I am okay with I Am Not Okay With This. More than okay, actually. The series taps into that kind of frantic 80s nostalgia that grounds every series of Stranger Things, and shares with it a clear inspiration from the works of Stephen King. Not only does it feel spiritually related to quintessential girl-with-superpowers story Carrie, two of the series’ leads (Sophia Lillis and Wyatt Oleff) also starred in It. But the powers are not the central theme: mental health is much more important, with the powers acting as a kind of visual representation of the anxieties and frustration felt by teenagers the world over. The series revolves around Syd’s relationships and her feelings as she grapples with the suicide of her father and growing alienation from her best friend Dina. I Am Not Okay With This has great emotional weight, perfectly capturing the tumultuous hormonal chaos of Syd’s everyday life.
Much like The End of the F***ing World, another adaptation of a Charles Forsman comic, I Am Not Okay With Thishas a stunning soundscape. While The End of the F***ing World was rooted in mainly 50s and 60s sounds, I Am Not Okay With This takes its cues from (surprise!) the 70s and 80s, though isn’t afraid to jump around a little more. The music perfectly matches its emotional beats and creates a distinctive atmosphere for the show. Music is wound into the lives of the characters, too – mostly from Wyatt Oleff’s distinctly weird Stanley Barber, who plays everything from Prefab Sprout to Karen Dalton.
In fact, his character is key to understanding the appeal of the series. “There’s more to Stanley Barber than I thought,” Syd muses, and she’s right. Initially his weirdness feels forced, but as the series goes on there is a progression into seeing the other sides of Stan: his anxieties, loneliness, and troubles. He is a true eccentric, one who struggles to fit in or feel a part of anything. His role as the wisecracking sidekick who tries to help Syd with her powers is cleverly subverted, and the charisma between them is palpable and always returns them to friendship, even when there’s been trouble.
A character-based drama despite its ‘powers’ premise, I Am Not Okay With This is grounded by all-round great performances. Syd is incredibly frustrating, but we’re always drawn back to empathise and sympathise with her, and Lillis toes the line perfectly. Aidan Wojtak-Hissong is adorable as Syd’s little brother, and our hearts break as we see his increasing disillusionment with her. Sofia Bryant, playing the increasingly distant best friend Dina, keeps her likeable despite her more traditionally ‘evil’ role in the plot. They’re especially fun when they all come together as a group, their chemistry keeping the show lighter than its subject matter suggests.
A teenage drama that truly captures the horrible feeling of spiralling out of control, I Am Not Okay With This keeps itself uplifting with glimmers of hope, friendship, and an undercurrent of superhero thriller. Despite its 80s nostalgia, the plot is full of modern sensibilities and the show has a deep empathy for Syd. As walls implode or shelves collapse around her, teenage angst has never felt this satisfying.
Image: MTV International