New Netflix Series 'On My Block' Is Uncompromising in the Right Ways

On My Block had me hooked in the first five minutes. No, not only because the music team pulled out Atlanta singer Daye Jack in the first episode. It may have been the candles during the blackout that got me, or that everyone knows Spanish, drinks 40s of Old English, or the fact I spotted someone rolling a joint on the hood of car within five mintues. Or maybe it was the sounds of helicopters buzzing above the block in every episode. There was just a homey, casual feel to this show that reminded me of growing up and the comedy made all the plotlines a pleasure to digest. This review contains light spoilers.

on my block netflix
'On My Block' is now streaming on Netflix. John O Flexor/Netflix

We're first introduced to the crew peeking over the neighbor's fence, Home Improvement -style. Jamal (Brett Gray), Monse (Sierra Capri), Ruby (Jason Genao) and Cesar (Diego Tinoco) are spying on the party next door until a gunshot ends the evening. Running away from the noise, the teens argue about what type of gun went off. Just another day on the block.

On my block netflix
'On My Block' is now streaming on Netflix. John O Flexor/Netflix

What's striking about this show isn't the struggles of high school life. It's those external influences that kids in certain areas of any given city face on the daily. In this case, Cesar's brother gets out of jail early and he's pressured to join the Santos gang. The stakes ramp up when Cesar is tasked with killing someone. His innocence and wishful thinking wind up having unforeseen consequences for his friends, which makes for an unexpected finale.

on my block netflix
'On My Block' is now streaming on Netflix. John O Flexor/Netflix

On My Block's smartest creative decision was reinventing the classic "hidden treasure" narrative to fit within the confines of city blocks. Rumor has it that when the neighborhood roller rink, "Roller World," was robbed, the culprits hid all the money before they were arrested. As Monse says, "only white kids find treasure," so the fact that brown kids can find treasure adds a really strong and fun thread to the show. The looming mystery also makes their world feel big, as Jamal takes his investigation outside the neighborhood and must build relationships with adults to aid him. The best part of the treasure hunt are the intentions behind it. Jamal doesn't want to just be rich. The motivation behind the hunt, and the entire premise of the show, is "Save Cesar."

on my block netflix
'On My Block' is now streaming on Netflix. John O Flexor/Netflix

Ruby allows the series that same coming-of-age feel as earlier entries in the genre. But his character is so charming and different that calling it a "coming-of-age story" feels like a cop-out. He helps his mother take care of his twin brothers, he does charcoal masks, and isn't completely embarrassed by the fact his seamstress abuela makes him model pink dresses. In one scene, he bonds with a gang leader with glitter all over his face. Yet he's obsessed with impressing Olivia (Ronni Hawk), a "cousin" staying with the family after her parents were deported.

on my block netflix
'On My Block' is now streaming on Netflix. John O Flexor/Netflix

The series transforms familiar, seemingly average plots into something that feels new and fresh. From jump, Jamal and Ruby stand up for Monse after rumors swirl about her hooking up with Cesar. And whether the rumors are true or not, Monse is aware of how they can affect the way people perceive her, both within the squad, around the neighborhood and in high school. One of the best parts was the missed opportunity for a petty girl fight. Two girls don't become enemies. Instead, the series saves the tension and jealousy for the boys.

on my block netflix
'On My Block' is now streaming on Netflix. John O Flexor/Netflix

Performances from Ruby's abuela (Peggy Blow), Jasmine (Jessica Marie Garcia) and even Cesar's older brother "Spooky" (Julio Macias) really sold the element of intentional, precise imperfection that made the show feel irresistibly charming. It's hard to put any of these characters in a box. On My Block isn't treated for the usual mainstream audience, is relatable in ways we've never seen before, and offers the same feeling of raw beauty city natives enjoy everyday.