"On My Block" follows a quartet of bright, street-savvy friends who are navigating their way through high school, including all of the triumph, pain and newness they experience along the way. Lifelong friendships are tested as Monse, Ruby, Jamal and Cesar confront the challenges of adolescence and life in their predominantly Hispanic and black neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles in this coming-of-age comedy
On My Block portrays an L.A. that feels familiar, but entertainingly different all at once. It’s a fresh take on a city I’ve lived in my entire life; evoking the innocent charm of 16 Candles or The Breakfast Club while bypassing the bleak hopelessness of such L.A. classics as Boyz in the Hood. It’s John Hughes in the hood, and I love it!
A New Perspective
On Old Ideas
Growing up in L.A., we all heard of the classic John Hughes coming of age films. And, though, I’ve now come to appreciate them as an adult, 16 Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink didn’t really hit home at a time when they actually might have mattered. The problem was, the popular pretty boy in our school was actually a cholo, the love crazed intellectual sidekick had to hold in his genius to avoid getting jumped walking from his home to school, and the awkward teenage girl looked nothing like Molly Ringwald. Basically, I just couldn’t relate. We needed a John Hughes film in the hood, and thankfully, we got one!
On My Block is another notch in the Netflix Original content win column. This teen dromedy has all of the elements of a classic John Hughes film, if it was purchased from a liquor store in South Central, Los Angeles. It’s four main characters run the gamut of typical teen tropes, only, sliglthy different. Giving the teen-coming-of-age-tale a fresh millineal make-over and setting it in the heart of Los Angeles, CA.
A CAUTIONARY TALE...
WORTH A DOZEN RUBIES
Ruben or Ruby as everyone calls him, is the love crazed quirky Duckie type who is equal parts adorable, but also tragically flawed. From the get go, Ruby follows the same treacherous path as his Hughes-ian counterparts, as he never vocalizes his true feelings to neither his friends or his crush. Instead, he incessantly tries to methodically formulate schemes to hook up, or if all goes according to plan, to find true love. Perpetuating the same cautionary tale that the iconic “Hughes Sidekick” has imprinted in our lives.
But, in him we also tackle family, community, and race. He is the conduit by which creators Eddie Gonzalez, Lauren Iungerich, and Jeremy Haft color the streets of their Los Angeles. Through Ruby, as played by Jason Genao, we’re given the full spectrum of what living in Los Angeles looks and feels like for a minority. From navigating through the politics of the Hispanic familial hierarchy when he’s forced to share a room with an imported grandmother from Mexico who stacks her room with religious totems, but also smokes a little weed when no one is looking. To facing the brutality of gang culture, racism and ridicule. Ruby encounters the most violent and raciallly charged adversity of the three others in the group. However, rest assured, it is never too heavy nor is it ever devoid of humor. On the contrary, the humor helps highlight some of the harsh realities that are on display, and poignantly makes light of what he, and the minorities in his community, face on a daily basis.
Goonies Never Say Bye...
Then we have Jamal, the Emilio Estevez jock who is anything but, a jock. Much like Estevez’s Andrew Clark though, Jamal as played by Brett Gray, has to face the constant pressure of achieving athletic success and meeting the standards his father has placed on him. However, Jamal is doing everything in his power to stay off the field, faking injuries and dressing them so that he can develop injury like symptoms even after he’s taken the bandages off.
Other than Ruby, Jamal is my second favorite character of the bunch. He gives us a little more than John Hughes and adds a dash of Richard Donner’s Goonies into the mix to ensure that all 80’s film tropes undergo this new millineal transformation. This also gives way to one of the best pairings of the show, and it doesn’t even involve any of the four main characters. It is actually between Jamal and Ruby’s catholic-weed-smoking-conspiracy-theory-believing-grandma. Their unconventional adventure through South Central L.A. to find the missing treasure of RollerWorld is like nothing we’ve ever seen. Taking the same fantastical approach to the pirate adventure in The Goonies, but transposing them with tales of Soul Train, a forgotten veterano, and a Divinci Code level decoding of a nursery rhyme.
Jamal’s quest is a refreshing break from all of the teen drama and allows him to come into his own and become the eccentric hero of his valiant quest, pushing him to the fringes of his self inflicted limitations and subverting what we previously thought we knew about his character.
The Hybrid Hughes' Characters
Finally, we have our star crossed lovers Monse and Cesar, as played by Sierra Capri and Diego Tinoco respectively. Like Molly Ringwald before her, Monse carries the torch of awkward yet opinionated and strong female characters, and typically tackles problems head on and confronts anyone who she feels is threatening her or her family: Ruby, Jamal, and Cesar. Cesar on the other hand operates as a Hughes Hybrid, melding the popular rich kid’s charm and unexpected sensitivity with the rough and misunderstood conflict of the typical bad boy. Of the two, I enjoyed the inner strife that Cesar brought to the story. Most notably on display when Ruby, Olivia and Cesar are confronted with a Brentwood boy on Halloween—dressed as a cholo—who begins to attack and berate the group for being underprivileged kids from the hood. As opposed to stirring up trouble, and knowing that they are out numbered, Cesar becomes exactly what the Brentwood boy accused them of being, calling on the help of his cholo brother and leader of the Santos, Oscar aka “Spooky” Diaz. Spooky drives up with a couple of vatos and intimidates the bullying white kids. It is at this moment however that Cesar’s conflict becomes so compelling, as he realizes that he might not want to be what the boy accused him of being: a gang-banging inner city thug, but he hasn’t done anything to stop that stereotype from continuing.
The Block is too Hot
The show as a whole is fantastic. For those who live or have lived in L.A., this show feels real, authentic, but also refreshingly new. This show plays with the existing Los Angeles ethos and continues to build with new millenial bricks, forming something new and exciting. However, it can at times become all too reliant on the city’s stereotypes, conveniently fitting cop cars or police patrols into frame multiple times for no apparent reason other than to paint an all too familiar L.A. picture. And, on ocassion, our characters can feel a little cartoony as well, unabashedly morphing into caracatures of themselves, a particular Los Angeles community or Los Angeles itself. Almost pandering to the new generation of viewers, and introducing them to the L.A. that Mi Familia, Blood In Blood Out and Friday had previously established. But, those missteps are quickly discarded as Ruby, Jamal, Monse, and Cesar rise above mere convention and in turn, offer a classic nuanced take of a John Hughes coming-of-age story for the little brown boy who wished he had a character like Ruby to relate to while growing up.
p.s. My wife took one look at Ruby and said she could see me like that in high school....and she’s totally right.
Thanks for reading.