The High School Student News Site of The American School in London

The Standard

The High School Student News Site of The American School in London

The Standard

Check out our latest issue

‘Grand Army’ reflects modern issues

Image used with permission from Netflix
“Grand Army” realistically portrays the lives of five different high school students. It has done an excellent job of shining a light on topics that are relevant to teenagers living in this day and age.

I wasn’t expecting much when I first clicked on one of Netflix’s newest teen dramas “Grand Army.” However, after finishing the series, I can whole-heartedly say that it is a refreshing, realistic depiction of teenage life in this day and age. 

The show follows the lives of five very different teenagers, all of whom attend Grand Army High School in New York City. The show explores themes relating to racism, sexual assault, poverty and identity through these teenagers’ lives. 

The show begins with an immediate wave of drama and emotion: a terrorist attack right outside of Grand Army High School. This attack, despite not directly harming any of the students, serves as a catalyst for many of the following events that end up affecting the main characters. 

While all of the students are crammed in the stairwells as their school goes into lockdown after the initial explosion, two boys, Jayson and Owen, steal their friend Dom’s wallet as a joke. By accident, the two boys end up losing the wallet after throwing it down the stairs, resulting in both of them receiving severe punishments, presumably because both of them are Black. 

The loss of the wallet impacts its owner as she had needed the money to support her family, who are constantly struggling to make ends meet. The show explores Dom’s life as a student and friend, but also as a young person who is faced with tough decisions, and the ways in which those facets of her life collide. 

Dom’s struggle is very real and is one faced by many young people across the world. However, despite the fact that her financial situation greatly impacts her life, the show depicts Dom as more than a token poor or Black character. 

Aside from her responsibilities to her family, the show explores the much less dramatic sides of her life. One of these aspects is her relationship with one of the school’s basketball players John Ellis as well as her journey as an aspiring psychologist. 

I appreciated the fact that “Grand Army” was able to focus on the more light-hearted aspects of high school, such as crushes, romance and popularity, while still instilling a certain and almost painful level of reality throughout the season. 

This perfect blend of innocence and reality is best seen through the life of Leila Kwan Zimmer, a high school freshman who was adopted from China by white Jewish parents. Leila is shown to be at a turning point in her life, where she struggles to understand where exactly she fits in, whether that be racially, sexually, religiously or in terms of popularity. 

In Leila’s storyline, the show incorporates plot lines that are often seen in shows targeted at younger audiences, such as signing up for the school play and having fights with her best friend over issues related to popularity. However, Leila is not just a Disney Channel character cut-out; in an attempt to become more popular she hooks up with upperclassmen, while also undergoing an identity crisis which leaves her feeling lost and alone for much of the season. 

Despite the fact that “Grand Army” did an incredible job at shedding some light on Leila’s struggles as someone who is trans-racially adopted, I felt that the show still fell short in regards to portraying the significance of her story in comparison to the stories of the other characters. Yes, Leila struggles with her identity, but why is that important? That is a question which the first season of “Grand Army” did not answer. 

The show explores themes relating to racism, sexual assault, poverty and identity through these teenagers’ lives. 

Though it fell short in Leila’s storyline, the show did an excellent job at portraying Sid, an Indian-American athlete in the midst of writing his college essay. Through writing this essay, Sid reckons with his racial, academic, athletic and sexual identity. 

As an Indian male, the terrorist attack at the beginning of the episode made him more self-conscious about his race and the way in which others view him in a world where people who look like him are constantly represented as terrorists. 

As a South-Asian and a Muslim who feels similar fear and self-consciousness due to the way people who look like me are portrayed in the media, I greatly appreciated the representation that was offered by Sid’s role in the show. 

Last, but certainly not least, the fifth main character in “Grand Army” is Joey Del Marco. Joey is initially portrayed as popular and well-liked by her friends. However, despite having seemingly good intentions, such as the way she went to school braless as a way to support the “Free the Nipple” movement or the way in which she kneeled at a school basketball game to be an “ally,” her actions are often made without much thought and tend to hurt the people around her. 

However, her carefree attitude is cut down when she experiences a deeply traumatic event at the hands of people she was close with, leaving her feeling used and to some degree responsible for her experience. 

Despite feeling little sympathy and connection to Joey at the start of the series, I ended the show feeling that her storyline was one of the most emotion-evoking and developed out of all of the characters within the show. 

Like all of the characters’ journeys throughout the season, Joey’s trauma and recovery is so common in today’s society, especially in today’s teengers, yet it is sadly seldom discussed or represented as realistically and respectfully as “Grand Army” does. 

It is this level of integrity and care poured into the show that makes it so lifelike and relevant to this day and age. “Grand Army” presents issues which teenagers can easily relate to in a way that often upholds their importance and examines the ways in which these issues play a role in the lives of teenagers today.

Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Zainab Shafqat Adil
Zainab Shafqat Adil, Features Editor: Print
Zainab Shafqat Adil (’22) is the Features Editor: Print of The Standard. She joined the publication as a staff writer in her freshman year, and was the Features Editor: Print during Grade 10, and Culture Editor: Print during Grade 11. She enjoys journalism because it informs people about ideas and issues, and is a platform that can uplift voices in a community. Outside of The Standard, she is interested in art, social justice and volleyball.

Comments (0)

All The Standard Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *