As awesome a product as Netflix can be most of the time, the company has developed a rather damning reputation for cancelling its original series too soon, with many of its exclusives unable to make it beyond two or three seasons. One of the more glaringly frustrating cancellations in recent months went to the super-powered YA dramedy I Am Not Okay with This, starring the IT films' Sophia Lillis and Wyatt Oleff. The initial report cited vague COVID-19-related concerns for the cancellation, and now creator Jonathan Entwistle has opened up about the reasons Netflix pulled the plug.
Along with the mystery drama The Society, I Am Not Okay with This was cancelled despite having already been granted a second season renewal from Netflix. That seeming betrayal, coupled with the acclaimed series' cliffhanger-esque ending, sparked a bit of rage within fans once the cancellation news hit. And while it might be mentally soothing if there were some otherworldly reasoning, much of it comes down to the almighty dollar, as well as the threat of another writers strike. Here's how Jonathan Entwistle put it to Insider:
There was obviously the impending writers' strike, which was definitely a huge thing at Netflix. We were working almost week to week, not knowing how long it was going to last before somebody pulled the trigger on something that would have an effect [on us]. . . . We were budgeting, we were ready to roll. The show was due to start shooting in May/June and obviously it got delayed. We just realized that to COVID-proof the show was going to cost a lot more money. I think I've seen a few people talking and the figures are about right: It's about anywhere between $5 to $10 million per season of television for the PPE, and for the testing, and for the systematic changes with which to make it safer.
Even though I Am Not Okay with This did feature a main character with heightened mental and telekinetic abilities, the show seemed to do a great job of balancing visual effects with maintaining a modest budget. But now that the entertainment industry is fully getting back into the swing of things as the COVID-19 pandemic remains a threat around the globe, TV budgets have become far more complicated, and it's no longer just about what goes onto the screen.
Even for a show like I Am Not Okay with This, which features a fairly limited number of cast members, the cost of keeping that cast and all the crew members safe and prepared can reach unbelievable heights. While long-running high-profile series like Grey's Anatomy and NCIS can obviously afford to foot the additional safety protocol bill on top of everything else, shows at the same level as I Am Not Okay with This might be lucky to have a $10 million for the entire season.
When these kinds of massive costs are on the table, a show's popularity is only an important factor once the viewership surpasses a certain threshold. Jonathan Entwistle, who adapted I Am Not Okay with This from Charles Forsman's comic book of the same name, spoke to the show's audience and popularity, revealing that he and Netflix execs apparently viewed the series through different lenses.
Not necessarily [the] number of viewers, because it's more complex than that with Netflix. We had amazing viewing figures for a show of that size. If you put that on Hulu, it would be mind blowing, but on Netflix it wasn't that impressive. I think that one of the problems we faced with I Am Not Okay With This is that in many ways I considered it to be a smaller, niche show and they considered it to be a replacement for Stranger Things.
That's somewhat understandable, with Sydney and Stranger Things' Eleven (played by Millie Bobby Brown) do share some similarities in the "look what I can do with my mind" department. Not to mention the fact that both Sophia Lillis and Wyatt Oleff starred alongside Stranger Things' Finn Wolfhard in the two IT films. But to me at least, I Am Not Okay with This was a coming-of-age story about Sydney's maturation and sexuality, while Stranger Things is a full-on genre series embracing large-scale conspiracies, otherworldly dimensions, a large ensemble cast, and other larger-than-life elements that justify its existence as one of Netflix's most popular original series going into Season 4. That kind of storytelling requires a budget big enough that it could also incorporate extra COVID costs, while Entwistle's show worked beneath that benchmark.
While it's not likely, I'm still hopeful that there will be a point in the near future where COVID safety costs are drastically lessened, and Netflix (or some other studio) reevaluates I Am Not Okay with This and decides to bring Season 2 to fans no matter what. That, or there will end up being a comic book version of the story that the writers had already formulated before the cancellation came down.
I Am Not Okay with This' first and only season is available to stream on Netflix. While waiting to see if there are any future updates, head to our Fall TV 2020 premiere schedule to see all the new and returning shows on the way soon.