What is it about the high school experience that causes the media industry to thrive upon its dramatic depictions? “Skins,” “Skam” and “Euphoria” are just a handful of shows that have already established the enjoyment of young dedicated audiences, and yet Netflix still seems able to pop out a few more. The streaming service has been typecast for its usual recipe of coming-of-age material, which includes six cups of colorful frames, two tablespoons of spunky music and a pinch of a diversity just for good measure. But perhaps “Grand Army,” the company’s newest television release, is the product of a different formula.
To start off, the show’s biggest and possibly most positive factor is its distinctive realism. There are no overly saturated filters, no quirky tunes playing as the main character gets ready for school. Instead, it begins with a group of girls rapping Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” in a dirty locker room. This memorable opening scene sets the stage for the show’s refreshingly realistic portrayal of a Brooklyn high school during a bleak winter in New York City, a location that is prone to romanticization. In addition, “Grand Army” manages not to miss the important feature of New York’s jumbled diversity, with four out of the five main characters being BIPOC. Unfortunately, authenticity and a diverse cast aren’t enough to save the show from its messy utilization of its themes and characters.
Having only watched the first three episodes, my opinion may seem premature. However, there’s a lot to say on what I’ve gathered so far, not just figuratively but also because the show itself explores a lot in general. “Grand Army” suffers from the same plague as “13 Reasons Why,” one that causes symptoms of including every marginalizing aspect of society, which IndieWire diagnoses as “trauma porn”.
” “Grand Army” suffers from the same plague as “13 Reasons Why,” one that causes symptoms of including every marginalizing aspect of society.”
Sexism, racism, Islamophobia, LGBTQIA+ issues and sexual assault are all matters that deserve attention, but it’s difficult to communicate that fact when each topic is crammed into three episodes, let alone having to continue analyzing those same topics for the rest of the season. It’s disappointing, considering the varying backgrounds of each character garners my interest in getting to know them. After all, most shows can’t say they have a closeted Indian American boy and a Jewish Chinese adoptee as their main protagonists. Social justice is a broad concept and rather than covering each subcategory, it would have been better to focus on one or two at most.
“Social justice is a broad concept and rather than covering each subcategory, it would have been better to focus on one or two at most.”
The other caveat that comes with over-inclusion is the tendency to focus only on certain portions of the story, leaving others out of the spotlight. Character-wise, “Grand Army” fits this description perfectly, as about 80% of the scenes I’ve watched in the first three episodes consist of the show’s only White protagonist. After seeing countless moments featuring BIPOC in the trailer, I was excited to see the show have a more serious take on diversity, a characteristic that most other shows seem to lack. My expectations were ultimately unmet and instead I’ve had to witness the toxic interactions between Joey (Odessa A’zion) and her friends for the majority of the time.
It may not be a coincidence that “Grand Army” prioritizes the screen time of its sole White character, based on the scandal that emerged promptly after the release of the show’s trailer. Ming Peiffer, a former writer for the show, made a statement on Twitter explaining the negative treatment experienced by her and three other writers, all four individuals being BIPOC.
Sorry 2, 3 writers including me. Aforementioned tweet is just top of the iceberg. I’m sickened they chose this wording for the tweet and are whoring around the American flag in the trailer as though anything about this project was united
“Me and the 3 writers of color who worked on the show quit due to racist exploitation and abuse. The show runner and creator went full Karen and called Netflix hr on the Black writer in the room for getting a haircut. Yes you read that correctly. Who wants to interview us?” Peiffer tweeted.
Even without its controversial development, “Grand Army” establishes itself as a below average television series by using its alleged wokeness as a disguise for its poor delivery of Gen Z values. Matters like sexism, racism, Islamophobia, LGBTQIA+ issues and sexual assault are pressing problems for an increasingly progressive society, while Gen Z individuals are particularly troubled with the burden of finding their solutions. How social reform weaves within the process of personal development is a significant inquiry that young audiences can and should learn from, but “Grand Army” fails to properly address its answers.