Netflix’s newest show is a coming of age story about a teenage girl with telekinetic powers and her quirky best friends — and if that reminds you of one of the service's other most popular series, that's no accident. But while the cast and creator of I Am Not Okay With This welcome the Stranger Things comparisons, there are enough key differences between the two for the show to stand on its own.
“I’d love for it to be like the ugly sister to Stranger Things,” I Am Not Okay With This co-creator Jonathan Entwistle tells reporters on a visit to the set. The comparisons were bound to happen, considering Stranger Things' executive producers Dan Cohen and Shawn Levy take on the same role on I Am Not Okay With This. Entwistle also specializes in a very specific kind of teen show with a throwback aesthetic — he was behind Netflix and Channel 4's The End of the F***ing World.
I Am Not Okay With This follows Sydney (played by the It franchise’s Sophia Lillis), who's just trying to make it through high school unscathed when she discovers she has telekinetic powers she neither wants nor knows how to control. Entwistle describes the show as a combination of "a more irreverent Stranger Things and a slightly more sanitized The End of the F***ing World" — it has the supernatural excitement of the former and the deadpan tone of the latter (both I Am Not Okay With This and The End of the F***ing World are adaptations of comics by Charles Forsman). But Entwistle isn't worried that Sydney, with her telekinetic powers and short hair, will be compared to Eleven in Stranger Things. In fact, he’d love for that to happen, if only to highlight the more indie aesthetic his series takes in comparison to that big-budget juggernaut.
"I joked with Sophia [Lillis] the whole time about like, 'What do we copy from Stranger Things?'" he says. "I think that in a way, there's a lot of fun to be had with that. If anything, it makes I'm Not Okay With This stand out as a kind of... janky, indie version." While Eleven especially in the beginning of Stranger Things is defined by her mysterious abilities, viewers meet Sydney as an everyday teenager first. “It's not a show about superheroes,” says Sofia Bryant, who plays Sydney’s best friend Dina. “It's a story about a girl going through the trials and tribulations of high school, growing up in Pittsburgh.”
Plenty of other influences are apparent in I Am Not Okay With This, too. "It's kind of like Lady Bird meets X-Men," Bryant says. "But then it has that John Hughes high school vibe. It's kind of perfect." Hughes, who directed iconic '80s high school films like Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and The Breakfast Club, is a common reference among the cast and creators. Lillis says Molly Ringwald's characters in Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club were top of mind when crafting her performance as Sydney, while Wyatt Oleff, who plays Sydney’s geeky best friend Stanley, says he was influenced by John Cryer's performance as sidekick Duckie in Pretty in Pink. "Obviously I don't want to just copy the character directly, but kind of basing it off of that, and having that kind of quirky sense of weird that is somehow cool, is really fun to channel," he says.
I Am Not Okay With This may take cues from many beloved sources, but it manages to feel both familiar and entirely new. Still, Entwistle can't resist emphasizing his influences, appending a comment about how he hopes viewers will enjoy the show with a challenge: "I just want to see how many John Hughes references people can pick out."