, piece by piece, from other successful forebears, so it follows that I Am Not Okay With This might have some success of its own. There’s a very finely tuned formula in place here, and, in fairness, it’s a formula that’s been executed well: if you liked The End of the F***ing World, there’s a pretty high chance you’ll like this. The timeless aesthetic is well-executed, the indie soundtrack well-deployed, and in an era of increasingly over-long television, there’s always something to appreciate about twenty-minute episodes. I Am Not Okay With This is a confident, self-assured piece of television: the people who made it know what they’re doing (not least because they’ve done it before), and it shows.

If there’s anything unique to I Am Not Okay With This that’s worth celebrating, it is its two leads: Sophia Lillis as Sydney Novak, and Wyatt Oleff as Stanley Barber. They’re both playing well-worn archetypes – if you’d heard of I Am Not Okay With This before its Netflix release, there’s a reasonably high chance you knew it from a semi-viral tweet that mocked the trailer’s opening line, “I’m just a boring seventeen year old white girl” – but do so with aplomb. The pair are genuinely charming in their roles, sharing an easy chemistry no doubt in part borne of their experience of working together previously; again, I Am Not Okay With This benefits from its finely-honed sense of where to steal from. Lillis, however, is especially deserving of praise, anchoring the series as she does; her “boring seventeen-year-old white girl” could quite easily have been just that, and at times almost is. Only Lillis’ quiet charisma and awkward affect save the series from itself: much as the “superpowers as mental illness” metaphor could’ve been trite, Lillis’ performance affords that framework a depth it might have otherwise lacked. Between I Am Not Okay With This and her smaller role in (the admittedly superior) Sharp Objects, Lillis is fast developing a talent for playing characters struggling with mental health issues.

Otherwise, though, how much you enjoy I Am Not Okay With This will depend on how much patience you have for that sense of familiarity. Some will call it derivative, and they’d be right to, because it unashamedly is. Indeed, where I Am Not Okay With This falters is when it commits too strongly to its most recognisable elements, without even a hint of self-awareness – that its quirky teens aren’t just into vinyl and cassettes but also VHS tapes would feel like a parody if it weren’t played entirely straight. (The only bad performance – indeed, really the only actively bad part of the series at all – comes from Sophia Tatum, who’s so excessive and overwrought as archetypical bad-girl Jenny Tuffield that she feels like a parody because she plays the character entirely straight.) Occasionally, there’s space for something a little new – the obligatory “I was only saying those hurtful things to activate your powers” scene, a staple of the genre, impacts the characters’ long-term relationship rather than being shrugged off – but for the most part, I Am Not Okay With This has very little interest in subverting or interrogating the archetypes it’s built from.

daybreak netflix season 2 matthew broderick brad peyton aron eli coleite colin ford alyvia alyn lind sophie simnett austin crute krysta rodriguez

More than anything else, though, I Am Not Okay With This put me in mind of another Netflix Original: Daybreak.

Stylistically, I Am Not Okay With This shares considerably less with Daybreak than it does other programmes, and suggesting the latter was an influence on the former would surely be a stretch. Still, there are certain similarities between them, and there’s a sense that they run parallel to one another: both are adapted from popular graphic novels, focusing on teenagers in a supernatural milieu (in this case, it’s post-zombie apocalypse) with a broadly similar soundtrack, use of voiceover narration, and an obvious debt to the 1980s. Beyond the material links one might draw, though, is the fact that Daybreak feels familiar too – the latest in a long line of stories with essentially the same premise.

It should be stressed that Daybreak was not always a particularly good television programme. It was often frustrating, consistently inconsistent, and had a litany of easily highlighted flaws. In fact, it’d be hard to argue with someone who preferred I Am Not Okay With This, which is – by plenty of different metrics, some more meaningful than others – probably actually the better programme.

