Arts, Television, Review

‘Grand Army’ Offers Unoriginal Take on High School Drama

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The emotional journey that viewers will take while watching Grand Army is almost indescribable. From start to finish, the first three episodes will leave audiences reeling from all the ups and downs of watching the painfully tragic daily goings-on of aimless, unsupervised, and reckless high schoolers. 

The Netflix original, which is based on Katie Cappiello’s play Slut, follows the contorted, trauma-filled lives of a group of teenagers attending Grand Army High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. The nine-episode series is a weak combination of Riverdale and Euphoria, with all the sexual frustration, drug abuse, nudity, and violence of both shows. Yet Grand Army goes a step further and focuses on the central issues of any given high school—racism, sexism, and discovering one’s sexuality. Although not particularly relevant to the show, even terrorism is touched upon. What quickly becomes obvious, however, is how disjointedly these themes were put together. In other words, there are no smooth transitions from plot to plot.

Grand Army begins with a classic introduction, a scene of Black female students in the gym locker room banging against the lockers and singing along to Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow.” But there is no time to focus on them before the story turns to Joey Del Marco (Odessa A’zion), who seems to be the melodrama’s focus. 

Joey is struggling to find herself amid the chaos at Grand Army. As she begins exploring her sexuality, she gets involved in the affairs of her schoolmates, leading to their suspension and putting her on the brink of expulsion. Of course, as at least one character is in every high school television drama, Joey is on the cheerleading team, poised to become the captain. As a proud feminist, Joey leads a “free the nipple” movement to put an end to institutionalized sexism at the school, but that plot is never explored further. 

Meanwhile, Dom (Odley Jean), a first-generation Haitian-American student, faces the responsibilities of having to provide for her younger siblings and her nearly absent mother. Dom is an extremely bright, highly determined activist, who experiences backlash from her white schoolmates when she follows Colin Kaepernick’s lead and kneels during the national anthem in protest against police brutality. 

Then there is Siddartha (Amir Bageria), also a first-generation student, but of Indian descent. In the very first episode of Grand Army, there is an explosion that occurs not too far from the school. It is revealed later on that it was a terrorist attack committed by a Middle Eastern person. Sid, who is also called “Punjab” by his white friends, begins to understand what it is like to be the object of racism when the action of one terrorist begins to negatively impact him. While dealing with constant stares, Sid also has to come to terms with the fact that the reason why he can never enjoy intimacy with his girlfriend is because he is gay. 

Leila (Amalia Yoo), on the other hand, is a different story. Born in China and adopted by Jewish parents, she embodies the teen drama trope of the innocent girl turned boy-crazy one episode in. But her transition from a concerned, ever-present friend into a self-centered girl who by happenstance makes it onto the swim team’s “Bomb P—sy” list is so forced that the lack of a real transition is jarring. 

While Grand Army touches on many important aspects of coming of age, there are too many plotlines that are not given the chance to be explored further. For example, the fact that Sid does not stop his friends from calling him “Punjab,” or the fact that the cheerleading squad and the basketball team are deeply segregated. A hodge-podge of constant emotional trauma with little time to reflect leaves a feeling of discontent, which is disappointing given that the show has the potential to speak to many high school students going through similar experiences. 

Photo courtesy of Netflix

October 23, 2020