On My Block balances what it means to live in an urban gang area, while never forgetting these are but 13 – 15-year-old kids. Of whom are just trying to make the best of a, sometimes, bad situation.
|Creator||Lauren Iungerich, Eddie Gonzalez, Jeremy Haft|
|Jasmine||Jessica Marie Garcia|
|Rosé||Angela Elayne Gibbs|
6 kids, between the ages of 13 and 15 are residents of Freeridge. A city in which two gangs, the Santos and Prophets, a Latinx and Black gang, have been beefing for years and this often leads to gunshots and deaths. But, for Monse, Ruby, Jamal, and Cesar, those gunshots are damn near a game. Well, after they run from where they think it is happening and feel safe. At that point, they are trying to guess the gun and laugh about it. Strange to many, I’m sure, but everyone figures out a way to cope the best they can.
However, it should be noted the entire show isn’t about gang bangers putting a damper on these kids’ lives. For the most part, it is actually their relationships. You see, Monse likes Cesar but since Cesar is a Santos, I’m talking it’s a multi-generational thing, he comes off as unsafe. On top of that, while neither Ruby nor Jamal are into Monse, there is this fear that her dating Cesar – openly – could ruin everything. Though, all things considered, no one is paying as much attention to Monse as she believes they are.
For Ruby, his play cousin Olivia is all he thinks about. Especially as she and Cesar get friendly and he worries Cesar is stealing his girl. Then in terms of Jamal, he is all about this Rollerworld money. Something that Ruby’s abuelita ends up giving him all the necessary clues, advice, and transportation, to go on a wild goose chase which fills his storyline.
But, while a lot of the season focuses on that, we haven’t talked about Cesar’s storyline. Outside of the Monse and Olivia love triangle, there is also being a Santos. Something he does not want to be part of, especially the more violent aspects, but despite what Monse, Ruby, and Jamal try to do, he goes deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. Leading us to wonder if there is the possibility of him getting out.
For a good portion of the cast, this is their first starring role and in the case of Sierra Capri, this is her first role period. So for them, when it comes to what we see of them, bring about this funny, loveable, relatable at times, and very real characters was something. Especially in terms of handling a storyline which was a dramedy.
I especially say this because there aren’t necessarily a huge amount of opportunities for young people of color to take on starring roles outside of being someone’s kid or sibling. Much less them being the focus. So considering the pressure, the fact they are working for Netflix, meaning they will be exposed to somewhere close to 100 countries, and what this show could mean for their career, the fact that they all brought it is applaudable. Though, of course, some were a little, perhaps just to my taste, more noteworthy than others.
The first one being Jason Genao. I stand by the statement made in a recap that he could be something in the vein of John Leguizamo and if Leguizamo ever decided to adapt his stage plays into mini-series or an anthology, Genao is his guy. For Ruby is arguably the most charismatic character and while this is an ensemble cast, you can foresee Genao eventually playing a lead on something. This especially can be seen as he interacts with Ronni Hawk’s character and romances her to the point you are in tears because of how beautiful the moment is sculpted.
And hey, considering you don’t see a whole lot of mainstream Latinx romantic comedies, or just plain romance movies, Netflix has seemingly found the right one for future casting. It isn’t like they haven’t shown the liked the young man with this being his second Netflix production, after his role in The Get Down.
For this being Capri’s first role, you have to admit she held her own well. Especially in terms of dealing with her character’s first love, being a persona which takes a leadership role in the group, yet still being a bit of a softee. To put it simply, Monse isn’t allowed to be one note. Yes, she is a bit of a tomboy, yes she is a bit of an around the way girl, but she still wants to be romanced, get to know the mom who abandoned her and sheds some tears. Life is hard out here for a little bi-racial girl in the hood. Especially considering the catcalling and pedophiles like Oscar being around.
I gotta admit, at first I wasn’t that fond of Jamal because of how weird and borderline ridiculous he is. Yet, seeing a weird, anxiety-ridden, Black kid, who was allowed to be young, wasn’t burdened by some need to be machismo and chasing girls, and things of that nature, I grew to love it. For you don’t really see characters like Jamal who aren’t the best friend we don’t learn a damn thing about. You know the type. Usually on some Nick or Disney show he is the token Black kid who is weird and loveable, may have a small crush on the lead, but that crush and one notable quirk, is as developed as the character gets.
Things are different here for Jamal. There is no love drama in his life but it is made clear he got desires and feelings too. His puzzle solving skills show a form of intelligence not often afforded to characters like him but in rare moments. Then you have to add in the fact we get to see him come from a loving family and lastly what really matters: He has an entire storyline.
Yeah, despite Ruby often dragging him into his stuff, Jamal has a full life between pretending he is on the football team to later his Rolleworld adventure. Thus presenting, once more, each character could very well be the star of their own program and with this comes the sense this is a true ensemble. Meaning all characters are made equal and you have an equal opportunity to fall for each and every one.
There is what I would like to call a love triangle in the show, but it avoids the storylines you usually see. We don’t see the boys or girls fight each other, or call each other sluts or anything like that. With each relationship being built off love and not a sense of lust, while they may get angry or disappointed in one another, there isn’t any over the top, soap opera theatrics. Something which may throw you off at first, but then you learn to appreciate since their type of maturity is rarely seen in teen or adult productions. Especially with romance as a storytelling element.
