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Netflix’s Freeridge Forgets What Made On My Block So Special

The spinoff has plenty of stories, but not much heart.
  • Keyla Monterroso Mejia, Ciara Riley Wilson, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, and Bryana Salaz in Freeridge. (Photo: Kevin Estrada/Netflix)
    Keyla Monterroso Mejia, Ciara Riley Wilson, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, and Bryana Salaz in Freeridge. (Photo: Kevin Estrada/Netflix)

    Things move swiftly in the fictional California neighborhood of Freeridge. One minute you might be enjoying a rousing house party and the next, uncovering the dead body of a famed crime lord alongside your closest friends. All this activity gave Netflix’s coming-of-age comedy On My Block a constant source of death-defying drama and deeply webbed mystery, but working in tandem with the chaos was a tale about a young group of friends learning who they were in the face of fear, change, and unspeakable tragedy. The story, in all its glory and occasional camp, thrived thanks to its ability to balance outlandish comedic circumstances and significant human truths.

    Now that Netflix has released a follow-up show, simply called Freeridge, fans of On My Block may be anticipating more of this strong storytelling. What they’ll find, however, is a rushed narrative with a strained premise and characters that are more like caricatures than actual people. The new series follows a quartet of high schoolers— Gloria (Keyla Monterroso Mejia), the ambitious class president; her wildcard younger sister, Ines (Bryana Salaz); and her two best friends, highly spiritual Demi (Ciara Riley Wilson) and ever-cautious Cameron (Tenzing Norgay Trainor). When the group acquires an ornate box at a yard sale, they believe its contents have unleashed a fearsome curse on the neighborhood. Their mission: to track down a mysterious woman-slash-potential ghost who is similarly interested in the box and bears an uncanny resemblance to an On My Block fan favorite, Marisol “Abuela” Martinez (Peggy Blow).

    When they’re not focused on the spirit realm, Gloria and Ines are left to navigate sisterly strife and a sick parent, while Demi and Cameron examine their evolving friendship and Cameron’s suffocating relationship with boyfriend Andre (Zaire Adams). But the interpersonal aspects of their stories —the stuff that previously tethered this fictional neighborhood to something relatable — isn’t nearly as fleshed out this time around.

    In fact, with just a handful of exceptions, Freeridge is devoid of the emotional depth that made its predecessor such a satisfying watch. Revelations like Demi and Cameron’s shifting relationship or Gloria’s growing connection with classmate Rusty (Michael Solomon) aren’t given the breathing room to have a serious impact. Instead viewers are offered dynamics that fall apart as quickly as they come together, due to a break-neck storytelling pace. These developments are further hampered by stiff dialogue that often suggests a chatbot has regurgitated elements of On My Block lore and character archetypes.

    But the show’s core issue is its attempt to explore too much at once, from curses to multiple romances to illness to inexplicable family dynamics. (On that front, Gloria and Ines have an uncle who appears to have more of a business relationship with them than an actual familial connection — and no, we don’t really know why). Even references to local hangout Roller World and fictional street gang the Santos, both elements that had such an overwhelming impact on the original series, are afterthoughts here.

    Despite the narrative crowding, there are at least a few moments that shine. The community’s exploration of grief is well handled, as is the pressure levied on young, ambitious women. And the treatment of Cameron’s bisexuality — namely, the common biases against bisexual men, as well as the character’s specific challenge to embrace all parts of himself — delivers some of the most nuanced representation in recent television for young adults. That’s a strength that even On My Block can’t claim. Still, it’s clear that Freeridge, like its young protagonists, needs time to grow up and figure itself out.

    The complete first season of Freeridge premieres Thursday, February 2 on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Shannon Miller is a cultural critic, editor, and podcaster who focuses on the societal impact of TV, film, music and advertising.

    TOPICS: Freeridge, Netflix, On My Block, Bryana Salaz, Ciara Riley Wilson, Keyla Monterroso Mejia, Tenzing Norgay Trainor