“I Am Not Okay with This” on Netflix is More Than Okay

Teenagers are feeling human beings, not a cliché

Jeff Ehren
Apr 4, 2020 · 5 min read

Season 1 of the Netflix show captures the elements of the graphic novel it’s based upon while expanding possibilities akin to “Stranger Things.”

The Premise
Sydney Novak, played by the engaging Sophia Lillis, is a teenager trying to get through high school. She and her family moved to Pennsylvania two years ago. Her father committed suicide in the basement of their home. She has a contentious relationship with her mother, played by Kathleen Rose Perkins. And she is close to her younger brother, played by Aidan Wojtak-Hissong.

Sydney’s best friend is Dina, played by Sofia Bryant. As Sydney learns of her sexuality, she questions what type of relationship she wants with Dina.

We are introduced to Sydney as she exhibits signs of having supernatural powers which grow throughout Season 1. The only person who knows her secret is Stanley Barber, played by Wyatt Oleff.

The Setting
In the show, Sydney attends Westinghouse Memorial High School in Brownsville. There is a Brownsville in Pennsylvania. It is about an hour away from Wilmerding, Pennsylvania which is where the real Westinghouse Memorial High School resides. More accurately, the building is there, but it has been repurposed to be the middle school.

During the show’s first minutes, Sydney conveys that her family moved to an area of Pennsylvania that is infamous for having the most polluted air in America.

Surface Metaphors
The story is a metaphor for inner struggles such as insecurity, grief and mental illness.

It’s not difficult to see Sydney’s supernatural journey as the metaphor for real-life issues. One’s teenage years can be confusing, overwhelming and painful.

From acne to sexuality, one must deal with a changing body while discovering one’s inner self. Stressors such as familial suicide, financial difficulties, and social pressure can create a breaking point.

Sydney’s stressors amplify her superpowers, but she has difficulty controlling them. As she tries to understand and control her powers, she learns more about her father, her classmates and herself.

More to the Story?
There are universe-building aspects to Season 1 that go further than the source material. Though the end of the season is not surprising, the direction of the series is limitless.

Sydney is followed by a mysterious man who appears to be more of a vaporous shadow rather than a solid human. At first, one may think it’s the ghost of her father. But when she thinks she’s caught the figure on a video recording, Stan says that it looks like her reflection.

This man could have been conjured by Sydney. It could also be a sign of mental illness passed down to her by her father. But the series sets up other possibilities as well.

Sydney learns that after her parents were married, her father joined the military. He had grown increasingly weary of what he witnessed as well as what he did. At one point, there was a giant explosion which killed everyone except her father. According to her mother, her father became paranoid and thought that he was being followed by a mysterious man.

Is it possible that the same figure who followed her father now follows her? Is the mysterious man connected to the military? Was her father experimented on? Or did he always have the superpowers, but they manifested while he was distraught during combat?

Sydney’s mother found her father after he allegedly hung himself. Could his death be linked to what happened to him — or by him — while in the military? If so, is it possible he was murdered?

When Sydney found out about her father’s death, she was with her best friend Dina. But we don’t know a lot about Dina, including her family. It seems coincidental that she moved to Brownsville the same time as Sydney, and then she was with Sydney when her father passed.

Sydney is distraught over the fact that her father didn’t leave a suicide note. When dealing with grief concerning such an act, it’s important to remember that not everyone does leave a note. However, in terms of universe-building storytelling, perhaps her father left clues.

Sydney picks up a notepad from her father’s workbench. There are calculations written on a notepad that seem innocuous. But could these numbers reference something? The numbers 16, 50 and 77 were used. If one were to take a religious angle, the numbers could reference Psalms. Could the superpowers be angelic and demonic?

Adding significance to those numbers may lead nowhere. But there is a fascinating possibility that fits a comic book origin.

The high school mascot is Wolverine, and Sydney’s younger brother drew a superhero costume reminiscent of the mutant. Adamantium, a metal alloy, was fused onto Wolverine’s skeleton. Vibranium, another comic book metal, is used by Captain America and Black Panther. It made its way to Wakanda by meteorite.

Using the comic book connection, we can look at one of the numbers on the notepad. Specifically, the number 77 — it is the atomic number of Iridium. Just like Vibranium, Iridium can be found in meteorites. The Great Comet of 1811 was easily visible by the naked eye, including by the Native American Tecumseh, whose name means “shooting star” or “blazing comet.” His brother was Tenskwatawa, also known as “the Prophet.”

Perhaps there will be a Native American origin, brought forward through the scientific use of Iridium, culminating in the military use by Sydney’s father. As for the mysterious, vaporous man following Sydney, he could either be a Native American spirit or the result of an Iridium experiment gone wrong. The dissipation of his shadow-like figure resembles a black powder being blown by the wind. Iridium Black is Iridium in black powder form.

Why We Need This Show
“I Am Not Okay with This” is the hybrid show that all can — and should — watch. It delves into the serious topics of grief, suicide and mental illness without doing so in a heavy-handed way. It allows people to come together in a lighthearted manner to open dialogues about heavyhearted issues.

The show also gives agency to youth, especially women. It shows that “gross” and “weird” and “awkward” are okay. It also conveys that sexuality comes from within, and that relationships need not be defined by gender or sex. It does this by concentrating on the fact that teenagers are feeling humans, not a cliché.

Jeff’s Film & TV Reviews

Jeff Ehren

Written by

Writer. Lover of the cinema. Blue-collar worker for too many years. In theatre for too few. Email me at mediumwriterjeff@gmail.com

Jeff’s Film & TV Reviews

Pop your popcorn. Pour your soda. And maybe hide under your covers. No genre is out of bounds for this reviewer.

Jeff Ehren

Written by

Writer. Lover of the cinema. Blue-collar worker for too many years. In theatre for too few. Email me at mediumwriterjeff@gmail.com

Jeff’s Film & TV Reviews

Pop your popcorn. Pour your soda. And maybe hide under your covers. No genre is out of bounds for this reviewer.

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