By Sarah Osman
The fourth and final season of On My Block maintains its precarious equilibrium between laughter and menace, but it is teetering.
Since it’s very first season, the Netflix series On My Block (Arts Fuse review) excelled at skillfully balancing menace and humor. In the show’s opening scene, for example, the four protagonists hear a gunshot nearby. At first, they run. Then they begin to debate what kind of gun was responsible for the shot. Freedridge, where the teens live, is based on south Los Angeles, and this is one of the first teen series to feature a predominantly POC cast. Its storylines have been focused solely on the lives and struggles of Black and Latino teenagers and, wisely, the writers have not exploited or reveled in the mayhem that surrounds the show’s characters. It is this respectful treatment of grim realities that has made the series a success.
The fourth and final season of On My Block maintains its precarious equilibrium, but it is teetering. There has been a two year time jump and the four besties are no longer close because of previous events. It’s not unrealistic that these characters have drifted apart; this is quite common with high school friendships. In fact, considering how different each character was in the first place, the alienation makes sense. Ruby (Jason Ganao) and Jamal (Brett Gray) are running against each other for senior class president, and their campaigns reveal how they have changed: Ruby has been in a relationship with the overbearing Jasmine (the always brilliant Jessica Marie Garcia) for years now and Jamal has become a popular (and shallow) football star. Monse (Sierra Capri) is having a grand old time at boarding school, and Cesar (Diego Tinoco) has a new girlfriend and is now the de facto leader of the Santos. It’s inevitable that the characters will be brought back together, and the occasion is a grim one: the discovery of the remains of former gang leader Cuchillos (Ada Luz Pla).
Certain characters’ journeys turn out to be far more compelling than others. When Jasmine and Ruby break up, the former realizes that she has spent her life taking care of others and that it’s high time she takes care of herself. Considering how grating (albeit hilarious) Jasmine was in the first season, this new and improved Jasmine is initially a bit surprising. But it makes sense: most teenagers mature as they go through high school, so why not Jasmine? She and Ruby still interact with each other (and there are some hilarious lost in translation moments), but Jasmine finally takes a stand on her own. Jamal, who was always the group’s weirdo, has a glow up, and that generates an existential crisis. Watching Jamal ponder who he has become is delightful; a reminder that he is the standout figure in the series.
The trajectory of another member of the quartet, Monse, ends up fizzling out. Monse at boarding school is an entirely different figure — she’s confident, sophisticated, and sassy. Still, the series had to bring Monse back to Freeridge, and when she returns she quickly falls back into old habits, especially with Cesar, who is struggling as the leader of the gang. In earlier seasons, Cesar was conflicted about joining the Santos, but now that he’s all in he moves straight into a life of violence. Cesar’s sense of fun, which is what made the series distinctive in the first place, is gone.
Despite this weakness, the finale is still strong. The season serves up plenty of laughs as well as bleak moments. The cast members once again prove just how talented they are (hopefully they will be featured prominently in upcoming films and TV shows). We haven’t seen the last of On My Block; its creators are working on a spin-off series titled Freeridge, in which a new cast of characters accidentally unleash a deadly curse on the town. Let’s hope this excursion into the supernatural balances, like On My Block, chills and chuckles.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, North Carolina. In addition to writing for The Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, The Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman