Expectations are always high for the second season of a show. The honeymoon phase is over, and in a sense, the real work begins. It’s even tougher when the first season was critically-acclaimed and the most-binged original series of the year for the world’s largest streaming service. For season 2 of Netflix’s coming-of-age dramedy, On My Block, the series has high expectations — and they nail it.
In season one, our group of teens, Monse (Sierra Capri), Ruby (Jason Genao) and Jamal (Brett Gray), worked to pull one of their own, Cesar (Diego Tinoco) out of gang life while navigating inner-city life and searching for buried money that came out of an urban legend. Picking up right after the tragic events at the end of the first season, which resulted in the death of Ronni Hawk’s Olivia (this probably solidified her fate on the show), the Freeridge teens look to lean on one another for support as they help Ruby deal with his trauma and get Cesar out of the gang, once and for all. Also, Jamal found the RollerWorld money! So there are tons of shenanigans dealing with how they are going to clean the money — and use it.
No Olivia? No problem! Though she wasn’t necessarily one of the core leads, any main cast departure can shake up a show. In the character’s absence, the outrageously funny Jessica Marie Garcia steps up to the main cast as Jasmine, and fills that void like it’s nothing. But it’s not just Jasmine — across the board the show does a great job at showcasing its supporting characters in season 2, including the teens’ parents, notably Ruby’s mother, Geny (Paula Garces) and Monse’s father, Monty (Reggie Austin). The show also has an expanded role and return for Danny Martinez, who just appeared in the first episode of last season as Ruby’s brother.
Most of the first season looked at the teens and their friend group as a whole, but season two features major development as audiences truly get to know the teens as singular characters themselves. At the heart of Season 2 are two powerful storylines in particular that center Monse and Ruby. Sierra Capri, who continues to grow season-to-season, cementing her status as one of the strongest young actresses to watch right now, gives an enthralling performance as a young Black, Latinx woman in search of her own identity. As the identity of Monse’s mother is revealed, she’s thrown into a vortex at the intersection of race, colorism, class, privilege and loyalty. The show only delivered winks and nudges about Monse’s race in Season 1, (like Jamal saying she can’t revoke a Black Card because she’s only half-Black) so the fact that it is addressed head-on this season is satisfying.
The great thing about On My Block (and in similarly-themed series like The Chi, as we noted last season) is that it awakens audiences to the realities of the young folks who live in areas like the fictional Freeridge, because, as Monse notes this season, it’s easy to get “numb” to these realities.
Ruby’s journey this season is an example of this, and the definition of someone who learns that “it’s OK to not be OK.” After urging himself to feel normal and like himself after losing Olivia and almost losing his own life, he finds himself slipping in and out of depression and developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Films and television shows typically don’t talk about PTSD in this context (especially focusing on young Black and Brown characters), so it is great to see the depiction in this space.
As for Cesar, Diego Tinoco is outstanding in bringing both the gravitas and dejection of a young boy who is forced to become a man, way too early. Brett Gray’s comic relief as Jamal was one of the best parts about season 1 and he ups the ante in season 2. Garcia, who also had a good amount of comic relief in season 1, becomes a more multi-faceted character in her expanded series regular role as we see more of Jasmine. While season 1 was hilarious in its own right, things are even funnier in season 2. The jokes are sharper, more pointed and ever timely. The show’s ability to weave seamlessly between comedy and drama has a lot to do with the range and skill of both Gray and Garcia.
Besides tackling race and its relation to Monse’s identity, we also see a greater illustration of the dichotomy between the rival gangs, the Santos (primarily Latinx) and the Prophet$ (primarily Black). Although not connected directly to the gang storyline herself, in a way, Monse is torn between those worlds as she begins to learn more about her mother. We learn more about the gangs, how/why they were formed, and some surprising connections that other characters on the canvas have to these gangs. While I have to admit the season only scratches the surface of how race plays into the gangs and it could go a lot deeper, if the show gets a well-deserved season 3, there is a lot more to work with, considering events that take place at the end of season 2 surrounding the Prophet$, and how the teens reflect on what happens.
Aside from their group dynamic, an important aspect of season 2 is the showcase and development of the main characters’ relationships. The season begins with Cesar and Monse finally out to their friends and the public as a couple and an examination of the Cesar/Ruby dynamic in light of the shooting. The most entertaining and heartfelt of these relationships is the brotherhood relationship that forms between Cesar and Jamal after an unfortunate circumstance pulls them closer together. And on Ruby’s journey to healing, Jasmine becomes an important part of that and he begins to see her in a new light.
At the conclusion of these next ten episodes, you’ll be yearning for more as On My Block is still one of the best series out right now and brings forward a representation that we don’t often see centered onscreen.
On My Block Season 2 premieres March 29 on Netflix.