It's unfortunate On My Block doesn't receive the same level of press coverage as Stranger Thingsand Netflix's other coming-of-age series because it is arguably the best young adult series the streaming service has to offer. The immensely charming half-hour dramedy, whose third season is now streaming, blends an absurd sense of humor and wild, sometimes Goonies-esque adventures with the emotional realities of growing up in a crime-ridden and violent area of South Central Los Angeles, and as a result, the series is like little else on TV.
The eight-episode third season picks up right where Season 2 left off, quickly revealing that Monse (Sierra Capri), Cesar (Diego Tinoco), Ruby (Jason Genao), and Jamal (Brett Gray) were kidnapped by Cuchillos (Ada Luz Pla), the leader of the Santos, because she wants them to find Lil' Ricky, the leader of the gang who was involved in the RollerWorld heist in the '80s and whom she believes is still very much alive. Series co-creators Lauren Iungerich and Eddie Gonzalez & Jeremy Haft once again brilliantly mine the seriousness of the situation for comedy without ever losing sight of the stakes or the emotional toll they take on the show's young protagonists, and as the season progresses, harsh but necessary truths are revealed as the boulder-sized task on their shoulders tests their loyalty and threatens to crush them beneath its significant weight.
And yet, the show never feels like it's drowning in darkness. Cuchillos' directive sends the group on a wild goose chase across Freeridge that eventually involves everyone from Chivo (Emilio Rivera) and Rosé (Angela Elayne Gibbs) to an exterminator who shares Ricky's name and a JoJo Siwa-esque singer whose hit song is called "Lunch Money." Much of the comedy is again channeled through Jamal -- Gray's expert line readings and physical comedy remain some of the show's biggest assets -- and the scene-stealing Jasmine, (Jessica Marie Garcia), who is now officially part of the group, a development that leads to the two frequently and humorously butting heads over which one is the leader of the investigation into Lil' Ricky's whereabouts.
Although On My Block has nailed a tricky balancing act, the show has sometimes felt like multiple shows in one as the characters moved along their respective paths. Toward the end of Season 1, Jamal was on his own while he searched for the RollerWorld money, while in Season 2 Ruby's family situation was often at the forefront and Monse briefly relocated to Brentwood to live with her mother. In Season 3, the series feels more cohesive than ever despite Jamal embarking on his first real romantic relationship and the teens' parents being more integrated into the storytelling. The fact that everyone is feeling the pressure from Cuchillos and it's not just Cesar running from the Prophets or Ruby struggling to come to terms with what happened to him leads to more balance this time around, which has only reinforced the show's already strong foundation.
Also making the show stronger in Season 3 is the increased presence of both Jasmine and Cesar's brother Oscar, aka Spooky (Julio Macias). By bringing Jasmine firmly into the group, the show is able to further explore her deepening friendship with Ruby, which was a highlight of Season 2 and is one of the more honest and tender relationships depicted in the series, but it also gives Monse a female friend to confide in. With her father (Reggie Austin) frequently on the road, her mother no longer around, and her relationship with Cesar still on the rocks, Monse has a tendency to retreat into herself and get lost amid her thoughts. When this happens, Jasmine is there to thoughtfully draw her out or do something so extreme the only response is to laugh.
Meanwhile, after two seasons of filling a specific but limited role in the overarching narrative, Oscar features prominently in Season 3's storyline because of his place within the Santos' hierarchy. However, it is when the show digs into his strained relationship with his and Cesar's father (Ian Casselberry), who has recently been released from prison and returns home a seemingly changed man, that the show is at its best. It doesn't take long to discover that beneath Oscar's tough guy exterior is a broken, angry man who was forced to become a father without ever knowing what it was like to be a son. The Santos were his family when he felt he didn't have one, but Oscar's is a cautionary tale, a glimpse into a possible future, for Cesar, specifically, but in the broader sense for the rest of the teens as well. And yet, by letting go of his resentment of his father and with dreams of being more than what was expected of him simply because of the circumstances into which he was born, it's possible that's not all Oscar is either.
It's a powerful storyline that encapsulates the core themes of the season, which tap into our desire for and capacity to change and be better than what's expected of us. Regardless of the life we've been born into, and no matter how difficult the road ahead seems, the possibility for change does exist, should we want it to. For the teens of On My Block, it's a lesson they're only starting to learn.
For so long it was the core four, but that won't always be the case, especially if Monse leaves Freeridge for the all-girls boarding school first mentioned last season. But even if she decides to stay and keep to the status quo, the reality is that things have already begun to change. The experiences the teens have been through since the start of the series -- Cesar joining the Santos, Ruby being shot, Jamal finding the RollerWorld money, putting the Prophets away, and now Cuchillos recruiting them to find Lil' Ricky -- have already changed them forever. Whatever innocence they had has been lost. And while there's no turning back, there is still a way forward, and it doesn't have to be the path that everyone expects.
TV Guide Rating: 5/5
On My Block Season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.