My love for On My Block came as a bit of a surprise. I was hesitant to watch the show like I am with every other coming-of-age high-school drama or comedy. While I’m a fan of many such tales, I’m reluctant to watch them because most of them are the same. The story of white adolescent suburban friends struggling through the challenges of school, love, and the world around them has all too often graced the television screens of America. I had no reason to think that On My Block would be any different—that is, until I watched the trailer. Thankfully, my skepticism didn’t hold me back, and after watching the first episode I realized that my assumptions were completely wrong.
On My Block is a 10-episode Netflix coming-of-age dramedy that premiered March 16 and has received unending praise ever since. Love, jealousy, high school, hormonal changes, and family drama are only a few of the problems that the show’s characters encounter, but the twist of it being set in South Central Los Angeles offers a different take on its genre entirely.
There’s no questioning the show’s diversity. One of my initial thoughts when viewing the trailer was that it lacked an all-white cast. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of great predominately white coming-of-age tales, but it’s nice to see someone like me being used as more than a token for once. Even The L.A. Timescommented that “‘On My Block’ continues the recent wave that treats teens of color as more than just sidekicks.” The show itself is set in a fictional neighborhood known as Freeridge but remains true to the predominantly Latino and African-American demographics that make up South LA. It’s refreshing. A childhood story told from the perspective of teens like Monse (Sierra Capri), Jamal (Brett Gray), Ruben, (Jason Genao), and Cesar (Diego Tinoco) is long overdue. Some might recall the 2015 coming-of-age drama Dope as it also follows a teen of color throughout his journey of self-discovery, but Dope is one of the only other examples of its kind among its white counterparts.
“We’re brown. Only white people find treasure,” states Monse at one point in the show. Her joke is one of many that relate to the characters’ racial and economic status. It’s something else that I find appealing about the series. The social status of the characters is never overlooked. In fact, it plays an integral role in the main storyline of the show. As a minority, I’m able to laugh out of both amusement and empathy. I finally have characters who I can connect with in more ways than one and if I’m being truly honest, that I want to adopt into my friend group.
The diverse cast isn’t the only thing that gives the show its charm. Creators Lauren Iungerich, Eddie Gonzalez, and Jeremy Haft did a great job in making sure that the show captures viewers’ attention in more ways than one. After all, Iungerich is no stranger to creating a universe full of teen drama and mishaps, having also created the popular MTV series Awkward. Some might find the writing of On My Block to be a little stiff, but it does enough to keep the interest of its target audience. The characters are well-developed, relatable, real, and woke. Young viewers are likely to enjoy watching the love quadrangle between Monse, Cesar, Ruby, and Olivia (Ronnie Hawk) unfold just as much as they’ll appreciate the attention drawn to some of today’s societal issues.
The most obvious and ongoing theme of the show is friendship. The strong bond between the main characters is part of what makes the show so addicting. Their friend group is like a family, and each one of them is willing to go to great lengths for the other. We see this on the show as Monse, Jamal, and Ruby desperately attempt to save Cesar from his family’s gang affiliation. The show is a reminder of how special childhood friendships can be and how they can play a pivotal role in our lives. Also, I want to give major props to the creators for not pitting the female leads against each other over a guy.
I could ramble on for days about my obsession with this show. After all, I’ve watched it twice already and am anxiously waiting for season two. On My Block has good vibes that will keep anyone wanting more and wishing they could redo high school with a friend group as cool as the one on the show. Never mind that this review is over two months late. What’s important is that shows like this continue to be recognized, so that more like it will be made.
Ting Ting Chen