Grand Army: Watch or Not?


Grand Army cast, [Left to right: Sid, Dominique, Joey, Jayson, Leila]

Netflix’s new teen drama series Grand Army created by Katie Cappiello, dives into the lives of five students attending fictional Grand Army High School, located in the “Grand Army Plaza” of Brooklyn, New York. This coming-of-age work faces the battles and hardships of discipline, sexuality, assault, racial inequality, self empowerment and much more. As the show walks you through the journey between each character, plotline and story development starts to come together, creating the perfect combination between personal endeavors, and the overall show as a whole. 

The show begins with the tragedy of the Grand Army bombing, a bomb that sets off in Grand Army Plaza killing two people, and triggering a lockdown at Grand Army High school. In the midst of such unfortunate events, the students lead to a chaotic and emotional day, thus introducing us to our many main characters, including Leila, Joey, Jayson, Sid and Dominique. Through this pilot episode, we learn of the personalities and relationships between them, establishing an overall characterization of the cast and introducing each of them one by one. 

The inclusion of a huge and devastating event in the very beginning of the show helps draw the viewers in, hooking them and making them anxious for what happens next. I think this was a great tactic used in order to start the series off with a bang, as well as adding action and excitement as the episode plays on. It was also a very effective way of introducing us to the cast, and learning a stripped down version of who they are early on due to the emotional turmoil of the incident. 

As the episode develops, we meet Leila Zimmer. Leila, as played by Amalia Yoo, is a Chinese-adopted freshman at Grand Army High, who searches to become closer to her own self identity and empowerment. Hence adopted by two predominantly Non-religious Jewish-Americans, she struggles to connect in terms of her own race, background, womanhood and sexual becoming. As Leila is the youngest in the cast, she faces the lesser of the struggles in the show; however, adds variance in maturity, characterizing the different stressors she faces in comparison to the other, older characters. This insertion is an awesome way to build Leila’s persona in the show, adding on to the already great production. 

We are then brought to the life of Sid Pakam, an Indian-American Senior as played by Amir Bageria. Sid, one of the best swimmers on the high school’s swim team, deals with hardships facing his own sexuality, relationships, school and his family. As he endures an anxious wait to know if he got accepted into Harvard, he must earn self acceptance and confidence along his journey. The audience is now placed into the eyes of a character familiar with his external environment, but unfamiliar with his internal environment. This is a topic that generally relates to all of us in some way or another, and gives the viewers a sense of sympathy and emotional attachment to Sid’s character. This is a great way to connect watcher to the program, giving them a bonded relationship we usually see in other great series. 

Jayson Jackson, as played by Malieq Johnson, is a talented, young African-American saxophone player for his school’s band who finds himself in a conflict with him and his best friend, Owen. During an unfortunate mishap whilst joking around with another student at Grand Army, two hundred dollars disappear because of their immaturity. And due to Grand Army’s strict no tolerance rule, Jayson and Owen are punished. In heat with the school and it’s principal, Jayson fights to advocate for racial equality at Grand Army, attempting to save him and his friend from being sucked into the school to prison pipeline, especially common in black communities. All of this occurs whilst Jayson and Owen are on their paths to pursue their dream careers in music. Jaysons story incorporates the important topic of racial injustice, and connects the viewer to real life and recent events, producing reality to the show and making it more relatable. As I watch, Jayson’s influence and empowerment spreads to the school, which is accomplishing, and beautiful to watch.

We then meet Dominique, played by Odley Jean, who is a young first-generation Haitian-American struggling to care for her family whilst simultaneously attempting to keep her school work in order, as well as maintaining her position on the school’s basketball team. Dominique is faced with the heavy burden of financial struggles, while trying her hardest to accomplish her dreams and live life as a normal teenager. Dominique’s story focuses on problems common in foreign and first-generational households, and her endeavors trying to fit into a world of opportunity, one completely unknown to her immigrant parents. I love Dominique’s journey because of her determination which reflects on all of the other characters as well as the audience.

Lasty, we are brought into the life of Joey Del Marco, played by Odessa A’zion, who is a positive, fun, tomboyish spirit who finds herself in a bad entanglement with her best friend’s brother and his friend group. Joey, once a cheerful young girl, passionate about dance and fighting for women’s rights, is met with a tragic incident involving sexual assault, and enduring the consequences that trickle behind. She then struggles with a brutal fight with depression and relationships, leaving her stuck and unsure. Joey’s story highlights the devastating reality of assault and unfairness of judicial system practices. Whilst In the age of the Me Too movement, she narrates a very sad and awful situation, similar to others who are hesitant to bring their trauma to the public eye. Joey shows courage and strength, which is inspirational to not only those in the show, but viewers at home as well.

Overall, Grand Army illustrates five very real depictions of struggle in the current world, which form a sense of reality in a fictional series. With the inclusion of such diverse characteristics and situations, there is never a moment to get bored while watching. The show is unique, and keeps the viewer hooked all the way up until the end of the season. Not only is the plotline engaging, the cinematography and direction of the series is beautiful, and conveys Cappiello’s tone effectively adding so much more to what is already given. I recommend this show to anyone looking for a meaningful, real and relatable show to keep them occupied and in suspense. I rate Grand Army a very solid 10/10, and is the perfect show to add to your Netflix watchlist to binge this quarantine.