Crucially, though, what set Daybreak apart from I Am Not Okay With This was a far greater level of self-awareness, a willingness to break from and subvert its formula, and the conviction to take a risk. One episode is structured as a Samurai movie homage, while the next is an ostentatiously experimental dream sequence that climaxes with a performance by an all-female Latina Morrissey cover band; the next episode is wildly scaled back in contrast, with only two cast members and set in one location, while the finale has no dialogue for the first twenty minutes. By contrast, the closest I Am Not Okay With This comes to anything remotely similar is altering the title card to I Am Not Okay With This at the top of one episode. For all that I Am Not Okay With This might have been the more polished series, Daybreak’s rough edges, part and parcel with its creativity and flourish, made it an altogether more memorable and compelling piece of television. It was a good show that, with time, might have gone on to be great.

Daybreak was cancelled in mid-December, not even a full two months after its October premier. I suspect I was one of maybe five people to be sad about that: it didn’t even generate the otherwise traditional slew of petitions and protests we’ve come to expect when Netflix cancels something. There’s no word yet as to whether I Am Not Okay With This will receive a second series, but it seems a sure bet.

It isn’t, of course, that television shows copying other, more successful predecessors is a new phenomenon – take a look at essentially any police procedural. If The End of the F***ing World had been successful a decade ago, something similar likely would’ve followed in some form or another. But I Am Not Okay With This feels different, borne not of the (genuine and valid) creative instinct to know who to steal from, but a calculated set of decisions informed by closely monitored user data. As Alison Herman at The Ringer points out, ‘Teen-Driven Supernatural Stories With a Black Comic Streak’ is surely one of Netflix’s thousands of microtargeted ‘taste communities’. As much as it serves as a reminder of its predecessors, I Am Not Okay With This feels like a glimpse into a future where algorithms (and the profit incentive of a heavily-in-debt streaming service) dictates what all television looks like, on a scale unlike what’s come before.

Yes, I Am Not Okay With This is entertaining and watchable, but it’s also been very precisely manufactured to iron out all the wrinkles. If it starts to crowd out the messy, the inconsistent, the different and still-developing – all the things that television is supposed to be – then I’m not okay with that.

Related:

Exclusive Interview – Alex Lawther on The End of the F***ing World

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Weekly Watchlist #9 (28th Oct – 3rd Nov)

Much more stuff this week!

Daybreak (Netflix)

This has really captivated me – very easy to dismiss as derivative (because, well, it absolutely is), but with just enough flourish to occasionally feel very inspired. Oddly, it’s not the most confident show – for every step it takes towards a new idea, it quickly hurries two steps back to comforting archetypes – but when it gets things right it absolutely soars. I’d struggle to recommend it wholeheartedly, but at the same time it’s clearly not a bad show: just one I wish was a little more willing to trust its best instincts.

Defending the Guilty (BBC Two)

It never quite managed to solve the flaw I highlighted a while ago – the lack of development for Will’s girlfriend – which becomes harder to ignore as the series concluded. At the same time, though, I still really enjoyed this: it’s funny and it’s moving, with a brilliant cast and a killer soundtrack. The ending invites a second series I’m not sure is wholly needed – but I really can’t wait for more.

House of Games (BBC Two)

I normally tend not to include all the quiz shows I watch in these listings, but I just wanted to note for posterity that I got an answer about Virginia Woolf very quickly this week, and I was very proud of myself.

That’s all.

In the Long Run (Sky One)

It’s easy to forget just how good a comic talent Idris Elba is, given his more high-profile outings tend towards the dramatic – even then, this loosely-autobiographical piece feels like it’s flown especially under the radar, not really making a huge impact on people’s impressions of Elba. (I’d bet more people know about his DJ work than this show. Actually, I’d bet more people would know him from Bond rumours than this show, and that’s probably never going to happen.)

That’s a shame – In the Long Run is a charming, funny little show, the sort of thing that I could very easily see being just as loved as Derry Girls or Stath Lets Flats if it too had found a home at Channel 4.

Motherland (BBC Two)

Admittedly, “I really can’t wait for more” is also exactly how I felt about Motherland’s first series; this year’s effort is much more easily written off. I could never quite put my finger on what changed – and maybe if I went back and rewatched the first series, I’d be disappointed by that as well. Either way, it’s been a disappointing year

Riverdale (Netflix)

Halloween is absolutely the best time of year for Riverdale. Wait a few months and I’ll say the same about Christmas, though – this is a show that really thrives on excess and exaggeration, so the heightened nature of any holiday always makes for an especially fun instalment of Riverdale nonsense.

