On the eve of what may become one of the most memorable elections in American history to date, the importance of voting and using one’s voice cannot be understated. The biggest and most vocal perspectives have proven to come from younger generations. Using modern technologies, modes of communication, and social media platforms, adolescents and young adults have researched, learned, and fought for policies they feel will grant society more freedoms, justice, and equality.
The younger generation’s engagement and passion for politics is the epicenter of Netflix’s often promising new series Grand Army. Featuring an ensemble cast of diverse characters with complex stories and familial backgrounds, the series takes viewers into modern day Brooklyn where political and racial tension wears the face of bomb threats and sexual assault, both on and offline. Almost blinded by its own ambition, the series forces itself to explore themes that plague teens today, often educationally exposing them to a likely blissfully ignorant older generation watching.
The series features several students at Grand Army High School in Brooklyn. First, there’s Joey Del Marco. Del Marco is a confident, radically liberal young white dancer; Dom Pierre, a Haitian-American student aspiring to an undergraduate career in psychology; Sid Parkam, an Indian-American closeted swimmer applying to Harvard; Jayson Jackson, an African-American saxophone player with dreams of Julliard; and Leila Kwan Zimmer, a Chinese-American freshman looking for her place in the world.
The central cast of characters couldn’t be more diverse, but each is developed with the streamline of fierce ambition and the pursuit of self-actualization. They are individually faced with conflicts on race, sexuality, cultural identity and belonging.
One of the inciting incidents in the series sees Jackson and his best friend Owen Williams grabbing Pierre’s bag and messing around with her. When Pierre’s wallet falls down a flight of stairs and is empty upon retrieval, the boys get into severe disciplinary trouble. Del Marco, nearby at the time, is roped into the investigation as a witness.
The aforementioned sequence provides an ample lens through which viewers can firsthand experience the plight of Black teens in America. Both Jackson and Owen were severely disciplined for something White teens regularly do without consequence. Innocently teasing another Black student, the boys are met with racism from the institution allegedly attempting to progress their lives and prepare them for higher education and the workplace thereafter. It further deepens its resonance through Del Marco’s limited, often ignorant perspective as a white woman. She sees the situation through the eyes of Pierre, a woman, being wronged, yet fails to recognize the broader racial implications.
Similar is Parkam’s experience in applying to Harvard. Just another Indian-American being profiled upon sight as dangerous or threatening, he attempts to stand out through vulnerability on his personal statement, revealing his sexuality. The through line is a beautiful exploration of the multifaceted identity.
Kwan Zimmer, a freshman at Grand Army, too faces the growing pains of a dynamic identity. From China, she was adopted by Jewish parents and grew up with little cultural ties to China. Reflected within herself and her interactions, this crisis of identity provides another glimpse into the trials and tribulations of the modern teen living in today’s America.
Creator Katie Capiello’s ability to curate a rich world of diverse characters is great throughout Grand Army‘s first season. While the 9 episodes are often very uneven and lack strong performances from the cast at points, its willingness to delve into complex and most often unexplored issues with a grit only few shows of its genre can credit themselves in doing. Comparing it to recent teen centric series like HBO’s Euphoria or Netlfix’s own 13 Reasons Why, the narrative may not be as strong, but it does well to refrain from glorifying certain negative aspects of the teen experience.
Substantial, daring, and interesting through its flaws,Grand Army is a timely must watch series for fans of the teen genre.