What if one day you realize you have superhuman powers but Professor X does not bring you to the mutant academy? Or you find out you’re a wizard, but you don’t get a Hogwarts letter? What if you’re left to figure out your super abilities at the most confusing time of your life—puberty?
This is the premise of “I Am Not Okay With This,” according to director Jonathan Entwistle, the British filmmaker who was also behind the award-winning teen series “End of the F***ing World.”
This new Netflix series that had been adapted from Charles Forsman’s mini comics (he is also the creator of “End”) focuses on 17-year-old Sydney Novak (Sophia Lillis), a high school student undergoing the painful stage of adolescence. During one of her outbursts, she discovers that she has mad telekinesis powers, and she is obviously not OK with this.
But this seven-episode series is not your run-of-the-mill superhero series. Instead, “I Am Not Okay With This” is a coming-of-age show, a blend of John Hughes and X-Men films, to be exact.
“I love that this show takes puberty and adolescence and uses superpowers as its metaphor,” said producer Shawn Levy (“Stranger Things”).
Both Levy and Entwistle have a penchant for telling the teenage story. In “End,” Entwisle has adapted a story of two troubled teenagers on a wild road trip. Levy, on the other hand, has been at the helm of the production of “Stranger Things,” a wildly popular show about Demogorgons, a Mind Flayer, four middle school-age boys and a super powerful girl.
“What’s interesting about them is that they’re not only resonant for teenagers who are going through that stage of life. But all of us have that teenager inside of us forever. So I think that there’s something about that time of life, that transition from, you know, child to young adults. That is so intense and hard, and also exciting,” said Levy.
“I think that [there’s] just something super interesting about that particular time where everything is the most dramatic it can ever be. When seemingly very small things can happen in your life take on bigger meaning,” said Entwistle.
At the heart of the show is Sydney, played by Lillis (Young Beverly Marsh in “It”). In Forsman’s graphic novel, Sydney is much more like Alyssa of “End”—loud and angry. The creators, however, rewrote the character when they met the “It” star.
In “I Am Not Okay With This,” Sydney is an angsty teenager who pours much of her thoughts in her diary and keeps it there. She’s quite inarticulate, kind of reserved, angry and not your typical cutesy coming-of-age protagonist. Sydney’s a regular teenager, minus the fact that she has powers.
Sydney has only one friend, Dina (Sofia Bryant), whom she is madly in love with. And then there’s her eccentric neighbor, Stan (Lillis’ fellow “It” costar Wyatt Oleff), the only other creature in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who knows about her super ability.
“[When we met Lillis] she brought something that was a little bit more vulnerable and more haunted by superpowers,” Entwistle said in a phone interview with members of the media.
Levy said that creating the Sydney character that viewers get to watch on Netflix was a big risk and a brave choice for a protagonist.
“We pushed that anger and that attitude further in the show. And that was a big risk, but we did it because we believe that audiences enjoy antiheroes. They enjoy heroes who are hard to love,” said Levy.
Lillis was chosen from around a hundred of teenagers who auditioned for the role. When the “It” star auditioned, she said that she added bits of herself to Sydney.
“I like to put myself into character instead of trying to make me a whole different person. I like to relate to the character as much as possible,” the 18-year-old actor said.
Lillis confessed she shares several similarities with Sydney, like being inarticulate. And viewers will find many characters in the show relatable.
“And I feel like Sydney is very relatable in that sense that she tries to do her best to fix things, and be a good person. But there are times when nothing goes right and she messes up, but she still keeps this positive attitude, which is such a fun thing to watch and it’s very heartwarming,” she said.
“Being a teenager is not as ‘High School Musical,’” Oleff added.
Viewers of “I Am Not Okay With This” will not only find the characters relatable, the show will also remind them of classic teenage shows like “The Breakfast Club.”
Entwsitle made the teenage cast watch John Hughes films and “Dawson’s Creek” for good reason.
“I wanted them to see how an ensemble movie can work [in a] teenager situation, and then I wanted [them] to apply what they know from superhero movies today,” he said.
The fifth episode where Stan, Sydney, Dina and the other kids spend detention together gave major “The Breakfast Club” vibes.
“But the difference here is that no one actually likes each other, except for a few [characters]. Not everyone just gets along. It’s kind of very real the fact that [they don’t] like other,” said Oleff.
“I already feel like every episode kind of has some sort of John Hughes element, but very satire. It’s like you think it’s going to be the ending of a John Hughes film and [then] something totally different happens and everything goes wildly out of control,” added Lillis.
Another iconic film scene recreated in “I Am Not Okay With This” is the one from “Carrie.” Early in the show, viewers will see Sydney walking in the middle of an empty road, her white dress covered with blood.
Levy said that when he decided to collaborate with Entwistle, he was not looking for another “Stranger Things” show where some scenes paid homage to iconic ’80s adventure/monster films. “It’s a weird coincidence,” he said. “The Duffer brothers and Jonathan never say, ‘I’m going to do a shot like that movie.’ They never declare an overt copying agenda. They are just those passionate film nerds, and the images from the movies that have influenced them are always in their mind. So they end up revealing their inspiration.”
Oleff said that while the show took inspirations from its predecessors, “I Am Not Okay With This” does not really conclude with a happy ending, like most teen movies.
“I think that we’ve created something that is a little darker,” he said. “Not everything’s wrapped up in a bow is what I’m trying to say and I feel like a lot of shows do that.”
And this is exactly the teenage experience, said Oleff.
“The whole show is the kind of allegory for what it means to grow up. And I think growing up is confusing until you learn to understand what it means to kind of be an adult and what it means to live in the world. In a way, [it’s like] losing that innocence is a confusing way to becoming an adult,” said Entwistle.
At the end of the series, Levy, a father of four girls (three of whom are teenagers) wants audiences to pick up important things from “I Am Not Okay With This.”
“What makes you unusual makes you special makes you powerful,” he said.
“I Am Not Okay With This” is streaming on Netflix.