Netflix’s new graphic novel adaptation I Am Not Okay With This is about a girl with super powers, but not about a girl with superpowers saving the world. That’s rare for the streaming platform that boasts Umbrella Academy and Stranger Things, but the small stakes make I Am Not Okay With This shine. More like Sex Education than Umbrella Academy, the series finds comedy in the way it meshes superpowers and coming-of-age plotlines, and it actually loses something when it leans too hard on the supernatural.
Adapted by Jonathan Entwistle and Christy Hall from Charles Forman’s graphic novel of the same name, I Am Not Okay With This follows 17-year-old Sydney Novak (It Chapter One’s Sophia Lillis), a newcomer to a small Pennsylvania town. In the wake of her father’s recent suicide, Sydney raises her younger brother Liam, while her mom works overtime to make ends meet. Entwistle and Hall frame the show around Syd’s diary entries, assigned to her by the school therapist, and each episode has Syd narrating her diary commentary over what unfolds on screen. The supernatural hook? Syd is starting to exhibit explosive telekinetic powers that she can’t control.
[Ed. note: This post contains mild spoilers for the first season of I Am Not Okay With This.]
Syd’s powers first manifest when her best (and only) friend Dina (Sofia Bryant) brings her new boyfriend, jerk jock Brad (Richard Ellis), to their favorite hangout spot. Pissed off by his general presence — he keeps telling her to smile! — Syd accidentally makes his nose bleed. Feeling ditched by Dina, Syd starts to spend time with geeky stoner Stan (Wyatt Oleff, also from It), who has a very big, obvious crush on her. He learns about Syd’s powers and decides he wants to help her. From there, I Am Not Okay With This focuses squarely on Syd’s relationships with Dina and Stan.
By narrowing in on the characters, Entwistle and Hall explore the full depth of Syd’s relationships, with love, jealousy, and ride-or-die commitment coming to bear. And the short episodes (topping at half an hour) that fill the seven-episode first season keep the plot points and character development succinct. The series doesn’t waste time — each character interaction fuels the superpower plot, and each instance of Syd’s powers turns into an exploration of her character and relationships.
When I Am Not Okay With This is a show about teens being teens, instead of about some larger overarching nemesis, it eschews the trappings of well-worn, kids-with-powers drama. In the show’s fifth episode, Syd accidentally knocks over all the shelves in the library during detention. She confides in Stan, who’s aware of her superpowers, and the two concoct a plan to get the security footage. But their plan requires someone pretty and socially confident enough to snag the keys from the janitor, so they rope Dina into their schemes. They tell Dina the reason they want the footage is because they had sex in the library and don’t want to get in trouble. (Stan, flustered and trying to explain, says, “We sixty-nined and everything.”) And even though Dina is still a bit mad at Syd, she agrees to help them. After a daring daring escapade, they chill out for a moment, laughing together.
The supernatural element is an obvious, effective metaphor for the weighty things Syd thinks but can’t say, and for all the feelings she keeps bottled up inside. Syd spends most of the show trying to hide her trauma and emotions from her loved ones because she’s afraid they’ll reject her. When she finally opens up to Dina about the craziness in her life and Dina accepts her, it’s like a breath exhaled. An explanation for the fantastical never feels necessary. Syd’s powers seem to be a manifestation of her insecurities and her trauma.
Like the blunt metaphors, the characters, who could easily fall into tropey stereotypes, feel alive and dimensional. Geeky Stan and edgy Syd might’ve been a very standard nerd-guy-gets-the-aloof-girl relationship, but Syd realizes she has different romantic interests early on. Stan never gets upset at her for not reciprocating his feelings, even when Syd doesn’t tell him exactly why. He still cares about her and is invested in her happiness, making their burgeoning friendship one of the most fulfilling emotional arcs of the whole show.
All that subversion, however, stops with the actual ending, which wastes no time in laying the seeds for a potential second season. The small story of a girl finding her way in the world does become something louder and bigger — and more cliché. I Am Not Okay With This feels special for most of its run, like a character-driven exception to bigger supernatural stories. Only in the end does it desperately try to be like everything else.