Netflix's On My Block Went Out Like It Came In: Tender, Weird, and on a (Literal) High

Pour one out for one of the warmest coming-of-age comedies around.

TV Features On My Block
Share Tweet Submit Pin
Netflix's <i>On My Block</i> Went Out Like It Came In: Tender, Weird, and on a (Literal) High

For a series as filled with death as it ended up being, Netflix’s On My Block couldn’t be leaving behind a warmer legacy.

This isn’t to say the teen dram-com-mystery’s final season, which flung its characters two years into the future and made them all but strangers to one another, wasn’t also excruciatingly stressful (it was), nor that it was without flaws (what is?) But given how shaggy, ambitious, and just plain weird the series set out to be from the start, the fact that it managed to stay just as weird, shaggy, and ambitious to the end—while still allowing its characters to not just grow up but grow—is worth celebrating. Not every teen show has the skills to pull even the growth part off! To accomplish that much while also juggling a constant simmer of gang violence, an unpredictable cabal of magic ceramic garden Gnomies, and a pot-smoking abuelita with a colorful(/deadly) past? That’s some expert-level shit, man.

The trouble with eulogizing a show as wild and wide-ranging as On My Block never stopped being, of course, is that it’s impossible to fix on any single thread. If I focused on the Goonies of it all, for example, I could talk about how Jamal’s obsession with finding the Roller World money—and later, Lil’ Ricky—ended up serving as the perfect argument for the fact that, in terms of growing up, the only thing more important than staying true to your (weirdest) self is keeping your (equally weird) OGs close at hand. If I stuck to that theme, though, I’d miss being able to talk about how On My Block’s ability to stack teen tropes together like some kind of Friday Night Freaks/Pretty Little Geeks Jenga tower gave the emotional arcs of its actual stories surprisingly cheeky flexibility, or about how its more serious Boyz n the Hood elements underscored the idea that it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a few goofball friends obsessed with Bigfoot, student council, and (quote) “getting it in—none of that means life will stop being hard or unfair.

To that end, rather than trying to muscle my way through some kind of Grand Unifying On My Block Theory (impossible), I’m going to commemorate this final season by taking a page from the show’s own Teen Jenga book. That’s right: In the tradition of such Teen TV classics as The Wonder Years, Malcolm in the Middle, and Friday Night Lights, I’m turning to the ol’ Where Are They Now? epilogue.

spoiler-warning-new.jpg

section_break.gif

The Santos

on-my-block-santos.jpeg

Exhumed at the start of the season from the shallow grave she landed in after the 19th Street gang shot her dead at the end of Season 3, Cuchillos (Ada Luz Pla) ended up casting nearly as long a shadow in death on Season 4 as she did when she was alive and kidnapping teens off the streets of Freeridge back in Season 3. The mechanics of the threat her discovery posed never made as much sense as other elements of the season did (it had something to do with the power vacuum her death being known would leave behind?), but the hair-trigger fear with which it smothered the Santos—improbably led, when the season opens, by Cesar (Diego Tinoco)—was palpable all the same.

In the end, this hair-trigger fear proved pretty well-founded, as it resulted first in the Prophets rolling up on Cesar and taking the cash he’d been saving for years to pay his friends’ stolen shares of the Roller World money back, and then in someone (presumably the Prophets again) gunning down Oscar (Julio Macias) just as he was about to move to Portland to start a new life with his wife and soon-to-be-born daughter. It was bad! It was also the final straw needed to make Cesar see reason and leave the Santos for good.

So where are the rest of the Santos now? Presumably right back in the same turf war with the Prophets that the Core Four tried to put to rest with the Roller World money back in Season 3.


Ruby & Jamal

on-my-block-ruby-jamal.jpeg

After losing two years of friendship first to Ruby’s (Jason Genao) co-dependent relationship with Jasmine (Jessica Maria Garcia), and then to Jamal’s (Brett Gray) dickish evolution to Mr. Popularity, it ended up being, of all things, the no-holds-barred Senior Class President race that nearly destroyed each of them that prompted the two old friends to finally make up. This peace wasn’t wholly believable—Jamal didn’t renounce the revenge victory he never even wanted, nor did he become a demonstrably better/more humble friend to Ruby in his reign—but their dynamic had always been a bit unbalanced by Jamal’s obsessive ego, so I suppose that was just a regression to the mean. What ultimately matters is the fact that, even if it took longer for the remaining members of the Core Four to make nice with one another, these two at least were able to get back to having each other’s backs, just as all their Senior Year shit hit the fan.

