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TV

Grand Army

Content Warning: Sexual assault, anti-blackness.

Watching Grand Army’s nine-episode first season was easy. Maybe too easy, with each hour long episode rapidly collapsing together as the dreaded ‘next episode’ button proved irresistible. This is partly due to my weak will, but mainly because Grand Army is actually pretty good. The new drama, set at the fictitious Grand Army school in New York, follows the lives of 5 teenagers, their lives intertwined and overlapping; all sharing a common quality: they are annoying. I don’t even mean that in a particularly harsh way. Teenagers are annoying. It is a fact, I know I was annoying, I expect you were annoying (I apologise), but that is the reality. Grand Army manages to frame this reality in the funny, over-the-top and irritable dramatics of teenage years and somehow make it palatable. Endearing even. 

Yet, more importantly, Grand Army underlines how teenagers usually bear the brunt of past generation’s mistakes and screw-ups. The brutal sexual assault that Joey, played by Odessa A’zion, experiences cries out to an ingrained culture of slut-shaming and insidious misogyny. The injustice of Owen’s suspension, an African-American student stripped of his chance to play music, echoes the intensifying outrage of the BLM movement. It feels like the show was written yesterday, and that modernity definitely works in the show’s favour.

Grand Army packs a range of difficult issues a single season, yet balancing them all proves too much to ask. Joey appears to be the show’s protagonist, and whilst her story is rightfully addressed and sensitively done, it does not negate from a white face still holding the main plotline. The strife of the African-American students’ is re-adjusted in focus, pushed to the side and acting more like an after-school activity or merely a slight disgruntlement. The unfortunate consequence being that their roles retain less substance and feel more like a support to Joey’s.

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With that in mind, my issues with the show is personified by Leila – played by Amalia Yoo. Leila is a new student to Grand Army, and for the entirety of the season, makes every wrong choice that you could possibly make. Like I said, we weren’t always the matured, fully-formed human beings that we are today. Yet, my issue arises from Leila’s status as an adopted child being the root of not just her identity crisis, but her selfish and borderline cruel actions towards herself and others. Leila’s concerns and desire to ‘find herself’ and her heritage are valid, however, the privilege of knowing one’s history should not mean that those who do not are punished for it. Leila’s punishment is being illustrated as selfish and misguided by Grand Army, a problematic interpretation of adoption that simultaneously makes her and her story irritating and dislikable.

As foolish choices go, the creators of Grand Army certainly make some, yet that should not deter you from watching it. The show has as many intelligent and poignant aspects as it does bad. It isn’t ground-breaking, yet it doesn’t need to be. Interesting and relatable at times, this show definitely makes for a fun and easy watch – and in these strange times, that may be all you need.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Image: chipili via Pixabay