Superstore & The Good Place (NBC, Netflix)

Doing these ones together, because I remain of basically the same mind about each – Superstore is just about recovering from a rough start, while The Good Place continues to tread water, increasingly prompting me to realise again (as is the case with every new season of The Good Place) that I just don’t love it. Both these shows might end up bumped from the weekly watchlist – I’ll still keep on top of them, of course, but I’m definitely not going to have something new to say about them each week.

Favourite show of October: I suspect ‘favourite’ is probably the wrong word here – I’d want to very heavily caveat it in this instance – but Daybreak is undeniably the show that’s made the most impression on me, and I suspect the one I’ll be thinking about longest.

Best new show of October: Again, I think it has to be Daybreak.

Most looking forward to in November: Lot of possibilities here – I have high hopes for His Dark Materials, some measured interest in a few of the Apple+ shows, and I haven’t quite got around to Watchmen yet so we’ll call that a November show – but it’s hard not to choose The End of the F***ing World series 2. Absolutely loved the first series, and really curious to see how Jessica Barden fills the role of the lead.

You can look at other Weekly Watchlists here. If you liked this article and you want to support what I do, you can leave a tip over on ko-fi, or back my Patreon here.

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Weekly Watchlist #8 (21st Oct – 27th Oct)

I watched very little this week. But I was doing real work! So that’s got to count for something, I hope.

Fleabag (BBC Three)

Just the one episode, from the first series, because I was channel hopping, and it was on. Hugh Dennis gives such a subtle, moving performance in this; it’s surely the best work of his career, certainly not something you’d think he was capable of from Mock the Week. But the closing moments of that fourth episode, the one I watched this week? He’s sublime.

Riverdale (Netflix)

Riverdale is very easy to criticise – and, in fairness, deserves a lot of the criticism it gets – but I will always maintain that it’s actually a much better show than its reputation suggests. Structurally, it’s a marvel; I’m convinced that Riverdale is one of the most attentively, acutely paced programs on television at the moment. I really believe that!

Superstore (NBC)

I can’t help but feel like Superstore’s solution to keep Matteo in the store after last year’s ICE cliffhanger is a bit contrived – although, equally, I wouldn’t have wanted them to lose Nico Santos, whose always been one of the best parts of the show. I’m interested to see what Matteo’s plotline will look like across the rest of the year; so far it hasn’t quite lived up to the weight of expectation created at the end of season 4, but hopefully that’ll change going forward.

The Circle (Channel 4)

I still haven’t actually caught up on this – in fact, I got spoilers for who won when I was putting together the last weekly watchlist. (Whoops.) Again, though, I’m inclined to stick with it. I sort of wish it would get a bit more popular, so there would be more writing on it – I’m convinced that someone better versed in the history of reality television would have quite an interesting take on it.

The Good Place (Netflix)

After I complained last week about the memory wipes, this episode opened with a quick joke about restoring Jason’s memories. That, I think, is probably the best I’m ever gonna get – and I don’t think I’ll ever really be entirely pleased with that.

But, yes, quite a few things missing this week. Keep managing to miss Watchmen, which is a nuisance, because I’m really curious about that. And I missed The Accident, too; I mostly enjoyed Kiri, so I was keen to check that out, but a lot of the reviews have been less than encouraging.

Tell you what, though, I’m increasingly becoming more and more conscious of just how much television there is. Which is a bit of an obvious thing to say, but I was quite struck by the fact that this week, a friend of mine started watching and in turn heavily recommending Daybreak – a new Netflix show that debuted this week, and I hadn’t even heard of until he mentioned it. There’s a lot going on there, of course, and part of that is down to Netflix’s advertising – but equally, this isn’t a small show! It’s got Matthew Broderick in it, it’s based on what are apparently relatively popular comic books!

But we’re at the point where there’s so much television that even I, someone who ostensibly watches television for a living, hadn’t heard of this show. Which is an odd thing to confront, I suppose.

You can look at other Weekly Watchlists here. If you liked this article and you want to support what I do, you can leave a tip over on ko-fi, or back my Patreon here.

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