Released on Netflix in October 2020, Grand Army is a current, provocative, and relatable American teen drama that is sure to spark needed conversation with people from all walks of life. Grand Army is loosely based on Katie Cappiello’s 2013 play SLUT, which addresses the impacts of slut-shaming and sexual assault in society today. While Cappiello’s play focuses on Joey’s story, Grand Army focuses on the storylines of five main characters (including Joey), all of whom face different hardships in their teenage years. Their stories intertwine as they all attend the largest public school in Brooklyn. The show discusses several topics that are stigmatized in our society, such as sexual assault, sexism, gentrification, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, performative activism, immigration, and more.
The first episode introduces the characters and the ”Grand Army” social life. During the school day, a bombing occurs a few blocks away from the high school. Although no one attending the school is hurt, the bombing metaphorically shatters the lives of the five main characters. Each of these characters has a unique story, and each of them battles his/her own issues as the show progresses. To supply you with some context, I will explain how each of the main characters was “hit” by the bomb. Joey is a spunky junior who is not afraid to speak her mind and advocates for causes she believes in, such as the sexism she sees in her schools’ policies. Although she seems to thrive as one of the most popular girls in school, she is raped by two of her male friends and suffers the agony and trauma that comes in the aftermath of sexual assault. Dom is a first-generation Haitian girl who must work to help feed her family and pay their rent. She also must deal with the fact that because of many aspects of her life, she was forced to grow up too young. Leila, an overeager and insecure freshman at Grand Army High School, harbors intense anxiety about fitting in and accepting herself. Her storyline involves relationships with older boys, transracial adoption, religious and racial identity, and teenage angst. Owen and Jayson, two talented saxophone players, land in serious trouble at school after pulling a prank, leading to a lengthy and controversial suspension of Owen. The show addresses racism and the impact of zero-tolerance policies in schools on students of color. Lastly, Sid, a senior on Grand Army’s elite swimming team, struggles to write his college essay while questioning his sexuality. Sid attempts to accept himself and gain acceptance from his family and friends. Although each story focuses on different characters, these five main narratives are intertwined throughout the show as the scenes cut from one storyline to another throughout each episode. There are three reasons why this show is a must-watch. 1) Katie Cappiello’s writing is outstanding. She finds a way to construct the show in a relatable fashion while still weaving in important social issues The writing leads viewers to develop connections with each character. In addition, Cappiello shapes each character uniquely by avoiding teenage stereotypes, making each character unique and dynamic. Although many of the episodes were directed by different filmmakers, the filming of the show was intricate and depicts topics one can’t express through words. The cinematography creates a sense of deep emotion, which complements the acting of the characters. Film tactics such as focusing on a character’s facial expressions or lowering the volume so that all the viewer’s focus is brought to one thing are used nicely. 2) The acting is based in truth. For some in the cast, Grand Army was their first appearance in a lead television role. Seeing new actors take on such interesting character plots and nailing them is mesmerizing to watch. The connection the actors make with their characters and stories is what allows watchers to sincerely feel for the characters. Performances by Odley Jean and Odessa A’zion were standouts for me. 3) Unlike some shows, Grand Army is so raw and vulnerable in its themes that watchers can connect to each and every character in some way. Katie Cappiello does not shy away from talking about touchy subjects. The transparency and authenticity of the show bring new perspectives and needed conversation to teens and people of all ages. Overall, Grand Army breaks boundaries. Through Cappiello’s writing, the themes, the filmmaking, and the cast, it is a show that leaves the watcher thinking after finishing the series in a total of two days.