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Netflix is very much okay with the artistic collaboration between director Jonathan Entwistle and writer Charles Forsman. The two collaborated on Netflix's dark teen dramedy The End of the F***ing World, created by Entwistle and based on a graphic novel by Forsman, and their latest work, I Am Not Okay With This, will come to the streaming service on February 26.
The new series will adapt Forsman's comic of the same name, which centers on a girl named Sydney, played in the series by Sophia Lillis (It; Gretel & Hansel). She has to deal with the usual issues of high school, but also her budding sexuality — she's finding herself attracted to people that she usually isn't attracted to. She doesn't know who she is or what she's supposed to be, and then? Then she gets superpowers ... superpowers of a most inconvenient kind. She can't control her emotions, so she can't control these powers. Unlike every other superpower story there is, Sydney wants nothing to do with them ... she'd rather be able to get to class on time.
SYFY WIRE visited the set of what Entwistle (co-creator, director, and executive producer) describes as a "rural, steel-town" superhero show last year.
Entwistle found Forsman's work highly cinematic from moment one, beginning with the first time he picked up The End of the F**king World. "Big frames that look like stills from movies, he's a huge cinephile, and you can just see it immediately in his work," he said. "He managed to do something in a white box with someone's head, which had so much story in it … for me it was the first time I'd seen anything like that, and that really set the ball rolling for what is now a collaboration.
"A lot of the greatest lines from The End of the F**king World came straight from the book," Entwistle continued, noting how involved Forsman has been with both projects. "Whilst this book [I Am Not Okay With This] is very different in many ways, a lot of the deadpan humor that comes through it definitely stems from him and his kind of attitude … this '80s horror movie obsession that he has is definitely woven into this indie movie of a story."
There is no shortage of genre programming on screens both big and small at the moment, so Entwistle deliberately set out to make "a different type of genre show." As he said, "It's not necessarily a kind of indie movie version of a superhero show, it's more like a superhero show done differently." How did Entwistle go about making the depiction of superpowers on this new series different?
"I called it the 'Teen Wolf effect,'" Entwistle explains. "You have superpowers in the most inopportune moments, and that was very much the angle for how we do the superpowers. She kind of has a crush on this guy, she also has a crush on her best friend. She has no idea why she has these crushes, and the really annoying thing is she has superpowers. Very much for us, Season 1 is 'I have to get to math class but I can't, I just blew down a wall.' The superpower is the hindrance to her getting through high school in Season 1."
Adding to the superpower mix will be a bit of that much-beloved Stranger Things energy, as Shawn Levy (producer on that hit series) is also working on this one. What happens when those worlds collide?
"Just awesomeness," Entwistle says. "How can I take the tone of The End of the F***ing World and match it with the superpowers and the things which I love when I watch Stranger Things, or when I read a comic book, and that's what I Am Not Okay With This was. A John Hughes movie with superpowers that can all be kinds of intertwined with that deadpan tone and a worldbuilding aesthetic … making a more irreverent Stranger Things and a slightly more sanitized The End of the F***ing World, to meet them in the middle using the superpowers."
When it comes to Sydney, Entwistle describes her as "confused, literally confused about everything," first and foremost. She's dealing with her budding sexuality, high school, and now superpowers, and high school itself is highly conducive to telling these stories because, as he says, everything feels like it matters so much.
"Literally the tiniest thing, like 'Oh my God, she unfollowed me on Instagram,' is the biggest thing ever in the world," he explained. "I think there's no other thing like high school; there's nothing black and white at school. Everything is the biggest deal ever, and you can play with that."
SYFY WIRE caught up with Lillis herself during the visit, and she echoed this statement.
"As a typical high schooler she goes through so much, she — as normal high schoolers do — thinks things are worse than they seem ... she just wants to be a normal high schooler, and in a way she wants to be troubled with that, instead of having this other side that she does not want," she said. "Usually with superhero stuff, you see the origin story and in the very beginning they want that power, but it's so strange seeing a teenager have this power and not wanting anything to do with it.
"She's a very emotional high schooler, so you can just imagine what happens with those powers," Lillis added.
Entwistle echoed Lillis' assessment while praising his star.
"Onscreen, you will see, she brings a fragility and a reality to somebody who is actually dealing with superpowers. She has an amazing acting ability which comes from nowhere, literally nowhere," he offered. "You see it when the camera rolls, it is completely out of nowhere. That really helps the character, because in real life she's constantly surprised and excited that she's here with us every day."
He also worked with Lillis on the gestures of her superpowers, which Lillis says were not choreographed, just mostly made up by Entwistle. As she told SYFY WIRE, "I talked to him a lot about that. He has his vision on how things will work and how things will happen ... I thought, 'That's great, I'll go with that.'"
Since Entwistle definitely referred to this as "Season 1" and not a one-and-done affair, does he intend for this to be an ongoing series? The answer (at first) was a simple, "Absolutely."
He expounded on that, going back once more to his work with Forsman. "Talking to Chuck, he had these great ideas that never got written into the book about all of these things … we kind of worked together to try and build something out," he said. "I want to make sure that Sydney is essentially a chosen one, the only one right now, and she absolutely hates that. She has to come to terms with what it means to do that."
"There is, without going into too much detail, a much bigger, under-the-surface conspiracy that goes back much further to do with the powers," he added. "That will then come to light for the subsequent seasons where she and her powers — being the most powerful — will be used to somebody else's gain, or not. Depending on where we go."
Entwistle says that his own aesthetic would be found somewhere between the Coen brothers, David Lynch, and Wes Anderson. He's also a comic fan, and says, "X-Men is my jam, full stop." When it comes to adapting comic book stories to the screen, he admits, "It feels to me like it's really easy to do it good, and nobody ever does it good."
What is the biggest difference with Entwistle's approach? It has to do with something that comics writer Jimmy Palmiotti recently tweeted about — frustration that more comic book creators are not more involved with the films/shows that are based on their work.
When it comes to involving Forsman in the process, and involving him to a large degree, Entwistle said, "It shocked me that nobody does that more often, that nobody takes the time in that sense."
It's a joining of forces that will continue to bear fruit, as Entwistle added, "Chuck and I have plenty of other projects that are on the horizon, in theory, from his mind, through me, out into the world."
Could any of them be completely original stories?
"Maybe, but also all of the other things he's done too."
I Am Not Okay With This premieres on Netflix on February 26.