Photo Credit | By Flickr, Gaana Live
By Asar John
On October 16, Netflix released what some may consider the greatest modern teen-drama series yet– and its name is Grand Army.
Grand Army, created by Katie Capiello, covers the disarrayed lives of five New York City teenagers who attend the fictional Grand Army High School in Brooklyn. If the storyline seems familiar, it is. That’s because it’s loosely based off of Capiello’s 2013 “Slut: The Play”. Watching the trailer for the series, it may appear to a viewer as your average high school-based show that delves into romance, jocks, performing arts and overhyped teen angst and drama. However, Grand Army is anything but cliche– it’s raw to say the least.
Now you may be questioning “greatest modern teen-drama,” as if I’m counting out Degrassi, Euphoria or 13 Reasons Why. But that’s not the case– it’s the authenticity of Grand Army that makes it so astounding and relatable.
The series touches upon these, but not limited to, racial tension and microaggressions in a high school setting, sexual assault, toxic home lives, internal sexuality struggles and relationships, and also the intricacy of them for your average teen. It also deals with issues that may seem less complicated on surface level but definitely not subtle, such as self-confidence, friendship dynamics, and trust issues.
Grand Army also has its own way of describing what’s going on a character’s head, from psychedelic animations to spoken words of strength by tertiary, yet influential, figures who resemble the strength of the show’s main characters. However, this happens usually when something symbolic about the character is being portrayed in a scene. To say the least, almost every scene in Grand Army is symbolic and is unique to each character.
This portrayal is always assigned to the female characters in the show, such as controversial and typical attention-seeking freshman student Leila Kwan Zimmer (Amalia Woo), and other more seemingly mature and older characters, Dominique Pierre (Odley Jean) and Joey Del Marco (Odessa A’zion). These female leads in the series all are experiencing their teenage years through the social factors of being young women of different backgrounds in America.
As for the young men, there’s Siddartha Pakam (Amir Bageria) and Jayson Jackson (Malik Johnson). Both of these characters also grapple with the social factors of being South Asian and for the latter, African American. These two are given pretty unfair ultimatums in the series, with one that changes their life forever.
Although the show is about these four other teens who attend the same school, Joey’s storyline is one that dominates and at one point, can be quite thought-provoking for most viewers. It’s hard to examine Joey without revealing too much. That’s how powerful of a figure she was in this series.
Earlier I mentioned the rawness of the show. Grand Army can get pretty graphic at times, not only with the use of expletives, sex scenes, dire scenarios and literally, graphics that were created to portray one character’s inner thoughts. From the language exchanged between characters to their overly ambitious behavior to the wardrobes, the producers and creator of the show really clamped down on the reality of the high school experience in this day and age.
One element that stood out to me and I thought was quite obvious, was the interaction between the different cliques in the school. The way they are portrayed in the show, doesn’t stray far from those at your local public high school. One thing about a clique is that it won’t interact with another clique when they’re all together at once. One teen from a clique may find themselves talking to a teen from another clique in school when they are alone as an individual, meaning the other clique members aren’t around.
This leaves them vulnerable and let their guard down, without the added pressure of their peers who may find it odd or unacceptable to be speaking with another teen of a different clique. It’s one of those unofficial subconscious rules of high school that make absolutely no sense, but people will follow it anyways for the sake of wanting to be recognized by a group of people they can or strive to relate amongst. In Grand Army, this petty ideology is made clear especially when it comes to any dialogue seen with Joey and Dominique.
Interaction in general was key to my gravitation towards the show. The way the teens talked, texted, and physically interacted with each other reminded me to a tee of how things were in high school, which was not so long ago. Although Grand Army depicts teenagehood, all of the actors who depicted Grand Army High students were above the age of consent. This is no surprise because, well, the events painted in Grand Army are what actually occurs in the lives of many high schoolers in 2020. Additionally, Netflix and the creators probably would not want to bear the burden of having underage persons portraying some of the acts featured in several episodes.
Of course, this review must end with a trigger warning– Grand Army, for sure, is not for everyone–and that refers to many of the aforementioned details of the series. I would recommend it for those who have been a high school student in the last eight years or so, only because you have to relate to it and have had a high school experience centered around the countless topics covered in the show. Essentially, you’d have to find yourself in it to grasp all elements of the show.
Personally, this is one Netflix show that I’ve found nothing content-wise to critique. Well, maybe a few more episodes in the season since I finished it so fast, but we can’t all get what we want. However, one detail many viewers may wish for, especially in a second season, is a zero-in on some recurring characters, such as Meera Pakam, Sid’s sister, played by Ashley Granger and Victor Borin, (August Rosenstein). While the lives of all characters in the show were quite eventful, even from the first episode, I’m hoping to see the attention shift to the fate of some recurring characters’ lives after past actions may come to haunt them.
The series was also surrounded by some controversy upon release of the trailer on September 2, with a former writer on the show blasting Capiello in a quoted tweet of the trailer.
Me and the 3 writers of color who worked on the show quit due to racist exploitation and abuse,” said Ming Peiffer in a tweet, who claimed to be a former writer for the show. “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?”
If anything, Capiello should make up for her own internal racism for getting in the way of the show’s production and acknowledge that she did harm to these writers of color, all while producing a show that focuses on the very same aspects of social issues that she was responsible for perpetuating.
Overall, the tumultuous Grand Army gets an astounding nine out of ten. There hasn’t been an official word on a second season, but of course fans of the genuine Netflix series will be rooting for one.