On My Block
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On My Block follows four street-smart teenagers trying to survive the perils of high school in the fictional South Los Angeles neighborhood of Freeridge.
The cast features a number of once unknown actors who have become quite well-known thanks to the series. Jason Genao appeared on The Get Down; Brett Gray will appear on the new Star Trek series; and Jessica Marie Garcia can also currently be seen in Diary of a Future President.
The series goes beyond the typical teen drama, featuring a cast composed entirely people of color and a quartet of main characters dealing with problems both big and small. There’s Cesar (Diego Tinoco), who is expected to join his brother’s gang; Jamal (Brett Gray), the least mature member of the group who ends up on a series of Goonies-esque adventures; Monse (Sierra Capri), the smartest member of the group, who is entangled in a romance with Cesar; and Ruby (Jason Genao), who is trying to assert some independence from his family. On My Block can be very funny, but the writing never avoids the reality of the violence the characters live with every day.
There is no divide between the rich part of town and the poor part of Freeridge. As the title suggests, most of the series takes place within a single neighborhood (with the exception of Monse’s story). While other depictions of South L.A. tend to be either too soft or too hard, On My Block gets it just right. Gang violence and crime constantly shadow the characters (especially Cesar), but there are plenty of scenes of the kids just being kids. For instance, Jamal attempts to fake an injury to get out of playing football (much to the chagrin of his parents) and Jasmine (Garcia) constantly pines after Ruby.
Many of the series’ storylines deal with issues other shows haven’t covered. In the first season, Ruby’s family takes in Olivia (Roni Hawk) after her parents are deported. Ruby gets a crush on this pretty new girl living in his home (he’s still a teenage boy, after all), which is endearing, but what makes Olivia’s story powerful is the struggles she faces of not knowing when or if she will see her parents again. Deportation and America’s immigration system are starting to be touched on more frequently in entertainment, but it’s rare to see what happens to the children of those immigrants when they are deported, and the devastating impact this separation can have on families.
Much of the series’ charm lies in the relationships between these characters. Even as they are trying to help Cesar get out of his gang or are facing off with one of his rivals, they still manage to deliver a series of hilarious one liners. One of the best relationships in the show is between Jamal and his Abuela (Peggy Blow), who decides to take Jamal under her wing. Despite being rather eccentric (she smokes weed and encourages Jamal to search for secret treasure buried in the neighborhood), she does clearly care about him.
On My Block manages to succeed where most teen dramas fail by perfectly balancing the drama with the comedy and the reality with the surreal. Although there are moments where the series starts to veer off track, it always returns to the core four and their enduring friendship. The series never becomes flat-out absurd or melodramatic; the characters’ stories always remain grounded in Freeridge.
A clever, witty, and endearing look at the lives of inner-city teenagers that will make you laugh out loud but also sob uncontrollably. On My Block is the perfect blend of romance, drama, and comedy, a true standout in the world of teen drama.
On My Block can be (and should be) watched by teens, so if you do have a teenager, watch it with them. Many of the moments may remind you of your own high school days, so On My Block would also be a good choice to watch with your closest friends from high school (and it may have all of you playing “Remember when…”).
On My Block will end with its fourth season, but it’s actually getting a spin-off series on Netflix. The new series, simply titled Freeridge, the will take place in the same neighborhood but will follow a new narrative and a new set of friends as they accidentally unleash a deadly curse on the town.