Imagine a comedy-drama where you have the classic 90s magic of Saved By The Bell and Boy Meets World, a high school version of the new age hit, grown-ish and the charm and wit of Netflix’s One Day at a Time reboot. Mix that all together and you have a formula that seems to work — Netflix’s coming-of-age comedy-drama, On My Block. Also, it’s an amazing fill-in for those of you who are still mad at Netflix for canceling The Get Down.
Co-created by Lauren Iungerich (Awkward) and Eddie Gonzalez and Jeremy Haft (All Eyez on Me), the series revolves around four bright and street-savvy friends navigating their way through the triumph, pain and the newness of high school set in the fictional south-central Los Angeles neighborhood of Freeridge.
The series assembled a talented cast of young black and Latinx actors, in what is many of their first major roles, led by newcomer Sierra Capri, who stars as Monse Finnie, a precocious Afro-Latina teen, raised by her single father with a penchant for getting her way. She’s joined by the remaining three members of the clique: Brett Gray as the token black nerd Jamal, Jason Genao as the charismatic, wannabe cool-kid Ruby and Diego Tinoco as Monse’s hardened, star-crossed lover, Cesar, alongside a couple of supporting characters who are classmates and friends.
In contrast to recent films and television series that have tackled young people of color in the inner city, the show focuses on portraying the humanity of these teens as opposed to zooming in on their plight, in a similar way as Lena Waithe explains her Showtime drama, The Chi. Before Ruby’s brother leaves for college in the opening episode, he tells them to stick together in high school and for none of them to sleep with Monse. While the foursome laughs this off, we’re plunged into a world where their relationships with each other are tested as they enter high school, and of course, a love triangle emerges.
During the first six episodes of its ten-episode inaugural season, the series covers bridging the gap in these relationships (both romantic and platonic), sex, gang violence, family drama, immigration, racial profiling, racism and much more.
As with any coming-of-age series, there are growing pains, but this works in On My Block’s favor and adds to its authenticity. Particular standouts here are Gray and Genao, who both have a commanding presence in any scene they are in. We watch its leading lady, Capri, grow into her own right on-screen, and she will become a force to be reckoned with in the coming years. You can feel and truly believe their performances, and it is clear that they are here to perform in what is probably the best acting from teenagers on television in a while.
While a lot of similar shows are mostly comedy or mostly drama, this show is perfect at straddling the fence between the two, going from subtle, laugh-out-loud moments to tear-inducing scenes.
On My Block is different than anything we’ve seen on television in relation to the experience of growing up. We’re not in the glossy suburbs.The stars are young people of color, dealing with real issues that happen in communities that they have to wrangle with during this pivotal time in their lives. Going this route comes with risks as well. The show, which despite being geared toward a younger demographic, bears a TV-MA rating, is very gritty in an effort to tell this experience. Hopefully, the risk pays off in huge dividends because it is worth it.
For a lovely story about friendship and timely societal issues, along with superb youth acting, here is your next binge. You’ll be waiting for Season 2.
On My Block Season 1 begins streaming on Netflix this Friday, March 16.
Trey Mangum is the lead editor of Shadow & Act. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org & follow him on Twitter @TreyMangum.