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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Change is inevitable, but iOn My Block/i remains endearing in its third season
Photo: Netflix
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Even in the throes of absolute peril, the precocious teens of Netflix’s coming-of-age comedy On My Block have navigated tragedy, their various relationships, and the gang-addled streets of Freeridge with a number of safety nets squarely in place. In a way, they’ve served as reliable sources of comfort for both the characters and devoted fans: Despite her many and varied threats to leave them behind for good, Monse (Sierra Capri) will always return to her friendship with Ruby (Jason Genao), Cesar (Diego Tinoco), and Jamal (Brett Gray). Stoic approach to long-standing street politics aside, Oscar (Julio Macias) will remain as Cesar’s faithful protector during his time of absolute need. Ruby can always turn to perpetually zealous Jasmine (Jessica Marie Garcia) for a tender reprieve from his sustaining trauma. The notion that friendship always trumps adversity is unrelentingly sweet, but not the most accurate reflection of reality. Change is not only inevitable, but necessary. Relationships are tested, values change, and the path to personal growth is paved with insecurities that one must eventually face.

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In its third season, On My Block shows audiences a version of Freeridge that has outgrown those safety nets, leaving its young inhabitants to actively confront the idea that there may be a different version of “normal” than the one that has caused them indelible harm. While there may be plot points that seem a little unfinished, the eight-episode season is a product of tremendous growth furnished by inspired performances. Despite a clear, occasionally scary shift within the neighborhood we’ve come to know, the series remains persistently charming as co-creators Lauren Iungerich, Eddie Gonzalez, and Jeremy Haft continue to expertly balance uniquely harsh circumstances and universally relatable growing pains.

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When we last saw the squabbling quartet of friends, a band of concealed kidnappers in an unmarked van screeched into frame to haul them away. Season three picks up right at that moment, where we learn that they have been taken to the mansion of crime lord and leader of the Santos organization, Cuchillos (Ada Luz Pla). Impressed by their ability to recover the once-fabled Roller World robbery payout, she entrusts them with a shocking revelation: Famed gang leader and old flame Lil’ Ricky is alive, and she wants Monse, Jamal, Ruby, and Cesar to locate him. As they walk through her lavish abode, one thing is clear: This is a leader with an abundance of resources, likely more than capable of snatching even the most covert among us back onto the grid. So her reliance on these smart, but also very lucky teenagers rings like a bit of a stretch, if not a simple excuse to introduce a new threat. As Cuchillos, Pla is quietly menacing and appropriately chilling in moments, but she isn’t really given an opportunity to get her hands truly dirty and show just how much of a danger she is. Add in Cuchillos-related developments that feel oddly abrupt, and you’re left with a missed opportunity to introduce a truly resonant villain, especially when you consider her legacy.

She is, however, a necessary catalyst for a number of key realizations among the group, which pave the way for some of the strongest performances we’ve seen to date. Monse, in particular, encounters a loss that leads her to reevaluate just how much their environment has impacted her emotionally. Her heart-to-heart with Ruby on the matter is properly heartbreaking as Capri and Genao continue to exercise total vulnerability, exhibiting the growth of both the actors and the characters. Cesar and Oscar are weathering their own storm with the return of their largely absent father (Ian Casselberry). His presence, along with Cuchillos’ looming tyranny, weakens Oscar’s grip on the little power he’s possessed over the past two seasons. The shift proves itself difficult for the older brother, who has always held himself to a tacit code for the benefit of Cesar and his gang. When he finds himself up against barriers he can’t overcome with intimidation alone—whether it’s a new gang, Cuchillos’ reign, or childhood trauma—we finally see cracks in a character who, up until this point, seemed unbreakable. It’s easily the season’s most rewarding development as it makes room for Macias to showcase Oscar’s evolution and innate humanity, proving the actor to be an absolute force to reckon with.

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Illustration for article titled Change is inevitable, but iOn My Block/i remains endearing in its third season
Photo: Netflix

The choice to promote Garcia to series regular continues to pay off in dividends as the young upstart consistently elevates Jasmine beyond her “funny but annoying neighbor” origins. As a fully indoctrinated friend of the group, Jasmine has assumed the role of caretaker, providing bottomless support for both Monse and Ruby, whether it’s fully deserved or not. Her battle with Jamal (who, per usual, has his own odd, but youthful side journey that is thankfully far less outlandish than having to dig up a chest-load of cash) for leadership among the group is an opportunity for some treasured interactions between Garcia and fellow comedic heavy-hitter Gray, both of whom continue to demonstrate their proficiency with ideal timing and physical humor. Perhaps the best gift On My Block gives Jasmine this go-round is a reminder to the audience that she, too, is a kid in need of guidance, despite her wisdom and well-worn bravado. Should the show be given the opportunity to move forward, both Jasmine and Garcia could benefit from added chances to show a little more vulnerability. For once, let someone take care of the headstrong girl who seems to have a shoulder for everyone else.

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It’s hard to know if the show will even have the opportunity to do so; despite being one of the most well-rounded coming-of-age shows on Netflix, On My Block fails to garner the same fervent support as some of its more supernatural counterparts, making future returns a precarious matter each year. That could be why this season’s soul-arresting ending possesses the duality of a season and series finale, concluding individual storylines with an authenticity that yields both satisfying and crushing results. Every quality show deserves to go out on top. Still, it is clear that Freeridge has more stories to tell. And we really ought to listen.

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