Grand Army is Netflix’s latest attempt to capture the spirit of unhinged and chaotic adolescence. A high-energy series, it follows a pack of high schoolers surviving the trials and tribulations of modern-day American teen life. It’s wild and addictive, but its unrelenting plot lines pile up and the show breaks under the pressure of ambition.
We open with Joey Del Marco (Odessa A’Zion) kneeling on a grimy locker room floor crouching beneath her best friend, Grace (Keara Graves), trying to retrieve a ‘lost’ condom. A few seconds later we see Joey burst from the dingy cubicle wearing a self-assured grin, declaring she has been successful, holding the condom above her, head tilted high. It’s a scene of refreshing confidence and a casual reminder of female friendship, but the ecstasy of the moment is quickly wiped away.
Minutes later the scene of reckless teenage panic is replaced by a disturbing familiarity, as a bang ricochets through the halls. A bomb has gone off outside the school. Students are swept from their classrooms and fall into lockdown procedures. In bleak The Breakfast Club fashion, a crammed staircase becomes the turning point in the show.
Boys from the swim team start to compile an online list of girls they find hottest (with Joey at the top). The list is titled “Bomb Pussy” which they verbally scapegoat as a “feminist list of sexually empowered and desirable Grand Army females” to swim-jock Sid aka “Punjab” who refuses to take part and sneaks out to find his younger sister, Meera.
In an unstoppable melting pot style, Sid runs into freshman Leila Kwan Zimmer (Amalia Yoo) who is found crying in an empty hall after being bullied over her identity as an adopted Chinese daughter to two Jewish-American Caucasian parents. While Sid and Leila meet, back at the staircase, two close-knit friends Jayson Jackson (Malique Johnson) and Owen Williams (Jaden Jordan) become restless and playfully take the wallet of basketballer Dominique Pierre which accidentally falls down the staircase. The inevitable crossover between the main characters ensues and everything starts to fall into place as overlapping storylines unravel. Lockdown is lifted and the resilience of youth steps forward as, funnily enough, they’re less concerned about the bomb and more about the future of tonight’s party.
In its tightly packed nine episodes, Grand Army strains to tackle sensitive and politically relevant topics, but instead becomes swollen with trauma. As the plot weaves around characters and their misery, it darts from terrorism, sexual abuse, racism to homosexuality and back in an exhausting game of catch-up. A high school show doesn’t feel out of place on Netflix, but its promising premise of cultural criticism is undermined by its stacked plot lines and an unavoidable copycat take on HBO’s mega hit Euphoria.
Grand Army captures the pain, struggle and difficulty of Gen Z, but after the shock and empty phrases that snag your attention (yes, I’m still thinking about the line “bomb talk from brown kids”), it lacks focus and nuance. Grand Army cuts close, but it doesn’t deliver.
‘Grand Army’ is streaming on Netflix now