Warning: Light spoilers ahead for On My Block.
The On My Block cast knows exactly where the roots of their Netflix high school comedy, premiering Friday, March 16, come from. “Sixteen Candles. Anything by John Hughes,” Jason Genao, who plays brainy motormouth Ruby Martinez, recently told a group of journalists in New York, “[The creators] were telling they’re big influences. They’re like, ‘Just watch John Hughes.’”
But, John Hughes, purveyor of classics like The Breakfast Club and the aforementioned Sixteen Candles, never showed his audience high school freshman passionately hooking up in their childhood bedrooms, in front of their homes, and inside of their school supply closet. And, when I say “passionately,” I mean On My Block puts two of its leads, Monse Finnie (Sierra Capri) and Cesar Diaz (Diego Tinoco), who were in middle school a few months ago, in a powder keg of oft-shirtless sexual tension. These are two 14-year-olds who have already slept together and often spend their time trying to figure out which class period they can fit in another sneakers-knocking session. It’s a version of high school rarely shown in pop culture, but serves as a necessary, nuanced reality check.
On My Block might not be the first high school show to give us young people having sex, but it certainly feels different from its fellow teen shows. The big difference is just how grounded in reality the Netflix comedy, co-created by Awkward mastermind Lauren Iungerich, is. This is a cast who actually looks like could just be starting high school.
Monse is believably uncomfortable about her new body — “You got boobs,” Ruby and the anxious, obsessive Jamal Turner (Brett Gray) say in unison when their friend returns from a summer at writing camp — and elated by it. She proudly sports a new halter top before covering up her chest after unsettling male attention is thrown her way. Jamal is gangly in all the accurate ways a 14-year-old boy is, and Ruby is desperate to seem suave beyond his years. Even Cesar, obviously positioned as the friend group’s resident hunk, is pretty awkward.
Compare these descriptions to shows like Riverdale, where Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) is apparently so mature an adult woman falls in love with him and his endless abs, or Pretty Little Liars, where the same crime occurs, only with the genders flipped. No one on these melodramas ever acts like this behaviour is as big of a problem as it is. Instead, series like those exist in a world where teens speak, dress, and romance in a way no different from extremely wealthy 27-year-olds. Remember, Veronica Lodge has shower sex with pearls on.
On My Block is not one of those shows. On My Block proves real young teens are having sex, and the adults in their lives should probably talk to them about.
Monse’s real-life alter-ego Sierra Capri defended her show’s ultra-realistic depiction of teenage sexuality, saying, “To me, the honest truth is that even though a lot of parents will have reservations about letting their children watch this, [but], especially at 14, [sex is] being brought up. If not at home then at school … They don’t have to hide it from their children.” Brett Gray, ever the hype man for his cast, added, “It’s out there.”
Soon enough, the conversation turned into a defence of Monse and Cesar’s tumultuous, very sexual relationship. Capri began, turning to on-screen on-again, off-again boyfriend Diego Tinoco, “I think you and me, we have a lot of moments where…” Both Tinoco and Gray were kind enough to fill in the blank, both yelling, “It gets hot!” Capri wrapped up the investigation in Monsar (Ces-se?), explaining, “It gets hot, but there’s love there.”
That distinction of true love versus sexual chemistry is what leads to the couple's most compelling roadblock. Throughout On My Block season 1, Cesar desperately wants to take his romance with Monse public because he does love her, while she’s terrified to do so. It’s unclear why, specifically, Monse is so hesitant until “Chapter Six,” when she spells everything out for Cesar.
“For you, screwing me gives you street cred,” she yells at him. “For me, screwing you makes me a whore.” It’s sexism at its most blatant, and Monse’s argument is only strengthened by Cesar’s response: “Not if we’re together.” He truly believes a public relationship is the sole thing standing between Monse and a such a misogynistic label, not realising that kind of outlook only adds to the issue. Boyfriend or no boyfriend, no one should be calling Monse a “whore” for sleeping with someone — it does take two to tango.
That’s why she responds, “Then I’m just your bitch, and you’re only with me for one reason.” In a culture that shames girls for having sex while also pressuring them into having sex to please the men around them, this is an uncomfortably realistic rock-and-a-hard-place predicament real-life teen girls are faced with.
Although Cesar thinks Monse is wrong for rejecting him, many of his actions play into her greatest social fears. When she returns from writing camp, she finds out Jamal and Ruby have excommunicated Cesar for a secret reason. It’s eventually revealed the rift was caused by Cesar claiming he slept with Monse before she left for the summer.
By the end of “Chapter One,” we find out Cesar wasn’t lying, but only shared that very personal information to “protect” Monse from his gang member older brother Oscar “Spooky” Diaz (Julio Macias), who recently left jail. Spooky, an adult man, wanted to “get at” Monse, a 14-year-old girl, upon his release, so Cesar had to “claim” her. These men and boys are literally speaking about Monse as though she’s chattel, as opposed to a living, breathing human person with her own sexuality.
Considering just how often this actually happens in real life, it’s no wonder Diego Tinoco defended his on-screen relationship by saying, “It’s a real teenage romance … That’s as authentic as it gets.” He couldn’t be more right.
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