Netflix’s new series, created by Lauren Iungerich, Eddie Gonzalez, and Jeremy Haft, brings us an ensemble cast of fresh, young faces and engaging characters. The show is a coming-of-age comedy (though at times reads more like a dramedy) starring Monse (Sierra Capri), Cesar (Diego Tinoco), Ruby (Jason Genao), Jamal (Brett Gray), and Olivia (Ronni Hawk), navigating the trials and tribulations of friendship, romance, and the pains of growing up as they begin high school.
The 10-episode season follows this group of teens as they try to save Cesar, the seemingly bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold of the group, from the grips of gang life after he’s initiated as a Santo by his older brother. Cesar’s not like his older brother. He believes in a future outside of the life the men in his family have led, but after his brother, Spooky gets out of prison early, he’s forced to partake in it. He’s mostly a bystander in his role (aside from the romance brewing between him and Monse), much of his agency is left up to the mercy of Spooky and his gang. Diego Tinoco’s performance was great, though I did feel some of the more emotional scenes left a bit to be desired in depth on his part but still convincing enough to make you feel hopeless in his most desperate moments.
Monse, who seems to be the show’s most prominent voice and leading character, is an optimist and a stubborn, determined soul. She’s the one that holds the group together, and the one most invested in saving Cesar despite the odds. An outspoken tomboy and an overthinker, Monse’s character struck a chord with me as I could personally relate to her character the most. Over the course of the season, aside from her budding romance with Cesar that hits several bumps in the road, she also spends some time figuring out the whereabouts of her mother, who left her and her father when she was only a child.
Ruby is the voice of reason and the logical problem-solver of the clique, and my personal favorite. He’s a kind-hearted, impatient, and nervous wreck but it makes him all the more endearing. Most of his arc for the season has him chasing after Olivia’s affections and trying to get everyone to take him seriously. His house is one of the main sets for a lot of the show’s group scenes and a haven for all of his friends.
I will admit that I wanted more for Jamal in terms of connecting storylines; he seemed very separated from the group for the most part. Though to be fair, he did spend most of the season on the hunt for “treasure” that nobody else believed him about and his unexpected camaraderie with Ruby’s grandmother was funny to watch. Jamal is an awkward, anxious boy that lies to his parents about liking football and fakes injuries to get out of having to tell them. But as far as his actual role in the group, he seemed more of a side character for everyone’s antics, but it seems as though it was intentional as we watch his frustrations eventually boil to the surface for never being the group’s main concern.
Olivia, who joins in the second episode, is Ruby’s cousin (not related by blood) from Houston who has to stay with Ruby and his family after her parents are deported. Though she didn’t grow up with the rest of the crew, she quickly makes a place for herself among them. She also adds a bit of drama to the Monse and Cesar romance when it becomes a love-triangle of sorts. The season also closes with her Quince taking place in the final episode.
The cast is primarily black and Latinx, with Monse being biracial, and the tone of the show relies heavily on Chicano culture, including the gang component. I hope that the this continues and that the cultural backgrounds for all of the characters are explored more. As of now, it feels somewhat like a Chicano spin on a teen show like Degrassi. The negativity of such a portrayal could be that at times it seems that some of the more serious aspects of growing up in the environment these kids live in aren’t depicted as realistically as they could be, but it still deviates from merely throwing together stereotypes and manages to touch on important issues in simplistic ways.
Overall, the chemistry on-screen with this group is phenomenal and they hold the story together rather well for what it is. The comedy may not do as well with an older audience, but I don’t think that should discourage anyone from watching, it still has some very powerful moments, and the nostalgia was almost inescapable. I certainly see the potential to go further in its content and depth for these characters that I hope we can continue to watch grow.