The first season of Netflix’s “On My Block” was packed with unexpected charm, even in its most awkward moments, and the season finale cliffhanger made a second season feel relatively essential — so it’s good news indeed that Netflix renewed it. The show’s return means the continued adventures of four friends living their best lives in an inner-city neighborhood where the sense of community is coupled by a real threat of danger, and while Season 2 doesn’t deliver quite the gut-punch that Season 1 did, its emotional beats still hit home.
Created by Lauren Iungerich, Eddie Gonzalez, and Jeremy Haft, the new season gets right to the important business of resolving last season’s massive cliffhanger. After revealing just who survived the shooting at Olivia’s quinces, the show jumps forward a month, with everyone still reeling from the violence, but trying to get on with their lives.
The core foursome is back, with big life problems beyond the typical teenager’s: Cesar (Diego Tinoco) is functionally homeless, Monse (Sierra Capri) is trying to balance their relationship with her desire to uncover a key family secret, Ruby (Jason Genao) is coping with his post-shooting trauma but not particularly well, and Jamal (Brett Gray) has a big stash of cash that he’s not sure how to spend.
The young cast has settled into their roles well, with Genao really coming into his own. Another actor deserving of a shoutout is Jessica Marie Garcia as Jasmine, because although she’s often pretty much a walking cartoon, she still gets moments that reveal a depth beyond her loud and crude exterior (not that her loud and crude exterior is a bad thing — she’s a character who really grows on you over time).
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Jasmine is pretty indicative of how many of these characters tend to work — beginning as broad stereotypes, before inner lives get drawn out. “On My Block” has a better sense of its tone in Season 2 than Season 1 — but part of that is it’s no longer trying to balance the very real threat of gang violence with some of the broader antics, most especially Jamal’s “Goonies”-esque treasure hunt. Instead, it’s more focused on keeping its characters at the forefront, which is where the show shines brightest.
“On My Block,” in the end, is a show where the execution is just slightly better than it needs to be, which feels like faint praise but speaks to how for its genre, it’s operating a slightly higher level than other shows. The cinematic look, the experiments with form and function, and the twisty, character-driven writing aren’t perhaps going to set the Emmys on fire, but offer up a significant advantage over what you might expect from a series targeting this age group.
One thing that it’s fun to see shows take on is the concept of time — it’s always interesting to see how writers can manipulate the passing of days, weeks, or even months over the course of a season, and “On My Block” includes some charming experiments with that idea. And while moments range from the dramatic to the comedic, it’s also a half hour series that keeps its pacing tight, which is quite welcome in an era when Netflix series too often take advantage of unlimited runtimes.
Ultimately, the biggest flaw of the series is that it struggles to sell the very real danger that these characters are allegedly in; the tone is too often too light to really communicate how much violence permeates this neighborhood, and you might forget that fact entirely when distracted by Jasmine organizing a “Bachelor”-style dating competition for Ruby or Jamal playing chaperone at the school dance. But it’s this mix of the darkness and the light which does keep the series compelling.
Without getting into spoilers, Season 2 also ends with a cliffhanger; one that’s a little less dramatic but still setting up real potential for a third season. There’s less urgency this year, but “On My Block” has proven itself as consistently interesting television; even when it hits an off note, the song is still a pleasure to listen to.
“On My Block” Season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.