Grand Army tells the story of high school students at Grand Army High School in Brooklyn. It’s a grim look the struggles and problems that high school students face these days. It’s streaming on Netfix.
Grand Army was created by Katie Cappiello. It reminded me of Sex Education. In the same way that Sex Education works to cover EVERYTHING related to teen sex education, Grand Army tries to do it all. There are episodes and themes devoted to friendship, sex, racism, sexual violence, terrorism, religion, sexuality, patriarchy, immigration, poverty, and romance.
The various thematic elements were worked into the characters lives and flowed naturally with the story.
There are five main characters, with an array of family and friends around them. I’ll run down the five top characters.
Joey Del Marco (Odessa A’zion) is pictured up at the top. At the beginning of the series she’s a charismatic leader with numerous friends. She’s incredibly smart and particularly prickly about women’s rights issues. She’s a dancer. About half way through the series, something happens that changes her life forever. In response, she hunkers down under the blankets in her bedroom and plays Hannah Gadsby videos again and again.
I can see Joey doing something impactful as an adult, if she ever crawls out of her cocoon of safety.
The second is Dom Pierre (Odley Jean). She’s a Haitian with a family on the brink of being evicted from their apartment. Why? No health insurance. She dreams of college and a chance to be a psychologist. In terms of outstanding acting performances, Odley Jean and Odessa A’zion were at the top of the heap of excellent young actors.
Dom is also brilliant at school. She’s responsible and works long hours braiding hair to make cash for her family. She likes a boy named John Ellis (Alphonso Romero Jones II). For inspiration, she listens to Brené Brown talks. I wanted her to find a Black motivational speaker. Nothing against Brené Brown, she’s just not Black.
Odley Jean delivered a long, nearly single shot, monologue as part of an interview for a summer internship that was impressive.
Dom had a friend named Tor (Crystal Sha’re Nelson) who looked possibly transgender, or just extra butch. I liked that she was simply there, accepted as a friend. I wanted to know more about her.
Next we have the young Indian man Sid Pakam (Amir Bageria). He wants to get into Harvard. He hides the fact that he’s gay by dating Flora (Marcela Avelina). He’s on the swim team. When he’s outed it causes quite a problem for him.
There are several out gay boys at the high school. They are the kind of gay boys whose demeanor and appearance announces gayness. Sid isn’t like that and tries to avoid being with the out boys. When Flora figures out their relationship has been a lie, she’s righteously angry. Who could blame her?
Leila Kwan Zimmer (Amalia Yoo) is only a Freshman, but she’s already obsessed with boys and sex. She creates a comic of herself as a zombie killing hero. She was born in China and adopted by a Jewish couple. She is the most self-obsessed human I’ve ever seen on television. I began to wonder if she had a personality disorder as her relationships and interactions became more and more problematic.
On the right above is Jay Jackson (Maliq Johnson). He’s with his friend Owen (Jaden Jordan). The two of them are outstanding sax players who admire John Coltane.
In the first episode there is a bomb explosion in Grand Army Plaza supposedly right outside the school. (Note: Grand Army Plaza is a real place but in Manhattan, not Brooklyn. Grand Army High is not a real school.)
During the lockdown after the bombing, Owen and Jay tease Dom by tossing her wallet around. It falls down a stairwell and when she’s finally allowed to go after it, her hard earned (and needed cash) is gone. This causes Owen and Jay to be put under disciplinary action. Jay is suspended for two weeks, but Owen for 6 months. This aspect of the story leads to racism demonstrations and school to prison pipeline aspects of the story.
Both Jay and Owen tried out for all state band. Owen was accepted, but is suspended and can’t participate. Jay is an alternate. He struggles with the idea of taking Owen’s spot and comes out of it with character to spare.
As you can see, there is excellent inclusion in the series. I thought the inclusive nature of the cast was the best part of the series. Six of the nine episodes were directed by women: So Yong Kim, Darnell Martin, and Tina Mabry. The women directors were another aspect of the series I liked.
Teens today have so much to deal with. And they are looking at their phones 90% of their time. Instead of gossip and news spreading by kids talking, everyone sees the same things instantly on their phones. Fights, drunkenness, abuse, and everything else is recorded and broadcast. This series, like so many others, insists on showing you a photo of an entire phone and expects you to be able to read a tiny text message. If text messages are important to the plot, put them up there in big popup letters so they can be read.
The series did build to a less dark and more hopeful conclusion. I was thankful for that, and glad to see the actions that several of the characters took.
Have a look at the trailer.
Have you seen Grand Army? What was your opinion of it?