Where are they now? Well, Ruby got into Stanford, so that’s probably where he is. Jamal, though—who knows. On the one hand, he got into many schools, any one of which might have a secret society he’s currently in the process of taking over. On the other, he did sign what might have been his life away to his weirdo entrepreneurial idol, Noel Aroma, so it’s just as possible he’s, like, setting up a neural spy network in outer space. Truly—who knows. Either way, though, these ride-or-die friends are definitely in each other’s DMs.


Jasmine & Monse

on-my-block-jasmine-monse.jpeg

After spending years hovering around the edges of the Core Four’s friend group, it was great, midway through Season 3, to see Jasmine make her way not just into the Core Four fold, but into Monse’s (Sierra Capri) personal confidences. Having that season end, then, first with Monse leaving for boarding school, and then with a two-year time jump that suggested the only Core Four connection Jasmine had left was Ruby, was an enormous bummer!

Thankfully, like Ruby and Jamal (just barely) before them, Jasmine and Monse found their way back to each other early on in this final season, initially reconnecting while Monse was home for the holidays, then slotting more firmly into each other’s innermost orbits as Monse moved home permanently. Compellingly, while Jasmine’s introduction to the Core Four friend group initially forced Monse to reflect on her discomfort connecting with other girls, she was able to turn the favor around this season, using the emotional growth she’d undergone at her all-girl boarding school to show Jasmine how important it is for girls to see themselves as worthy of self-love, whether they’re in a relationship or not. True to form, this lesson led to some truly batshit outfits on Jasmine’s part, but it also led to her being able to apply to her dream school—Ruby’s opinions be damned. That Jasmine was also able to be there for Monse as she navigated the emotional minefields her mom planted with both her dad (Reggie Austin) and stepdad (Nico Evers-Swindell) before dying, that’s friendship at its best.

As to where they are now, Monse is presumably at Wellesley, pursuing a creative writing degree, while Jasmine is likely still at home, taking care of her dad… but hopefully just temporarily, as she figures out a way to move him with her to Berkeley, where she’s got a full ride waiting for whenever she’s ready.


Cesar & Oscar

on-my-block-cesar-oscar.jpeg

After all the years both the Core Four and On My Block fans spent invested in the importance of keeping Cesar from joining the Santos, the fact that this season started with Cesar as official Santos leader was, in a word, frustrating. That the show then piled on by making him blow up at his brother every time Oscar—now married and with a baby on the way—tried to ease him back out? As so many of the memes going around Tumblr this week might say: First of all, how dare you. That Oscar getting gunned down mere moments after the two of them reconciled ended up being the only reason Cesar did get out? First of all! How dare you!!

Intellectually, I understand that there are all sorts of reasons for both of these narrative decisions being made. From the very beginning of the very first season, On My Block hammered home the idea that gang life, for too many kids in Freeridge, held an inexorable pull. Sure, his friends wanted to save him from that life, but that didn’t negate the fact that decisions both his dad and his brother had spent years making had made the path to “that life” clearer than the path to just about any other. Similarly, as much as fans will have wanted Oscar to get the happily-ever-after he fought so hard to even make plausible, it’s not like the show hasn’t also made clear, from Day 1, how hard it is to make a new life for yourself once you’re out, after making so many enemies for yourself while you were in. I mean, that’s why Chivo’s only friends are the garden gnomes inhabited by the souls of his long-dead gang friend. It’s why Lil’ Ricky buried the Roller World money and faked his own death. So, no—earnest as he was in putting in the work to make his life something great, Oscar wasn’t ever going to escape the danger he’d tried to leave behind.

Emotionally, though? I’m devastated. What a rough place for both brothers’ stories to go.

