'On My Block' is The New Netflix Show You're Not Watching

Source: Netflix / Brittany Whiteford

When Netflix original series One Day at a Time announced it would be returning for a third season on Monday, supporters and fans everywhere rejoiced after a long, hard fight for the groundbreaking show’s renewal. This only happened after several articles, including an open letter to Netflix signed by the National Hispanic Media Coalition, National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, Voto Latino, and more called to renew the show.

There is no doubt that One Day at a Time has broken down many barriers when it comes to representation in media, with dynamic takes on how the cultural norms of Latinidad intersect with gender, sexuality, mental illness, religion, and immigration. However, there’s a new show on the streaming app that is aiming to do something similar from a different angle. On My Block, a show featuring an Afro-Latinx lead, a predominantly Latinx cast, and takes place in an inner-city neighborhood is showcasing a different side to the Latinx experience. The storytelling is equal parts brilliant, hilarious, and tear-jerking  — and needs our support for renewal just as much.

While both answer a deeply needed call for diversity in media, the shows are significantly different in approach. OMB serves as a slightly grittier contrast to ODAAT‘s squeaky clean set up. Both take place in Los Angeles, although ODAAT takes place in the predominantly Latinx but quickly gentrifying neighborhood of Boyle Heights. OMB takes place in South Central, a neighborhood that is also predominantly Latinx, but has a rep for gang violence and other crimes. As the kids in ODAAT go to a Catholic school, the cast of OMB goes to their local public high school.

The storytelling is equal parts brilliant, hilarious, and tear-jerking  — and needs our support for renewal just as much.

The single-camera setup and laugh track that accompanies ODAAT‘s family-friendly plot lines make it reminiscent of classic primetime sitcoms like Full House or Family Matters. It’s something to tune into for laughs and relaxation, but simultaneously confronts the challenges Latinx folks can face. The airy illusion is also kept up by its white-passing Latinx cast, something that will help a “general market” audience believe that these are characters they can relate to.

On the flip side, OMB has its funny moments, but it also confronts more complex issues. This is the first time we’re seeing a complex Afro-Latina lead in a teen show centered around the Latinx experience in South Central L.A. The writers do Monsé Finnie so much justice, positioning her to be the headstrong leader of her predominantly male friend group, while also tackling the sexualization of her bod and her coming of age experience without a mom. While Elena Alvarez has demonstrated her brilliance and strength in so many ways throughout ODAAT, we’ve never seen her confronted with catcalls in the way that Monsé has. For the most part, Elena is always driven by her mother everywhere she goes, while Monsé’s dad is always on the road and her mother left when she was two. There are also themes such as Cesar and Oscar’s involvement in gang violence, masculinity in Gen Z boys of color, class issues, and more. While Alex deals with colorism, the likelihood of him being jumped into a gang doesn’t fit into the plotline of ODAAT like it does in OMB. There are many ways in which the Alvarez family’s privilege shields them from having the same experience as Cesar, Monsé, Olivia, or anyone else in the OMB crew.

It’s not enough for Netflix (or its audience, for that matter) to say, “well, we already have a Latinx show,” particularly when the aforementioned show inadvertently in some ways plays into respectability politics. The only way we’ll ever truly have inclusion in media is if there are a plethora of shows telling different stories for us to rally behind. No minority group exists in a vacuum or a monolith; there are so many more of our stories that need to be told and we should be rallying behind each and every one of them.

If you haven’t already, check out On My Block for your next binge session. Tweet about it. Make a video and talk about how the show has influenced you. The show deserves as much of a fight as any other marginalized story out there — and it’s up to us to make sure these important stories can continue to be told.