Jaspar Savage / Netflix
The opening credits sequence of Netflix’s latest teen melodrama Great Army is brief, but a perfect distillation of the show’s modus operandi. During a montage depicting the faces of various young characters, a thudding, throbbing noise accompanies the moan of a siren. From episode to episode, a different set of phrases flash on the screen; in the second episode, these phrases are “Fk the fing patriarchy”, “I’m afraid” and “zero tolerance”. Great Army, he said in seconds, it is about existential fear in the face of institutional oppression.
It’s about this moment, people!
These three sentiments are just a small sampling of all the themes and hot topics in this sprawling series, about an eclectic group of college students at a fictional public high school in Brooklyn, trying to cover over nine hour-long episodes. : – prison pipeline. Transracial adoption. Sexual assault. Homophobia. Xenophobia. Slut-shaming. Poverty and unemployment. Mental Health. Black lives matter. Microaggressions. If you can hashtag it, it’s probably happening in some form among the kids at Grand Army High.
Great Army is loosely based on the 2013 play by playwright and teacher Katie Cappiello SLUT, who borrowed from the personal experiences of her students to create the story of Joey, a 16-year-old girl who is sexually assaulted by her male friends. In the Netflix version, Cappiello and his Writers’ Room expand beyond Joey (played here by Odessa A’zion) to include a host of other characters whose narratives sometimes intersect with his: Dominique (Odley Jean), an ambitious student-athlete whose family leans on her for financial support and babysitting duties; Siddhartha (Amir Bageria), a senior swimmer struggling with his varsity essay and questioning his sexuality; Leila (Amalia Yoo), an overly relentless recruit who needs the attention of older boys while harboring intense teenage angst; and Jayson (Maliq Johnson), a talented saxophonist who, along with his best friend, has serious trouble at school for some stupid prank.
The show wastes no time plunging viewers into a gloomy pit of each character’s anxieties, as a nearby bombardment sends the school into lockdown in the first episode. As soon as it is revealed that the suicide bomber was a Muslim, for example, Siddhartha, a first-generation Indian-American, naturally worries about being the victim of racial profiling. Elsewhere, Joey’s teacher harshly berates her for finding “an excuse to put your body on display” and insists she cover her legs. (Joey is wearing gym shorts because she was in gym class when the attack happened.)
Meanwhile, members of the boys’ swim team are circulating a misogynistic list rating some of their classmates, and Leila, who was adopted from China by white Jewish parents, is proud to hear that she is listed there under the name “JAP”. (It’s unclear if this is meant to represent the American Jewish princess, the derogatory term for people of Japanese descent, or both.)
Etc. Not unlike HBO Euphoria, Great ArmyThe vision of what it means to be a child in time (pre-COVID) is painfully bleak. Everyone is weighed down by a capital-A albatross that is inextricably linked to their most discriminated identity, and more often than not, that becomes their defining feature in the most obvious and least imaginative way.
This is part of the riddle of Great Army. While its ambition to tackle diverse perspectives is admirable, it often resembles the experience of being deeply rooted in the grueling realm of Twitter, where highlights can be raised and ‘liked’ and even a Twitter thread. cleverly detailed cannot be seen as a substitution for a larger essay. With a few exceptions, the majority of the characters feel like they were designed as avatars through which to tackle an important social issue first, and then as fleshed-out human beings.
Joey is such an exception. Despite a storyline that seems somewhat predictable amid the many recent films and TV shows In the face of sexual assault, A’zion infuses Joey with outspokenness and loudness, a sharp specificity, from her punk attitude (she is a fan of Bikini Kill) to the expressive and agile way in which she carries herself.
Dominique’s tale is the undisputed climax, transforming what at first glance seems to hover dangerously close to poverty porn into a surprisingly nuanced take on the black girl and her joys as well as her pitfalls. Her socioeconomic struggles at home are in some ways extreme compared to her classmates, but nonetheless she has a strong emotional support network all around her, at school and at home. Jean’s performance finds different nuances and traits in all of Dominique’s ups and downs, and one scene in particular, at the end of the series, in which she describes her professional and personal dreams, is sobering and moving.
It should be noted that last month, writer Ming Peiffer alleged on Twitter that she and two other writers on the series resigned due to Cappiello’s racist mistreatment and concerns about the script’s portrayals of his non-white characters. (Peiffer is credited as the co-author of episode eight.) While more details have yet to emerge around these claims, it’s hard to recommend. Great Army for this reason, even as all the performances of this compelling cast of newcomers soar above the mixed bag of material. How do you reconcile what could have happened behind the scenes when it is so directly in opposition to the proudly proclaimed message of the Progressive Ideas and Empowerment Project?
I come this way: your mileage may vary. So gritty YA shows that proudly cling to a “malfunction junction“Premises are usually your jam, it’s probably worth a try. There will also likely be some viewers who find value and catharsis in some stories, and that shouldn’t be ruled out. , Great Army can turn out to be too staid, made too brutally the manifestation of a tiring speech on social networks rendered in a dramatic form.
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