On My Block could have been brushed off as just another of those high-school-set stories. (Which if I’m honest is exactly what I did) Until I realized it shouldn’t be. Not only is it a lovely coming of age dramedy it talks about a world that isn’t represented as much as it should be on screen. The series hooked me within five minutes, not only because of the promising soundtrack but because of how the story was set to unfold.
Set in a rough LA neighborhood, On My Block follows the story of four colored teenagers: Monse who is a stubborn wannabe writer raised by a single father, Ruby a desperate; motormouth geek, Jamal a dramatic weirdo obsessed with the neighbourhood’s hidden treasure and Cesar the local gang member’s brother consistently running away from his paved future. The teens along with a couple of others, form an intriguing slice-of-life narrative that sparks a conversation on how teen life in inner-city neighborhoods is like.
The series establishes its diversity early on in the story. The first scene of the series places us at a typical high-school party, with drunken teens drinking and hooking up. But we soon realize how this teen story is going to be different from the ones we have seen before. We see the difference from the beginning as after the party is forced to end after the sound of gunshots being heard in the distance, the four teenagers take turns guessing what type of gun was fired. Gangs and gunshots is an everyday part of their lives, and this scene sets that tone quite nicely. Throughout the following narrative, On My Block stays true to its diverse nature and never loses its color-awareness.
While normal coming-of-age topics like sexual relationship and issues that tests a friendships find a place in On My Block, these are not the qualities that make the show great.
What makes it great is that it almost always focuses on issues of a teenage environment. In doing this On My Block neither tries to evoke our sympathies or solve their problems. The empathy lies in the realistic responses to situations by its characters. This can be proven in a scene in which Cesar says,“I don’t wanna spend the rest of my life thinking about dying, so I’m just gonna live.” On My Block attempts to remove the so-called stereotypes from mediocre colored narratives.
On My Block is also ultra-realistic in the way it depicts teenage sexuality. Whether it’s Monse and Cesar jumping into bed in the first episode or how Cesar had to “claim” Monse to protect her from the Santos or Ruby’s desperation for Olivia, the show knows where its roots are. A heavy-weight dialogue is delivered by Monse in the sixth-episode which portrays sexism at its most blatant and how it affects women of all ages, whether it’s in high school or in a workplace.
“For you, screwing me gives you street cred,” Monse yells at Cesar. “For me, screwing you makes me a whore.” This is a blatant jab at societal sexist values and how even a teenage girl is aware of how their involvement in sex is looked down upon, but a male’s involvement is praised.
Placing a show like On My Block in one specific genre is almost impossible.
Majorly because its characters and their back stories are so well-written that you find yourself watching a palette of narrative strings: romance, drama, comedy, and mystery. There’s Monse and Cesar’s buried romance which ends up being a love four-way with Ruby’s feelings for Olivia. Then there is Cesar own story, who hopes to avoid following in his brother Oscar’s steps and becoming part of a gang, but yet we see how he is consistently pulled further and further into it. Then there is Jamal’s story line. Apart from his absurd yet delightful comic reliefs (even when he is acting beside ceramic gnomes), his epic hunt to find the lost Rollerworld “treasure,” adds a magical realism touch to the narrative.
The show’s last two episodes are exceedingly interesting. Somehow the show’s makers manage to collide all these different worlds into an unbelievably climax that you are left with a bewildered feeling about what just happened. Soon enough, all the laughs and excitement that you share with the characters seemingly disappear, and it takes a more serious tone. Immediately we are reminded of just how hard and unexpected life can become. This is where the beauty of On My Block lies in the idea of saying a lot of things without saying too much.