Growing up is rough, but growing up in a neighborhood defined by gangs as much as community is complex. In the Netflix Original, On My Block, created by Eddie Gonzalez, Lauren Iungerich, and Jeremy Haftwe, we get a coming-age-story that centers brown and Black youth in what most would call a “bad” neighborhood. But to them, Freeridge is their neighborhood, their community, and is so much more than a stereotype.
On My Block follows four friends, Cesar (Diego Tinoco), Monse (Sierra Capri), Ruby (Jason Genao), and Jamal (Brett Gray) who are navigating their way through high school and life in their community. Last season ended on two separate notes: with members of the group shot and with Jamal finding the legendary Roller World money.
Season two picks up shortly after the events of the last episode and everyone is dealing with the fallout. Jamal isn’t sure when to share the news as people grieve. Cesar is beaten, bruised, and homeless after his gang, the Santos, learned that he didn’t kill Latrelle (Jahking Guillory), a member of the rival gang. Monse is trying to support Cesar while dealing with her own family issues. And Ruby is living with survivor’s guilt, having lost his first love Olivia in the shooting.
To some, this series may feel far-fetched, and while some aspects like the Roller World money make it feel like The Goonies, but the struggles that each teen faces is very real. In fact, the way in which Monse and Cesar’s relationship developed, and his entrance into the gang felt so real to me that I couldn’t bring myself to write about season one. When I was a teenager, I was Monse. My first boyrfriend and best friend was jumped into a gang. He was homeless. And ultimately every night I was worried and scared for him. With main purpose of the group this season being to find a way to save Cesar from living on the streets, every moment hit me like a ton of bricks.
There is a lot to unpack from this season, but to do so without spoilers is a complicated task. In season two, we get to see stories started in the last season get their resolve, although it isn’t always what we wanted for the characters. Monse meets her mother, who seeks her out after finding out that she is her daughter from a forgotten phone last season. In Monse’s story of getting to know her mom, we see an exploration of what the people outside a community like Freeridge think of it and ultimately a surface exploration into the anti-blackness with Latinx communities.
Jamal is proven right after finding the money and confronts his friends about the way they dismiss him. Through Jamal, we are able to find a sense of childhood wonder as the gnomes continue to stalk him, and we get a sense of adventure as he leads the group into a money laundering scheme with Abuelita.
Then there is Ruby. This season, the show highlights the lasting effects of trauma in a way that I greatly appreciate. Ruby is okay, he is smiling and slowly trying to go back to the boy he was before the shooting, but he is doing so while struggling with post traumatic stress. Songs, sounds, images, it’s all too much for him, but he isn’t alone.
Jessica Marie Garcia‘s character Jasmine is promoted to season regular and we get to see her home life. She is the perfect friend to help Ruby through his trauma. The acting during Ruby’s attacks are painful to watch. Not because of bad acting but because it is accurate. From a directorial stance, we get to see what Ruby sees, the slow blending of the night of the shooting into where he is. Latrelle’s face, gunshots, it all becomes too much and Genao’s heavy breathing and emotive face are gutting.
Ruby isn’t okay, and as Jasmine helps him accept this, he learns to cope. But he isn’t cured, the fear is there, the sadness is there, but the season highlights the small thing that can trigger an attack. A song, a sound, too many people, Ruby is never okay and the ability of the show to explore that is well executed and emotional.
But perhaps the best thing the series showcases is the complexity of gangs that exist in the community. Cesar finds himself alone and begins to regret letting Latrelle live as his friends become targets. Spooky (Julio Macias) has turned his back on him, the Santos won’t acknowledge his existence which means that he has no protection from the Prophet$ as they seek revenge. Now Cesar makes dumb decisions, and ultimately his romance with Mose quickly becomes the only issue that I have with the season. That being said, what the show explores from his positionally is what we rarley see on television.
The Santos and the Prophet$ are not glorified but they are not shown in ways that remove the complex reasons why people, like Cesar and his brother Spooky, come into them. Throughout the season we get to see that the Santos morphed from a group created to protect the people of Freeridge, with a leader who didn’t like violence, to the violent group it is today.
In Spooky, we see a man trying to atone for abandoning his brother by looking out for people his gang has affected. He goes out of his way to help Ruby, fully aware that he brought violence to his door. Spooky is more than a cholo, and that’s important, especially in a climate that is currently criminalizing brown and Black men for existing. Coupled with what we learned last season, the potential that Spooky had before he was forced into a gang to provide for his little brother, we learn a reality that we don’t see. With Spooky, you see a man, a brother, who genuinely cares around those around him.
The gangs are never right. They cause violence and they put the kids through things no kid should go through, specifically Cesar. But at the same time, the writers work at unpacking the levels within them. Why would someone join? What happens if you leave? Who is your family when you enter? It’s all too real, and it feels like they are writing what the guys in my life experienced in high school.
But the show shines this seasons because of how it builds out relationships from the main characters with each other and their families. This season shows us more of our protagonists’ home lives, which leads to parent figures like Monse’s dad, Jamal’s dad, and Ruby’s mom growing as characters and adding another level to the life in Freeridge. As another generation of Freeridge, the parent’s express concern, fear, and work to present the community from another perspective.
This season we get to see Freeridge through the eyes of the kids, the gangs, and the parents. We get to see what the community means to many, and how their lives connect. When it comes to representation for a story that many brown and Black youth can identify with this show has it. There is an authenticity to the show and the way it crafts its story.
The kids are kids, dealing with real-world issues that arise in neighborhoods like Freeridge across the United States. They are growing together, loving together, and coping together. This season’s plot revolves a lot around the gang life, but it also deals with themes like trauma, immigration, and belonging. To reduce it to its use of the gangs is to miss what the show is doing to highlight the nuances in every situation.
If I have to critique anything, it’s the romance between Cesar and Monse, specifically how it’s pace this season given the events of the last season. Beyond that, there was more room for commentary for Monse’s identity as an Afro-Latina, that has yet to be fully discussed, however, with the set up with her mother this season the room to explore it is set for another season.
Ending on another shocking cliffhanger has me excited for season three. That being said, as the only Netflix Original with US-born Latinos as the focus, I am immensely worried for its renewal, giving the cancelation of One Day at a Time earlier this month. Only time will tell if we get to finish growing with these kids, but I hope we do.
On My Block Season 2
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.