Netflix’s new teen drama “Grand Army” closes off its action-packed pilot with this simple yet telling phrase typed across the screen: “I’m going to teach you things you’ll never forget.” Following a slew of New York City high schoolers, “Grand Army” shares diverse perspectives on the public school system and the general experience of being a teenager.
The first episode alone covers chaotic topics ranging from a suicide bomber to the boys’ swim team ranking the physical appearance of female students. The show primarily follows five protagonists, each of whom have their own plotlines that eventually connect to each other in some form. Sid, an intelligent senior who gets in with the wrong crowd, Leila, a freshman unsure of her own identity, Joey, a junior drowning in the stress of college and class rankings, Dom, a junior babysitting just to make ends meet and Jayson, a sophomore with a desperate passion for music, come together to create a vibrant, cohesive picture of what it’s like to grow up in the Big Apple.
The show is raunchy and overexaggerated from the start; one of the first sequences we see is protagonist Joey (Odessa A’zion, “Fam”) pulling an old condom out of her friend Gracie (Keara Graves, “Lost and Found Music Studios”) as other girls in the locker room loudly sing Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow.” Hairballs on the floor and aggressive, unwarranted bullying show the more unattractive realities of adolescence. The smart, realistic dialogue and setting allow the viewer to feel like they are experiencing Grand Army High School alongside the show’s characters.
Each of the five protagonists and their supporting role friends are unique, yet well developed enough to hold some sort of relatable quality to any given viewer. No plotpoint is left to feel one dimensional, since every character’s story connects to someone else’s. For every time Joey is frustrated about her relationship with her father, there is a moment of happiness as she makes plans with her friends to party later that night. No character is left untouched by natural teenage humility and confusion, creating a relatable and down-to-earth set of characters to offset the occasional absurdity of the plot.
There are a handful of times when a sudden change of pace interrupts the story’s flow. One moment two teenage boys are discussing their musical ambitions and desire to go to Julliard, and the next there is a deadly explosion set off by a suicide bomber in the area, causing the school to go on complete lockdown. Another confusing element occurs when the show’s live action style is randomly switched out for animation without an explanation until it returns to normal. It is revealed to be protagonist Leila’s (Amalia Yoo, “J Doe”) dreams, which is a quirky yet gratuitous way to show the inner workings of Leila’s mind.
Excluding the somewhat off-putting moments of the episode, the pilot of “Grand Army” is a strong opening to a promising series. It is raw and unapologetic in telling honest teenage stories; providing true insight into what going through adolescence in New York City is like. The show already lives up to its promise of teaching you “things you’ll never forget” by opening up a genuine conversation about the teenage struggle from a multitude of perspectives.
Daily Arts Writer Emily Blumberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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