Sophia Lillis as Sydney.
Sophia Lillis as Sydney.
Image: Netflix

How do you go about making a superhero story that feels like it has a distinct flavor in a media ecosystem drowning in superhero stories? I Am Not Okay With This does a solid job. It’s not the greatest show Netflix has ever put out, but it has a beguiling and distinct sense of rhythm and tone that sets it apart from other superhero fare.

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Talking to Entertainment Weekly, director and executive producer Jonathan Entwistle (The End of the F***ing World) and producer Shawn Levy (Stranger Things) break down how they tried to make a superhero coming-of-age story that leaned much harder on the coming-of-age than the superhero.

“When Jonathan and I pitched this show to Netflix, we pitched — I remember this very vividly — Lady Bird meets X-Men,” Levy said. “We wanted a grounded, quirky, idiosyncratic character coming-of-age story that happened to have some superpowers. Lady Bird, some John Hughes work, everything ranging from X-Men to every other superhero with powers. These were the models.”

Unlike, say, the MCU’s Spider-Man series, which works some John Hughes into the superheroic formula, I Am Not Okay With This endeavors to do the opposite, by working a little superpower stuff into the ensemble teen story. It’s a show as influenced by Dawson’s Creek as any comic book, which gives it a sharp flavor.

“A lot of my work I like to think feels like it takes place in 1980-2002. Everything I indulged in in my childhood I want to be in there, ranging from Fargo and Twin Peaks all the way through to Freaks and Geeks and Pretty in Pink and Dawson’s Creek and all these high school things that were such a huge influence on me in the U.K. That’s what I wanted to bring in there — I grew up on 10 Things I Hate About You, the almost Shakespearean quality of high school shows,” Jonathan Entwistle explained.

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In adapting the Charles Forsman indie graphic novel that the show is based on, Entwistle said that there was one particular feeling, especially in regards to most superhero stories, that he wanted to portray.

“I want it to feel like what happens if you’re born with superpowers and Professor X never shows up to teach you how to use them, or Hagrid never arrives to take you to Hogwarts,” Entwistle said. “What does it mean if you have to go to school in Pittsburgh and keep these things secret? I wanted to honor [Forsman’s] version of a superhero story with this idea of the first season being an origin story to one of Chuck Forsman’s superheroes, rather than Marvel or DC.”

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Most super stories have that moment, where the hero gets wrapped up in a bigger adventure. This one never does, which makes it remarkable, and more than a little refreshing. I Am Not Okay With This is on Netflix now.

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io9 Weekend Editor. Videogame writer at other places. Queer nerd girl.

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