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

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Television Index

Weekly Watchlist #10 (4th Nov – 10th Nov)

weekly watchlist 10 his dark materials the accident the end of the fucking world riverdale

Here we go again!

His Dark Materials (BBC One)

I read these when I was around 8 or so – and because I was around 8 or so, I’ve kinda always had this idea in my head that the His Dark Materials books were quite deep and adult. I have since realised they aren’t exactly what they seemed at the time, but I am still basically quite fond of them in hindsight. (Not that I’ve ever re-read them; I’m reliant more or less entirely on those faded memories.)

I enjoyed this, anyway – far more than November’s other Jack Thorne offering, at least. It felt a little off in places, admittedly, but hey, James McAvoy is pretty great, so that’s always fun.

In the Long Run (Sky One)

See, after everything I said last time about how impressive Idris Elba is as a comedy actor, he was hardly in the ones I watched this week! That was a bit of a shame, having his character be restricted just to the framing device. I wonder if it was an availability thing – it makes sense, admittedly, he’s a pretty busy actor. Still, a shame.

(Which isn’t to undercut the others, though – Bill Bailey and Jimmy Akingbola were both great in the most recent episode I watched. Still, a shame though.)

Riverdale (Netflix)

I’m going to be paying quite close attention, over the next few weeks, to all the Best of 2019 lists – and all the Best of the Decade lists! – and I will be heavily, heavily judging anyone who doesn’t find space for Riverdale on those lists. It doesn’t have to be in the number one spot, that’d just be unreasonable.

But top five, surely, is a given.

The Accident (Channel 4)

I am not sure who, exactly, thought “Grenfell but white” was a good idea – well, no, Jack Thorne did, obviously. God knows why though.

The End of the F***ing World (Channel 4)

Been looking forward to this for ages – really enjoyed the first series, it was one of my favourite pieces of television in 2018. I was a little surprised Alex Lawther was in it again this go around, actually – probably the hoped for reaction, given the marketing. I’d kinda come around to the idea of a solely Jessica Barden oriented series, so I was a little… not disappointed, obviously, I love Alex Lawther, but my expectations have been thrown a bit. Would’ve been interested to see the other version, though – Jessica Barden could absolutely have made it work.

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.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Television Index

Some of the best TV you might have missed in 2017

2017 best tv you missed snowfall clique ill behaviour ronny chieng international student bablyon berlin end of the fucking world the state

One of the things that always stands out to me about year-end ‘best of’ lists is that there are usually quite a few shows that, for whatever reason, I never got the chance to see. What’s nice about that, of course, is that those lists become a set of recommendations for me to work through for the next few months.

But it did get me thinking, though – how about a list specifically to that end? Here are the shows, then, that you might have missed; ones that flew under the radar a little bit, either because of the channel they were on, the language they’re in, or the time of year they came out.

It’s obviously an incomplete list – how could it not be? – but here’s some of the best TV you might have missed in 2017…

The State

The State Channel 4 isis peter kosminsky national geographic Ony Uhiara Sam Otto Shavani Cameron Ryan McKen.jpg

The State took on a controversial and difficult subject matter in a sensitive way – but more than that, it did it at exactly the right time too. A nuanced and considered look at how people are radicalised, it was a compelling drama that drew on extensive research of real-life cases. Intense and emotional, The State explored nuanced storytelling in place of simplistic thinking – always willing to challenge audience’s preconceptions and prejudices, this was a stark and powerful drama.

Clique

Clique BBC Three bryan elsley jess brittain louise brealey synnove karlsen aisling francoisi

The first episode of Clique was a particularly tense and taut hour of television, crafted with a real precision; it was one of the most effective pieces of drama BBC Three produced in a long time. With an unrelenting intensity, gradually probing the darker aspects of the world it put forward, Clique was an effortlessly self-assured piece of television. Certainly, it’s the sort of programme that might be easy to dismiss at face value; yet another teen drama without a huge amount to offer on its own terms. But to think of it that way it to do a real disservice to the intricate, nuanced work that was going on beneath the surface – there’s a real feeling, watching Clique, that it exists in a world that goes above and beyond the young adult drama you’ve seen before.

Ronny Chieng: International Student

Ronny Chieng International Student molly daniels declan fay comedy central malaysia melbourne university comedy central

It’d be easy to miss this one – a BBC Three acquisition that was only broadcast on BBC One very late at night – but it’d be a real shame if you did. Ronny Chieng: International Student has a certain charm that you could liken to Community, perhaps, but it’s very much its own show. Witty and inventive, this series draws on the real-life university experiences of its star Ronny Chieng – the perfect straight man for his increasingly absurd surroundings. In a year with a lot of great new comedies, this is the sort of show that might not get the attention it deserves – but it is genuinely, properly funny.

