Before you press play on Netflix’s brand new YA series I Am Not Okay With This — premiering Wednesday, 26th February — there are a handful of fun facts you may already know. I Am Not Okay With This stars It leads and real-life friends Sophia Lillis and Wyatt Oleff. It is about a working-class teen girl from the rural outskirts of Pittsburgh who stumbles her way into superpowers. And its DNA consists of a team-up between some of the minds behind established Netflix hits The End of the F***ing World and Stranger Things.
That last detail probably has would-be fans wondering just where IANOWT — co-created /directed by TEOTFW helmer Jonathan Entwistle and executive produced by Stranger EPs Dan Cohen and Shawn Levy — falls between the poles of quirky black comedy and whiz-bang pop art. After visiting the sci-fi show’s Pittsburgh area set, it’s official: Okay may have a superpowered teen girl like Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) at its forefront, but it will never possess the gee-willikers sci-fi awe of its Stranger Things predecessor.
But the series will still catch the attention of Stranger Things and TEOTFW fans — especially viewers who gravitate towards the latter’s more indie and emotional aesthetics.
“Stranger Things has more of an ‘80s vibe. This is kind of like maybe the ‘70s, maybe current day, it’s all over the place. That’s obviously one thing that separates it. ” Oleff tells reporters on a July day in the middle of a Pennsylvania soundstage. Oleff has just finished filming a montage which viewers will find in the show’s fourth episode. The actor plays Stanley Barber, the pot-smoking pal of Lillis’ Sydney, a 17-year-old girl who develops unexplainable abilities a year after her father’s tragic death. I Am Not Okay With This follows Sydney as she tries to manage the stress of high school — with the added pressure of superpowers that can take out a grocery store aisle.
Oleff has a point. Just take his upcoming montage as proof. The decor of his character’s bedroom is pure ‘70s wood panelling. The song playing during the scene is from the late ‘80s. The T-shirt he will eventually settle on celebrates a musician whose top three Billboard hits span from 1989 until 2004. It is impossible to remember if you’ve seen Stan hold an iPhone, but you know he has a cassette player. Still, the TV in his home looks like it was purchased after 2005.
Star Sophia Lilis says, “Though Stranger Things is supernatural in a way that I Am Not Okay With This is also, it’s kind of cut off from that [genre] … It’s its own category, I think. Because it kind of has this timelessness to it. It’s not really period-esque.”
For fans of TEOTFW, that “timeless” quality likely sounds very familiar. The British series, which debuted in January 2018, includes the decidedly modern premiere episode scene of heroine Alyssa (Jessica Barden) smashing her cellphone in a school cafeteria. Yet the rest of the road trip series could easily fit in the 1960s or present day (see: the diner sets and mid-century heavy playlist).
Both shows also tackle the daunting subject of mental health and suicide with thoughtful, oftentimes hopeful 28-minutes-or-fewer episodes.
That’s why writer/helmer Jonathan Entwistle says his team has applied the aesthetics of End Of The F***ing World to the superpowered framework of Stranger Things. “I just wanted to make a John Hughes movie with superpowers that can all be intertwined with a deadpan tone and a worldbuilding aesthetic that we did with End,” Entwistle explains. “It was just making a more irreverent Stranger Things and a slightly more sanitised End of the F***ing World. To meet them in the middle with superpowers.”
Both of those series are anchored by powerful teenagers: Eleven and Alyssa. Okay’s Sydney has a similar set of superpowers to the former and the brown workman’s jacket preferences of the latter, likely leading fans to wonder where, exactly, Sydney ends up between the two.
Entwistle hasn’t come down on either side of the debate but invites viewers to jump into the fray once IANOWT arrives. “I joke with Sophia the whole time about, What do we copy from Stranger Things?,” the writer says with a laugh. “There are similar people in the world, and there’s a lot of fun to be had with that. It makes I Am Not Okay With This stand out as a janky indie version of superpowers … I would love for it to be the ugly sister to Stranger Things that would be my dream.”
Still, Sophia Lilis could see Sydney getting along with TEOTFW’s Alyssa — particularly when it comes to their most emotional depths. “While Sydney is more reserved and constantly worrying all the time,” Lilis says. “I think they [could become friends] if they ever travelled together. In a way, they both have family problems. Alyssa has problems with her dad and Sydney has problems [with her dad].”
Teen angst: forever the great equalizer — even across the Netflix universe.
I Am Not Okay With This is available on Netflix from 26th February