So, sure—where are they now? Well, Cesar, thankfully, is a high school graduate, presumably still with dreams of becoming an architect. And while Oscar’s ashes have been spread at the beach (and his wife and daughter have moved safely to Portland), his Gnomie spirit did manage to find its way to Cesar’s door by the series’ end.


The Parents

on-my-block-parents.jpeg

When it comes to teen shows centered on any kind of mystery, the Big Parental Reveal is something of a right-of-passage. Some are emotional (think Teen Wolf, between Scott and his mom), some are funny (Teen Wolf again, but between Stiles and his dad), and some are too little, too late (hello, Pretty Little Liars).

On My Block’s big reveal—Ruby, Jamal, and Monse sitting their parents down following Oscar’s death to explain, in detail, everything that happened to them since Season 1—managed (unsurprisingly) to be all three. The comedy! The pathos! The parental mortification as they realized that every time their kids had told them what was going on, they’d all just written it off as their kids being weird! The parental indignation as they next realized that Abuelita (the inimitable and unapologetic Peggy Blow) had been an accessory to the chaos all along! Truly an exemplar of the Big Parental Reveal genre. Was it a bit of a stretch to have Abuelita solve the problem by just heading over to the police station to spin some tall tale (that we never even got to see)? Sure. But it’s a tall tale I’m willing to stretch for.

Where are the parents now? Hopefully safe at home with a glass of wine, grateful their weirdo, trouble-magnet kids are finally out of the house!


Lil’ Ricky & Chivo

on-my-block-chivo.jpeg

Bridging a similar gap between comedy and pathos this season was Chivo (Emilio Rivera) whose long-running Gnomie gag finally paid off in the form of a living, breathing Lil’ Ricky just showing up at his (and the Core Four’s) proverbial door. After watching Jamal spend so many years obsessing over every inch of the Roller World/Lil’ Ricky mystery, the show’s decision to not only skip over their big first meeting, but to make him completely forget every second of it, was very funny. More importantly, it did a good job lowering expectations across the board, so that when it turned out that Lil’ Ricky was just some middle-aged dude running a rehab facility to help others escape the life, too, neither Jamal nor the audience would feel too disappointed.

Where are Chivo and Lil’ Ricky now? Living their best lives, one would assume, as reformed Freeridge citizens and retired ride-or-dies, Chivo’s army of magical Gnomies by their side.


Abuelita

on-my-block-abuelita.jpeg

It wasn’t surprising to realize, halfway through the series’ final scene, that series creators Lauren Iungerich, Jeremy Haft, and Eddie Gonzalez were paying homage to the long take party scene that had so notably opened the series—that kind of visual savvy, after all, is baked into On My Block’s DNA. (See also: this Last Supper shot of Chivo and his Gnomies.)

What was a bit surprising, though, was that the pot and shot-soaked party this final long take pulled the audience through wasn’t the Core Four’s graduation party, but rather Abuelita’s wake. Or maybe it wasn’t surprising at all! Because as much as On My Block will live on as a titan of the Teen TV genre, the series ended up being as much Abuelita’s story as it was it teen stars’. Much of this comes down to the writing, sure—she is the showrunners’ favorite “senior citizen Swiss Army knife,” after all—but even more of it comes down to the crackpot-dynamo energy Peggy Blow so gleefully brought to the role. She got to love her family. She got to torture Ruby by comparing “personal care” routines. She got to befriend Jamal on a truly bizarre peer-to-peer level. She got to smoke a lot of pot. She got to do it all! And in the end, the kids 100% wouldn’t have made it through high school without her.

So, no, I guess it wasn’t surprising that the big blow-out party the series ended on—the party that a new quartet of Ruby’s neighbor kids spent all night peering over the fence to catch a glimpse of—was a celebration of Abuelita’s life. It was exactly as it should have been.

And so finally, where’s Abuelita now? Somewhere up there in the clouds, obviously, smoking the biggest bowl she could have ever dreamt of.

So pour one out for Oscar, pour one out for Marisol.

What a show.

On My Block is now streaming, in its entirety, on Netflix.



Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.