With the ever-rising dominance of Netflix in the digital streaming world, there are sure to be just as many misses as there are hits when it comes to original programming. For every amazing show like Stranger Things, there’s a pretty bad one like Iron Fist. With this in mind, it can be easy to brush off Netflix original movies or series that fly under the radar and have almost no hype to them. We would definitely rather spend our time binge watching Altered Carbon for the third time instead of checking out something we may not enjoy at all. As I perused the list of new shows the other day, I stumbled across one I had never heard of called On My Block, and the description grabbed my attention. After spending that night and most of the following day watching the series’ ten roughly half hour long episodes, I can say without a shadow of a doubt, On My Block is something special and is much more akin to the greatness that is Stranger Things than the disappointment we found in Iron Fist.
On My Block follows the story of a group of long-time friends living in south central Los Angeles, who are entering their freshman year in high school. The story is very much a coming-of-age tale, and while it can come off as a comedy at first, On My Block balances that comedy with excellently handled drama. Funny things will happen, but you’ll also witness the struggles of young teenage love and the problems involved with growing up in a neighborhood overrun with gangs. In the first episode, the kids hear a gunshot and they argue about what type of gun it was until they can all agree on one. Instances like this are unsettling, as they show a harsh reality in which children not only have to witness this sort of thing regularly, but are also relatively desensitized to it. With that said, again, On My Block finds a way to masterfully balance truly funny moments with the hard-hitting stuff. I’m not always a “laugh out loud” type of person when watching things alone, but I found myself busting out in laughter more than a few times.
Other stand-out themes from the show revolve around Monse (Sierra Capri) struggling with the idea of being in love with one of the other members of the crew, as well as finding a way to deal with emotions rising from the fact that her mother abandoned her and her father when she was much younger. It doesn’t take the viewer actually being from a rough neighborhood like the cast; anyone can identify with dealing with young love, and, unfortunately, just as many can understand what it’s like to grow up without a parent. Cesar (Diego Tinoco) gets dragged into the gang life when his brother, a high-ranking member of one of the local gangs, is released from prison. Cesar wants to be a normal kid, but he fears the repercussions of moving away from the life. He does what he can to make his brother proud while trying to maintain some semblance of his early teenage years with his friends. The new girl in town, Olivia (Ronni Hawk), is taken in by another main character’s family when her parents are deported back to Mexico. She falls into a love triangle (almost a love square, actually) and must come to terms with the many feelings involved.
On the humorous side, Ruby (Jason Genao) is the math whiz and idea man of the group. He’s involved in Olivia’s love square, but spends most of his time on screen being the conscience, as well as the major comic relief. Jamal (Brett Gray) has what is probably the most interesting story in the show (not that the others aren’t), as he attempts to find the location of a large sum of money rumored to be buried by gang leaders after a heist.
Most of the story beats in this part of the show are a bit predictable, but Brett Gray’s acting and the superb writing make this section not only hilarious, but very relatable. Maybe we aren’t all looking for secret gang member treasure, but we are looking for something in life. Jamal’s dedication and frustration at the constant curveballs his quest throws his way are things anyone can feel and identify with. Each and every main cast member delivers memorable and, frankly, stellar performances that were quite unexpected from such young people. The best moments come from the last few episodes, when things start to get really heavy. I would be remiss to leave out the fact that the final minutes left me feeling incredibly sad and broken, vying for the opportunity to see what will come next.
This is an extremely culturally and racially diverse cast, which works in the series’ favor. The fact that On My Block uses such a cast without feeling the need to dive into topics such as racism speaks volumes, as the creators and writers are more concerned with telling a fairly normal story about growing up, love, friendship, and dreams than falling into cliché territory. Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t have minded if the show went there. Racism truly is a real-life problem we still have today, and it is absolutely necessary to address how terribly disgusting it can be; but it’s nice to see the show break away from what most people have come to expect. With that said, I can definitely see the show tackling racism in the future. I feel that topic will gel much better in a second season, since we will know these characters so well by then.
On My Block is a Netflix original at their best, and I’m so glad I took a leap of faith and decided to watch this series. The themes are heavy and relatable; if you’re a human being, you’ll find something you can identify with in On My Block. I’m chomping at the bit for a second season, and I will gladly binge watch the hell out of it as soon as it is released.