A part of me wondered, for a bit of the season, where are everyone’s parents? These are teenagers and all their parents are rarely seen, but then a friend pointed out this is a working-class show. Monse’s dad is a truck driver and with her coming into her teens, he is learning to trust her to be on her own as he heads out across the state or country. Ruby’s parents make it clear, around Olivia’s quince, they have to rearrange their work schedule for the party. Jamal’s parents own a restaurant, perhaps a chain, so that consumes all their time and Olivia’s parents are deported so, she doesn’t even have a means to talk to them.
Making Abuelita’s role as the adult figure, outside Cesar, such an important role and Peggy Blow nails it. Mostly through comedic moments, which at least half of the .gifs made for this show come from, but there is also the sweet moments too. Such as when the squad reaches a point of desperation and that last minute save they were hoping for didn’t come true.
But, where Abuelita really shines is her relationship with Jamal. As the rest of his friends pair up, and he brings up being alone, Abuelita comes in his life and presents herself as an encouraging figure. Someone who may not fully understand Jamal at times, but supports what he does and pushes him to go further. Which, again, you don’t see that often for young, weird, perhaps better worded as “care-free” Black kids.
Is Actually Made To Binge & The Finale Was Jaw Dropping
While Netflix is known for dropping a whole season at once and popularizing the idea of binging a show, arguably a lot of their original programs seemingly are written to be consumed week to week. Whether half hour or a full hour, made in-house or a co-production Netflix erases their partner’s identity of, there aren’t that many that push you to watch the next episode out of excitement vs. because you have gotten this far.
On My Block is different. The best way to put it is, On My Block is treated almost like a movie that got chopped up and made with the type of transitions to work as a show.
On The Fence
Here is the thing about Jasmin, she is as ratchet as a person can get and for those of us who grew up in urban environments, there is no doubt this is an authentic person. The issue is, Jasmine, as much as we may know someone like her, we don’t really get to know her past being a comical character. Jasmine never evolves from being a punch line or joke. Whether it is her being dogged as a potential love interest, no one really wanting to be friends with her, and her always being treated as some kind of last resort, the character ultimately feels shallow.
Which is a shame for in a time where supposedly messy means complex and complicated, showing a girl like Jasmine as something more than a joke could have been big. And arguably, from the few moments we get when Jasmine isn’t being ghetto, there is something more than that could have been explored.
Monse and Julia
Speaking of being explored, there is this constant balancing act between how you think a situation would be handled, what is realistic, and what is done for the sake of entertainment. When it comes to the Julia situation, there is this desire for the entertainment angle. You getting this sweet reunion between a mom and daughter, as well as her addressing why she left and never reached out. Yet, realistically, if she could go 11+ years without communicating with Monse, knowing she exists, and she has two kids a new life, why would she go backwards, for a lack of a better way of putting it?
But then there are other elements to the situation which are weird – at least from my point of view. From Monse Facebook stalking Julia rather than talking to Rosé, Julia’s friend, and then there is Julia giving Monse a couple of hundred of dollars. That, to me, should have set off a whole bunch of flags, even if Monse came to believe Julia isn’t her mom. But, even with that said, there is that inability to say whether you can imagine Julia reaching out again. Especially considering Monse used a fake facebook account and unfriended Julia after what happened.
Yet, really thinking about it, similar to how the love triangles didn’t go as expected, you have to appreciate how this storyline didn’t as well.
The Gangster Life & Oscar
Similar to Jasmine, one could argue how the gangster life and Oscar were presented didn’t give us the depth we should of. Now, this isn’t to discount Oscar establishing the sacrifices he made for Cesar. Much less we being able to put together how bringing Cesar in was just for his protection and the gangster stuff Cesar did was to pay his dues. Yet, a part of me kind of wished they pushed the idea further. Showing that the Santos, as a whole, were a family and it wasn’t just about gang banging.
Take Chivo, for example. It would have been nice to see Chivo, who seemingly just ran the flower shop, being visited by Santos, Oscar included, especially when he was in the hospital, and it being like extended family. For if there is one thing perhaps not shown enough is how gangs build a community.
An idea I know may sound weird to some, but the heart of gang culture isn’t always money, drugs, and sex. Often times it is creating a family to make up for the dysfunctional or absent one you have. Coming together for the sake of protection, and making it so certain individuals, like when Jamal was doing well, they get extended a certain amount of protection so they might get out of the hood.
The Police Presence
It was kind of weird we only saw the cops in one episode despite all the gang activity and gunshots going on. Then for that cop to be used for a gag, it was sort of nice because it showed not all cops in an urban area are a**holes but also left a weird afterthought, as opposed to aftertaste. But again, the show arguably does is best to not fall into every expectation and you have to respect that.
Overall: Positive (Watch This)
On My Block | Netflix Official Site
While there are some elements I just didn’t get, and you may not understand, they all can be written off as areas for improvement. Whether it is Jasmine, how the gangster life is presented, or whether or not Julia appears again. However, the good doesn’t just outweigh the bad but eclipse it. For between such an awesome cast, of which each character is written as if they could have a spin-off with their own story, combined with their chemistry, how can you not be in love?
Also, with it fully harnessing the Netflix binge culture and figuring out ways to throw you off from your expectations, but not so much to turn you off, you have to give props to the writers for that. So, with all that said, check out On My Block only on Netflix.
Has Another Season Been Confirmed?: Season 2 confirmed per Shadow & Act.