This review includes spoilers for On My Block season four, which is streaming now on Netflix.
Three and a half years after its debut, On My Block’s essence can still be summarized in a throwaway moment mere minutes into the premiere: Gunshots ring through the air, breaking up the very party that introduces Core Four friends Ruby (Jason Ganao), Monse (Sierra Capri), Jamal (Brett Gray), and Cesar (Diego Tinoco). As they run from the fray, the teens casually debate over the type of gun potentially responsible for the chaos.
“That was a .38,” Monse posits resolutely. Jamal disagrees, assuming it was the work of a .45 magnum. Another shot eventually sounds and the group identifies the culprit as a .357 almost gleefully.
Though their comfort in such a scenario speaks to a macabre normalization of violence in their community of Freeridge, California, it also signaled a show’s determination to balance tragedy with joy, real world woes with precious adolescence. With this approach, the coming-of-age series has excelled in grounding the lives of Black and Latinx characters in a story that didn’t define them by their circumstances, even when they were in the thick of certain peril. In short, OMB worked best when it found a balance between the sweet and the sour despite the presence of serious crime and even death. Bolstered by a talented cast with impeccable chemistry, the comedy should live on as an underrated wonder.
In their fourth and final season, the cast of OMB cement themselves as the rising talents they are, as they continue to bring endearing relatability to their fictional counterparts. But even their sharp delivery isn’t enough to distract from a narrative that not only comes across as rushed, but throws off a balance that once set the show apart. In an attempt to go out with a bang, OMB executes seasons worth of consequences in ways that are both jarring and unearned, leaving quality characters and a stellar cast with an ending that doesn’t do them adequate justice.
We return to Freeridge after a two-year time jump. It’s senior year and the friend group is still on the outs: Ruby and Jasmine’s (comedic sharp shooter Jessica Marie Garcia) relationship has reached intense heights, Jamal is the popular star of the football team, Monse is thriving at boarding school, and Oscar (Julio Macias) is happily preparing for fatherhood after retiring from gang life. Additionally, he is focused on helping his brother, Cesar, leave the Santos gang once and for all.
As tensions mount, the authorities discover the remains of deceased crime boss Cuchillos (Ada Luz Pla), endangering the freedom and safety of the group. In order to survive, they have to repair the rift long enough to work together.
Prior to any reconciliation, viewers are offered different shades of the teens we’ve come to know over the course of three seasons. Jamal’s evolution as a celebrated lothario is especially intriguing as he considers how his heightened social status has impacted his perception of relationships. Gray manages to find new depth to Jamal in a way that feels organic, even when Jamal slides back to his weirder roots. His journey is also the source of most of the season’s fun, with his well-documented preoccupation with power and respect only inflating once he actually has it. Gray ends his time with OMB exactly as he began: as a standout.
Jamal isn’t the only one going through significant changes. Season four explores the challenging dynamics of Ruby and Jasmine’s relationship, with Jasmine’s long-gestating desire to take care of Ruby blossoming into full-blown control. After their inevitable fracture, Jasmine begins to realize that her life up to this point has mainly consisted of her taking care of others, including Ruby and her veteran father. This prompts her to begin taking care of herself while Ruby obsesses from afar. It’s a welcomed shift in a dynamic that has largely left Jasmine out to dry, and Garcia gets to approach her character with a stronger sense of maturity, introspection, and pride. To witness Jasmine receive the care that she deserves—even if she’s the one administering that care herself—feels long overdue.
Unfortunately, OMB fails to follow through with that notion when Jasmine’s dreams of attending university outside of Freeridge are dashed by external circumstances that require her to stay behind and once again care for her aging father. It feels like one of many steps backward, as Monse is once again anchored to Freeridge when she learns that her father (who has suddenly gained a wife and a new baby in the span of just two years) can’t afford to send her back to her expensive boarding school.
But nothing rings of arrested development like the overarching saga of the Santos. For his part, Tinoco deftly portrays a teenager grappling with his role as a gang’s young leader. His determination to prove his grit is a sticking point between him and a reformed Oscar. Tinoco’s passion (despite his occasionally stilted delivery) and Macias’ heart sell the tension, and Oscar’s evolution is one of the most rewarding developments of the series.
That is, until Oscar’s life is senselessly cut short by a tragedy that doesn’t seem to serve a purpose beyond its inherent shock value. On one hand, Oscar’s demise is so effective because he’s such a resonant, well-crafted character. But there’s also a carelessness that follows those events: For a person who has in one way or another protected the lives of each teen, his death seems to only outwardly affect Cesar. It also leads to the rather flat conclusions of series-long mysteries and conflicts, moments that took years to build and only a few tossed aside lines and forced flashbacks to decimate. The events seem less like the results of a thoroughly conceived plan and more of an attempt to wrap loose ends up as quickly as possible, which leaves behind way more questions than there are answers.
Along with Jasmine and Monse, Oscar’s fate challenges the balance that once made OMB so distinctive. Is there really a way to escape Freeridge, or is its hold simply too strong to escape? Do they ever get to chase their happy endings, or is their fate already determined by their circumstances? This season confuses the thesis so thoroughly at the expense of characters who undergo so much development with very little payoff.
It’s all very frustrating, to say the least, partially because it can’t exactly be attributed to poor writing or direction—this season’s sharp dialogue and delivery are proof to the contrary. But a handful of ill-conceived choices outweigh the bulk of this season’s smarter turns and jeopardizes the good will that series creators Lauren Iungerich, Eddie Gonzalez, and Jeremy Haft have cultivated over the years. Viewers will have plenty of laughs and great performances to hold dear, but in the end, dedicated fans may have a hard time shaking the feeling that everyone involved deserved way better than what they got.