On My Block is a Netflix Original comedy series that focuses on four teenagers — Cesar (Diego Tinoco), Ruby (Jason Genao), Monse (Sierra Capri) and Jamal (Brett Gray) — as they embark on their transition to high school. The group of friends must deal with the ups and downs of adolescence, while also negotiating life in a tough neighbourhood in Los Angeles. The show, created by Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez and Lauren Iungerich, and aired on Netflix on March 16, 2018.
NOTE: THIS REVIEW IS BASED ON THE SIX EPISODES THAT WE WERE PROVIDED FOR REVIEW, AND THUS DOESN’T CONTAIN A SCORE. IT WILL BE UPDATED AFTER THE SEASON’S AIR DATE.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I sat down to watch On My Block. Everything that I’d read to date described it as a comedy, so I was really expecting a broad, laugh-a-minute show. The reality is slightly different (more on that later), and so it took me an episode or two to really get where the show was coming from. But when I did settle into what it was meant to be I found myself really interested in the lives and loves of the four stars.
I think it’s probably fair to say at this point that I’m probably not the target demographic for this show as a middle-aged, middle-class, British guy. It did take my ageing brain a good couple of episodes to actually click into gear and understand what everyone was actually talking about. I’m still not completely sure I got all of the slang, but I think I picked up just enough to get by, like a British tourist in Europe talking louder and louder to make themselves understood. I may not speak (American) teenager, but I know enough to get by (with the aid of a few mimes). All of that said, I think that this is a really promising series, one that deserves some love and attention, and I’ll tell you why.
Like Netflix’s other teen-drama from earlier in the year, Everything Sucks!, a show like this will live or die on its leads and thankfully, for the most part, the key cast of On My Block is really very good. In a show like this I was expecting a bunch of stereotypes thrown together to form a group of friends, and although that does happen to a degree, these aren’t typical by-the-numbers archetypes as I was expecting.
Cesar is the cool/tough one of the group who is forced into gang life by his notorious brother Oscar, aka Spooky (Julio Macias). I think Diego Tinoco is arguably the biggest “star” in the cast, having shown up in Teen Wolf (not the brilliant Michael J Fox/Jason Bateman movies of the 80s, the recent TV show) or at least so I’m lead to believe, as Teen Wolf has largely passed me by. Cesar has the potential to be quite an interesting character; he’s torn between wanting a better life and doing the right thing by his brother and joining the family business (the gang). The problem is that Diego Tinoco is a little wooden. When he’s got to stand around looking brooding, handsome and chiselled then he manages fine, but when he actually has to convey emotion, humour or being a convincing human being, I thought he struggled a little bit.
The rest of the leads seem to diverge slightly from the normal stereotypes; Ruby is a very smart kid who is seemingly capable of convincing pretty much anyone to do anything. The only thing he can’t seem to do is convince Olivia (Ronni Hawk) to go out with him. Despite Ruby being a smart kid, he’s not your stereotypical teen-show nerd, as far as I could tell he seemed pretty cool — although I don’t really think I’m well positioned to pass judgement on teen fashion.
Jamal is kind of hard to define in terms of teen TV tropes, he’s a smart kid for sure but he’s also quite a neurotic one with a tough time keeping secrets, and he’s not particularly great under pressure. Despite his parents’ best efforts he is determined not to play football at high school, and there’s a great running joke in the half of the series where he seemingly has a new fake injury every time.
Finally, there Monse, the girl of the group. She was probably my favourite character; she has some great lines and has perhaps the most interesting character arc. Monse feels like a very well-rounded character in that she’s friends with this group of guys without being overtly tomboyish. She’s also not a stereotypical teen TV show female character who will only talk about clothes, boys and parties. The character actually feels like a person that could exist in reality, just a normal person, and that is usually one of the most interesting things to have on TV.
There’s not really an overarching plot to speak of but I don’t think that there really needs to be. On My Block is a Netflix Original series that places the characters at the front and centre of proceedings and then lets us see how they grow. There are some subplots (like the hunt for missing money from a robbery) that are quite interesting, but pretty much everything here is character driven, which I really liked. The chemistry of the core cast shouldn’t really be underestimated; the four of them work so well together that you can really believe that they’re lifelong friends, and I think that goes a long way to making it an engaging series. When you have interesting and believable characters interacting in interesting and believable ways then you’re already doing well.
While Netflix Original Series On My Block is billed as a comedy, I don’t think that really represents it particularly well. There are definitely some funny moments in each episode and some great lines. One in particular that sticks in my mind when they were discussing The Goonies was, “We’re not white, only white kids find treasure”. On My Block is more comedy-drama than an out and out comedy. There were not many moments where I genuinely laughed at loud, but I did find myself smiling to myself and nodding through most of the episodes — that’s not as crazy as it sounds, people do really do that, right? This actually reminded me of Girls. It’s smart and funny, with a great group of characters that I actually cared about. There’s humour laced throughout the whole thing but there aren’t any particularly big comedy set pieces. For some reason On My Block is what I imagine an American inner-city version of Skins might look like, despite never actually having seen an episode of Skins in my life.
I think that On My Block is a nice addition to Netflix’s line-up; despite the show making me feel increasingly old I really enjoyed it a lot. It’s well written, with sharp dialogue, but not in a strange, jarring way that makes it feel false. The characters are tangible, real people that you believe (for the most part) could actually exist out there somewhere. I think this is a great series and one that I’m keen to see more of, and I hope they continue doing interesting things with the characters.