This past month, Netflix dropped yet another bold entry into it’s ever-growing library of entertainment titled On My Block, a coming of age story that honestly and empathetically explores life in South Central Los Angeles through the eyes of four teenagers. For the Nick at Nite generation of viewers who grew up watching Wonder Years at bedtime, the show brings back that feeling of discovery while framing in a point of view that isn’t very often given a lens in the first place.
The series revolves around a group of friends (the fam) led by the bold yet anxious Monse Finnie (Sierra Capri), a teenage girl whose personal growing pains involve learning about her estranged mother, her personal identity, and holding the group together no matter what happens. Cesar Diaz (Diego Tinoco) may look like the group’s pop-jock Archie at first glance, but his story dives deeply into how gang violence and the politics that come with it can tear a family apart from the inside. Brett Gray (Jamal Turner) brings whimsy and wit to a world that any outsider might not expect to find it in, embarking on a Goonies-style adventure to avoid letting his father down when he realizes that he won’t be continuing the family tradition of playing football. Rounding the group out is Ruby Martinez (Jason Genao), a pint-sized, fast-talking teen full of heart that has to deal with the challenges of puberty while his family essentially (but lovingly) screws up every step along the way.
Created by Eddie Gonzalez (All Eyez On Me), Jeremy Haft (Tamara), and Lauren Iungerich (Awkward), the first season ties up with something of a cliffhanger, just when the viewer expects a happy ending. In the wake of the series’ release and critical success, Remezcla spoke with Gonzalez about On My Block’s many weaving threads of storyline, and where the series might go if (read: when) Season two is confirmed.
On My Block is currently streaming on Netflix.
On Working with a Young Cast
We were on set all of the time, the three of us were on set. Lauren directed four of the episodes and she did a great job directing these kids because, yeah, they were very raw. But that was one of the qualities that we looked for in these characters, we wanted authenticity not just in appearance or in behavior. And they were so real, and they became those characters. I was born in Compton and grew up in Lynwood, so I [talked to them] about my experiences. Some of them grew up in tough areas, so much of that was an honest portrayal.
On Tackling the Teen Dramedy Genre
We were fortunate to have Lauren as our partner, I mean, she is a YA queen, so from the jump Jeremy and I were excited to work with her on it. This is an area though in terms of the Latino world that Jeremy and I have floated in before – we’ve sold pilots within that world of teen drama – but the chance to do a comedy with drama in it just made sense. It’s one of those things obviously inspired by my life, but also, when you look at stories like this, it’s not all bleak. It’s hopeful. You know, you see a lot of stories like these and it’s depressing – that’s not how my childhood was, so that’s not the experience we wanted to portray.
On Portraying South Central Without Judgement
It comes from a place of authenticity, and people are three-dimensional. I grew up with gang members in my neighborhood, I have relatives who are gang members. And it’s not this simple, one-sided story – it’s complex, it’s nuanced. To do justice to the world, you have to show all sides of it. That’s why Cesar is so complicated, that’s why Oscar is so complicated. Oscar is one of our favorite characters. He’s a three-dimensional character, he’s not just this intimidating person – he’s complicated, and we wanted to show how he became what he became.
On the Inspiration for Abuelita Character
My grandmother is from Mexico, and she would come to visit us, and she’d kind of ruin things whenever she took over the house; ultimately, we did what she wanted. You’re suddenly forced out of your room into the living room you have to pray all the time… every sentence began with ‘God Willing’. So that is inspired by my Abuelita, probably many people’s Abuelitas, and she became this bigger and more whole person along the way who we really love.
On Which Character He Relates to the Most
Well, when I was in high school, I was bite-sized – I was 5’2” when I graduated, and Ruby’s story is similar to mine growing up. I did have a grandmother who moved in and out, and I finally had the opportunity to finally get my own room when my brother went to college, only to lose it when my other brother moved back home. So there’s a lot of me in that Ruby character, and there’s a little part of us in all of these characters.
On Crafting Monse, the Show’s Afro-Latina Female Lead
It all comes back to authenticity, and Monse is a character that you don’t see much on television. We know many people who are biracial, and it’s nice to see that representation, and throughout the season she’s dealing with that, but also with becoming a woman, and especially so when all of her best friends are guys. So, it was a fun and kind of unique story to explore because that isn’t given as much heart or thought in a lot of other shows.
On the Finale’s Devastating Cliffhanger
Well, that was done by design, when my writing partners and I sat down. early on, there were a couple of things we did before we went into the writer’s room. And there were a some stories that we knew like how we wanted them to play out. The scavenger hunt – the Goonies element of it – we knew where that was going. We knew where Caesar was going to go, and we knew, again by design, where the Ruby and Olivia story was going to go as well. So those were things we had talked about before we got into the room. Once we were in the room for ten weeks with our other writers we started laying out the map and the path to getting to that point.
On the Themes He’d Like to Explore in Season 2
First of all, let’s pray for the second season – but there are a lot of themes we’d like to explore. Sadly, shootings like the one in the finale take place all over the country, so one of the themes we’d like to explore is survivor’s remorse and guilt. And with the Goonies storyline, it’s about okay, you’ve now found money, now what? So we have a lot of ideas for the second season, including some more work on Oscar, so we’re hoping to continue telling these stories.
On How the On My Block Kids Would Survive the Stranger Things Storyline
[laughs] That’s probably the best question I’ve gotten yet. We love Stranger Things, we’re all fans of Stranger Things. I can tell you that there’d be some ass-whooping. Come on guys. I think the kids are pretty strong, so they wouldn’t wait around for the Demogorgon to find them – they’d figure out a way to handle it and finish that thing.