I Am Not Okay With This: Utterly Mindbending


Maggie Brown, Writer

I Am Not Okay With This begins with a literal bloodbath. In the opening shot, protagonist Sydney Novak runs down the street in a blood-soaked dress, sirens wailing behind her. From the very beginning, I Am Not Okay draws comparisons to the timeless classics that paved the way before it (Carrie, anyone?), but the results are bolder and darker than anything before it. Here, the producers of Stranger Things craft a world where teenagers are allowed to be angry and make mistakes. In fact, those emotions and mess-ups are the back-bone of the show. Seventeen-year-old Sydney is grieving for her father when she discovers that she has mindbending superpowers. 

Sydney Novak is not your typical protagonist. Sure, she’s an “average white girl” in her own words, but she carries herself in a way that feels achingly real and relatable. Dealing with trauma is exhausting even without the added complication of superpowers. It can be difficult to watch as tragedy unfolds around Sydney, but she bears it with grit and toughness. Sophia Lillis allows her character to breathe, finding small moments to show her inner turmoil even as she tries to hold it together. Her sarcastic personality is balanced out by the quirky, laidback boy-next-door, Stanley Barber (played by IT’s Wyatt Oleff). Stanley’s puppy crush on Sydney ties their paths together as Syd navigates her newfound powers. They are the perfect duo, plucked straight from a John Hughes movie—but Syd’s feelings for her best friend, Dina, put a spin on the tired love triangle trope. 

Part of the show’s appeal comes from its intimate, stylized cinematography; wide shots focus solely on the episode’s point-of-view character, placing you squarely within their world as they get ready for homecoming or trudge through the halls of high school. When Sydney’s powers get out of control, the director uses over-the-shoulder shots to emphasize a flying object or a burst of anger. The town feels lived-in and familiar, if not completely modern. Pseudo-modernism seems to be a trend among teen dramas, possibly an attempt to avoid becoming outdated, but it works in the show’s favor. However, pacing issues plague I Am Not Okay’s short runtime. Situations and character choices begin to repeat after episode three as if stalling until the explosive series finale.

The show’s willingness to tackle important issues, such as depression, PTSD, and coming out, makes it a strong contender in the streaming world. There are only seven episodes, each one twenty minutes long; it’s the perfect binge-watch, a format made possible by streaming culture. In fact, I Am Not Okay With This is a show that could only exist in 2020. It builds on the aesthetics of Stranger Things, The End of the ***** World, and Lady Bird, while also capitalizing on the widespread success of comic book adaptations. With its 80’s references, deadpan tone, and supernatural influences, I Am Not Okay has perfected the formula pioneered over the past few years of Netflix hits and box-office heavy-hitters. If you’re searching for a snappy, suspenseful series, look no further: I Am Not Okay With This checks all the boxes.