Netflix Coming Of Age Drama ‘Grand Army’ Is An Emotional And Raw Insight Into Teens Real Issues


 Katie Cappiello

In Brooklyn’s GRAND ARMY high school, every student has their own story and their own problems. These kids carry burdens, responsibilities, expectations, and shame, and as the nine episodes in the first season progress, they sink further and further underneath the weight of them. In the premiere of Netflix’s new teen drama, a bomb goes off near the titular Brooklyn public high school, forcing a lockdown. The episode acknowledges the physical danger the kids may be in, but is more concerned with how they behave in such an intense circumstance.

At this stage I thought the show was going to deal with far fetched issues that weren’t realistic, which I have to admit dampened my hopes. But I persevered, and I was pleasantly surprised as I got deeper and deeper not only into the the chaos, but the emotional pain that these teenagers had to over come.

Created by Katie Cappiello, “Grand Army” is loosely based on Cappiello’s “SLUT,” a play that follows the life of sixteen-year-old Joey Del Marco, a girl who is raped by her three best friends. It explores the reality of bullying, rape culture, slut-shaming and what comes after. These are serious issues that many people face every day, and both “SLUT” and “Grand Army” acknowledge it. The series also dives into specific issues, such as homophobia and racism. For example, character Sid comes to terms with his sexuality and tries to find a support system within the school and his own friend group.

Co-playwright Meg McInerney told the New York Post that Slut was inspired by the real stories of people in the New York-based Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Company. “Scarily, the events in it are really universal,” she said. Having the events take place at a fictional high school helps to keep that universality intact, reminding viewers that this kind of stuff happens everywhere — not just at one specific school.

The description of this show I know suggests it has some things in common with Euphoria, well, it does to an extent. Like the HBO coming-of-age series that recently won Zendaya an Emmy, Grand Army is bracingly honest in its look at teen sexuality and the challenges that come with trying to carve out an identity when everyone is being inspected under an Instagram microscope. But where Euphoria takes big swings with its vision into surrealism, Grand Army sticks, for the most part, to stripped-down reality.

The main five students the show focuses on are; Joey a firecracker who struts through school with an aptitude of adoring male and female friends, an outspoken feminist who owns her sexuality even when some judge her for it. Dom, thoughtful and driven, has a half-dozen hustles going on at any given time to help her impoverished family stay afloat. Sid looks outwardly confident, but is harboring a secret that might help him get into Harvard. Jayson, who often goes by Jay, is a gentle goofball forced to grow up fast when his antics land him in serious trouble. And Leila is Chinese-born and raised by adoptive white parents, feeling like she fits in nowhere. 

An honorable mention has to go out to Odessa A’zion, who is absolutely magnetic as Joey. She delivers her role flawlessly, and you feel emotionally invested in her character and her story throughout.

Everyone’s vulnerable, all the time, even when they’re trying very hard to appear otherwise. In this show’s best moments, Grand Army enters that rare air, and reminds us that the issues were trying to elevate from is something we’re all dealing with.

Written By: Neill Frazer

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