Snowfall

snowfall damson idris franklin saint fx thomas schlamme

Part of what I like about Snowfall is that it’s slow. Not in terms of pacing, not exactly; rather, it takes a measured approach, one that really lets it dwell on the period and pay close attention to detail. In that sense, Snowfall stands out because of how well it’s able to evoke a feel for the crack epidemic in 1983 Los Angeles. It’s the perfect backdrop for a cast of characters making increasingly compromised decisions – with newcomer Damson Idris giving a standout performance, Snowfall is definitely a drama that’s worth a look.

Babylon Berlin

babylon berlin liv lisa fries

Babylon Berlin is absolutely mesmerising. I said as much in my review of the show’s first season, but it really does bear repeating. The most expensive piece of television Germany has ever produced, every penny that went into Babylon Berlin translates to the screen – it’s a gorgeous drama, perfectly evoking the aesthetic of the 1920s. It’s also home of one of the best television moments of 2017 full stop – the almost trance-like conclusion to the second episode is breathtaking, exuding confidence and inspiring awe.

Ill Behaviour

ill behaviour sam bain chris geere liz kaplan tom riley jessica regan cancer comedy bbc two showtime tv show steve bendelack

Ill Behaviour took an absurd premise, but elevated it into something more – a dark comedy that was also a genuinely affecting drama. With a wit as quick as it was dark, this wasn’t just gallows humour; it’s a programme about repression, denial, and the lengths people go to in extreme situations. As ever, it’s a show that works because of its characters – self-destructive and neurotic, and perfectly pitched by the cast, each have a real and meaningful character arc. Ill Behaviour is packed with laughs, but it also leaves a lasting impact long after the credits roll.

The End of the F***ing World

the end of the fucking world alex lawther jessica barden charlie covell jonathan entwhistle lucy tcherniak review netflix channel 4

One of my personal favourite programmes of the year – I know that’s true of a lot of the shows on this list, but it’s particularly true of this. The End of the F***ing World is an elegant character study, focused on two isolated teenagers who live in liminal spaces; it lends its two leads, James and Alyssa, a real interiority, serving to emphasise the poignancy – and in some ways the tragedy – of the journey they undertake. Of course, it’d be remiss of me not to mention Alex Lawther and Jessica Barden, who really do make the series; an absolutely magnetic pairing, they’re fantastic actors who really embody the facades, neuroses and vulnerabilities of their characters.

Even then, of course, there are a lot of shows I’ve missed off this list that, if it could go on forever, I’d have loved to include – Guerilla, Overshadowed, or King Charles III, to name just a few. And that’s without mentioning all the excellent shows that, for one reason or another, I didn’t get the chance to see – shows like Three Girls, The Replacement or Bancroft.

If nothing else, that was one good thing about 2017 – there was a lot of really fantastic television.

Note: This was meant to be a Yahoo article which, for boring technical reasons I can’t work out, doesn’t actually display on the website anywhere – so I’ve put it here instead. Looking back on some of my choices, there’s a couple I probably would’ve changed – the fact that both The End of the F***ing World and Babylon Berlin took off massively in early 2018 because they turned up on American Netflix was validating, but does make me wish I’d taken the chance to stump for Overshadowed, which I really do love.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | General TV Index

 

Alex Lawther on The End of the F***ing World, his creative influences and more

alex lawther the end of the fxxxing world netflix channel 4 the jungle howards end

I read somewhere, someone much more eloquent than me, saying “it doesn’t matter if [a character is] likeable but they have to be interesting“. You don’t have to like them, but you have to want to know what happens next. Even if you hate them or you’re scared of them or if you… as long as they’re not boring you, because boring is passive.  It’s not so much not being liked… they cause you to be interested in them actively and to see where their objectives are going to take them. Which I think is the analytical way of putting it, yeah.

This is one of my favourite interviews I’ve ever done, because I absolutely loved talking to Alex Lawther – he’s just wonderful, I’m a huge fan. I promised to learn French for him, in fact. (At time of writing, and by writing I mean editing all my old posts for the new wordpress site, my duolingo streak is 177 days.)

(I would continue to talk about how great I think he is, but… well, I don’t want to overdo it, you know?)

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Interviews Index

Why you should watch Channel 4’s The End of the F***ing World

the end of the fucking world alex lawther jessica barden charlie covell jonathan entwhistle lucy tcherniak review netflix channel 4

A confident, even elegant piece of television from writer Charlie Covell, The End of the F***ing World must first and foremost be celebrated for its characters. Focused on two isolated teenagers who have always lived their lives in liminal spaces, the series functions as a nuanced character study; use of cleverly constructed cutscenes and some of the best voiceover sequences since The Handmaid’s Tale lend James and Alyssa a real, and rare, sense of interiority. It creates a certain intimacy with self-diagnosed psychopath James and the intense Alyssa, one that serves to emphasise the poignancy – and in some ways the tragedy – of the journey they undertake.

I absolutely loved this show, though admittedly in hindsight this article is perhaps a little too slight to convey just how good it is.

If you liked this article – or if you didn’t like the article, but you did like the show – you might also be interested in my interview with the wonderful Alex Lawther. I’d quite like to interview the presumably similarly wonderful Jessica Barden, if anyone who can arrange that happens to be reading this.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | General TV Index