“On My Block” is Netflix’s newest coming-of-age comedy about a group of four friends who are navigating high school and growing up in inner city Los Angeles. Not only do they have to deal with the stress of beginning high school and figuring out who they are, but they also face class and race oppression, gangs and family struggles. What sets “On My Block” apart from other teen comedies is its realness. It doesn’t sugarcoat the struggles of growing up as a person of color or in an inner-city environment. But, it also shows that it isn’t all bad either. It tells it like it is and does so in a way that’s both sharp and humorous.
The series follows four friends: headstrong Monse, played by Sierra Capri; fiery and charming Ruby Martinez, played by Jason Genao; high-strung and honest Jamal, played by Brett Gray; and Cesar who has recently been initiated into a gang that he has family ties to, played by Diego Tinoco. The series does an excellent job of bringing people of color into the spotlight. Not only is the cast very diverse, but they are also phenomenal actors. They all effortlessly feel more like old friends than characters in a TV show.
The group has their fair share of average teen struggles, including young love, puberty and school dances. But they also have a set of unique struggles that aren’t often talked about in regular teen comedies, such as deportation, violence and gangs. Gang life specifically is really brought into the spotlight as Cesar struggles with being a new member of his family gang. These topics may appear in a special episode on your average sitcom, but “On My Block” incorporates them into every episode to really show how normal these issues are for the characters and teens of color living in inner-cities. Not only does the show focus on the struggles of the teens, but it does so in an interesting and engaging way. And it is actually really funny.
What “On My Block” succeeds at is portraying being a young person of color as more than just bleak. Inner-city life is typically portrayed in the media as a horrible, inescapable thing. “On My Block” shows that there is both good and bad. Yes, the show does expose the struggles teens face, but it also shows that they can still have fun and create a good life for themselves. The group is hopeful about the future and they all have aspirations of “getting out” of the inner-city scene. The show gives young people of color the opportunity to see themselves on TV in a relatable way.
“On My Block” was co-created by Eddie Gonzalez, Jeremy Haft and Lauren Iungerich, who also created MTV’s “Awkward.”
"The YA (young adult) world is so white,” Iungerich told BuzzFeed News. “And just thinking about all the shows that are currently on a lot of channels and the iconic shows about teen years, including my own show ‘Awkward,’ they’re mostly through a white prism. Now, we’re getting to see these kids from a different slice of life and we get to see representation of their experience, which is not a bleak and negative experience.”
“I just think that it’s time to see more inclusion in TV,” Iungerich said. “I love the YA space and really wanted to work with writers and co-create the show with someone from that world to be able to do justice to these kids who haven’t had representation.”
There have been many coming-of-age films and shows representing the joys and struggles of being a young adult, and there will be many more, but the diversity, charm and wit of “On My Block” puts it in its own league.
Season one of “On My Block” is available on Netflix.
Melissa Scrivani is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.