7 Reasons to Escape COVID with ‘On My Block’

These are dark times but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still spots of brightness

Netflix On My Block

Photo: On My Block/Netflix

These are dark times but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still spots of brightness. Before Americans were paying attention to COVID-19, before we knew what “social distancing” meant, Netflix dropped the third season of On My Block and if you haven’t watched it yet, you should give it a look.

It’s a teen dramedy about a group of four POC friends growing up in a gang-ridden LA neighborhood. Monse, Cesar, Jamal, and Ruby are falling in love, worrying about their families, and trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up while also solving mysteries, stopping gang violence, and getting shot. But don’t worry – there’s no global pandemic insight.

On My Block has all things and will keep you pleasantly engrossed. The show mixes the hilarious with the heartbreaking so you never know where it’ll take you next. And that’s just as true of the first two seasons as it is of the third, out earlier this month (although March 11 seems like ages ago). The show topped the charts as the most-watched thing on Netflix and we hope it gets a fourth season soon (that ending can’t be the last we see of this group!).

Need more reasons to watch On My Block? Check out our list of the reasons we love the show – (spoilers ahead).


The Relationships

Three seasons in and we’ve had lots of romantic pairings: Ruby and Olivia. Cesar and Olivia. Ruby and Jasmine. Jamal and Kendra. And of, course, Monse and Cesar. So which relationships are you rooting for and which not? I loved Jamal and Kendra’s plotline this season – it was time that boy got a flesh-and-blood romantic interest! And that Kendra’s basically Jamal’s mirror image (weird, tall, skinny, smart) is perfect. Ruby and Jasmine couldn’t be more physically different but I’m hoping they go the distance too. Jasmine made sure that he respected her before putting her heart out there and that set the tone for exactly what you want out of a first love: a safe space to be vulnerable.

Of course, Monse and Cesar had no such talk. They’ve been through so much (cheating, keeping their relationship secret, the breakups and get back togethers) that it just seems like too much work for 16-year-olds to me. I mean, the conversation they had about starting over might be the type of negotiation you’d have with your baby daddy but not with your high school crush. Get out of there girl!


The Fashion

The clothes are on point in On My Block. Each character’s costumes tell you something interesting about them, while giving some fashion inspo along the way.

Cesar and Spooky are the most obvious, switching between the gang uniform – shaved heads, oversized T-shirts, shorts down past their knees, pulled up socks, and chains – to less coded street clothes (I’m talking that ending for Spooky and Cesar’s pre-Santos innocence). But Jamal’s goofy hazmat suit and other gear tell you about how he likes to prepare. For Ruby, we get fitted, patterned button-downs – he’s a kid who likes to present professionally (like his would-be events company).

But of course, the girls get the best clothes (we always do). Monse goes from tom girl to bombshell and back again. Jasmine’s over-the-top outfits match her need to perform. But in the ending montage, Jasmine’s clothes are sedate signaling she’s found some peace. Get it girl! But where can I get your T-shirts?


The Family Dynamics

Ruby worries his parents might get divorced. Spooky and Cesar have dramatically different relationships with their dead-beat Dad. Jasmine’s plighted home life is the reason she’s so over the top. Jamal’s parents are happy and supportive, even if they don’t quite understand their “weird kid.” Monse’s mom abandoned her but her Dad is about as good as they come.

Everyone’s family is different and that applies to us black and brown folks too, no matter our neighborhood. There’s this stereotype of the broken POC home and On My Block complicates it. Yes, Cesar and Spooky’s irresponsible parents have real consequences. But Monse thrives in her single-parent household. In season three, her mother dies, ending any possibility that the two will be able to truly reconcile after their rocky reunion and separation in season two. But that doesn’t keep Monse from achieving her dreams and building a bond with her new siblings anyway. Your parents are not your destiny.


The Teen Tropes

Sometimes it seems like our coming-of-age stories are all hardships. It’s gang life and poverty. Violence and stress. But we all know that’s never the whole story and so it’s refreshing to see On My Block tackle that stuff while giving our teen protagonists a chance to be kids. There’s a whole episode at the pool, that teen show staple (see Friday Night Lights, Stranger Things, etc.). And a public Freeridge pool dispels the whole black-people-don’t-swim thing, even if it seemed unlikely to me that Jasmine would be tanning.

But it’s not just the pool. It’s also Ruby and Jamal’s ill-executed sandwich hustle, reminding us of the proverbial lemonade stand. It’s in the decorations in Jasmine’s bedroom and the ones in Monse’s and the ones in Jamal’s. It’s in Ruby’s preference for socks and lotion. It’s all over and it’s nice.


The Gangs

Mob movies hold a lot of prestige. I mean, The Godfather’s are always on top of everybody’s lists. But when the crime families are brown and black, suddenly we’re in a different genre, rarely taken as seriously. Just compare the number of major trophies The Sopranos got (30) to those awarded The Wire (4).

So while On My Block isn’t going for that type of realism, I appreciate how seriously the show takes its gang politics. We’ve seen the vanquishing of the Prophets and the rise of the 19th Street gang. Cuchillos’ corpse was perhaps the scariest things on the show to date. But of course, the real drama is about what happens with the Santos, what it means for Cesar when Spooky puts the Santos first and later what it means when he doesn’t. It’s the stuff of great tragedy, no matter how you spin it.


The Gnomes

Garden Gnomes may not be the first thing you think of when you think teen saga or gang violence. But as a recurring motif on On My Block, they totally work. It’s random enough to be consistently funny and deployed consistently enough to set the show’s tone. The gnomes are everywhere: We seem them guarding Chivo’s properties. There’s one in Lil’ Ricky’s casket where a corpse should be. Jamal even has an affair with one, fighting Chivo for her heart (I guess – this part’s a bit unclear).

On My Block has its share of realist tragedy (the shooting at the end of season one, Cesar’s relationship to the Santos) but it’s also full of magical fun (that music video shoot, the whole Rollerworld quest). The gnomes are part of the fun side and I’m grateful for it.


That (Heartbreaking) Ending

If you had told me at the start of this season that Spooky would leave the Santos but Cesar would get sucked in, that Monse and Cesar don’t stay together but Ruby and Jasmine do, AND that Jamal becomes a respected football player, I would not have believed you. But that’s what we learn in the heartbreaking last sequence of On My Block and it’s still got me shook.

From the beginning, the group has been trying to avoid the soul-crushing nature of street violence, working together to keep Cesar from having to kill anyone. Initially, they succeed but their success gets noticed with big boss gang leader Cochillos pulling them into gang life at the start of this season. Thanks to Spooky, they still escape but not before setting out to kill Cochillos herself. They may not pull the trigger, but they see the corpse. It destroys their friendship and perhaps Cesar’s path out. Please let there be a season four so that shot of him leading a beating isn’t the last we see of him. If Spooky wasn’t too far gone, no one is.

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