Among the many television casualties of 2020 was the surprise cancellation of Netflix’s I Am Not Okay With This over the summer. The supernatural YA drama starring IT alums Sophia Lillis and Wyatt Oleff debuted on the streamer in February. Despite the show’s co-creators Jonathan Entwistle and Christy Hall having a two-season vision for the show’s narrative and despite Netflix giving it a Season 2 renewal, the streamer did a surprise about-face and gave I Am Not Okay With This the axe in August.
Now, Entwistle is opening up about the events leading up to the cancellation and the reasons behind Netflix’s Season 2 cancellation in a lengthy interview with Insider. Entwistle explained that “we just continued on the same path and it wasn’t super easy, but we were aware early on, pre-pandemic, that there were rumblings of new changes of direction,” referring to the show’s strong start regarding viewer numbers before encountering a slow decline, going on to say later in the interview that “we were shocked when it happened, because I was like, ‘What a weird show to cancel.’”
Season 1 of I Am Not Okay With This ended on a cliffhanger, with Syd (Lillis), the show’s protagonist who discovers she has superpowers amidst a rough period in her life, confronting a hooded figure who had been keeping an eye on her throughout the season. According to Entwistle, who co-wrote that cliffhanger ending with Hall on the fly while shooting Season 1, this was intentional and meant to lead into Season 2, which they knew would be going forward.
“Many of the questions that we posed in the first season were mapped out for a second season,” Entwistle told Insider. “When [Netflix] commissioned Season 2 and they greenlit us into the writer’s room, they told us it was to be the final season. So we were writing to a finale that we’d already planned.”
Entwistle continued, touching on the timing of Season 2 prep and its collision with an inevitable writer’s strike and the early days of the pandemic, saying, “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]. […] When the pandemic hit, we moved out of the office and there was definitely a shift within Netflix. We finished the scripts and it was hard work in the Zoom-writer’s-room. No writer tells you those things are good. It’s not good.”
But as time went on and the country moved further into the pandemic, Entwistle seems to imply that while the writing was on the wall in regards to how complex an undertaking it would have been to film Season 2 in a COVID-safe environment, there was optimism about making it happen: “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.”
When asked whether delaying production had ever been an option on the table, Entwistle noted the idea to delay production until February 2021 had been discussed. However, “once you go over a certain period of time from when you said you were going to shoot, it incurs quite big costs to pay the actors to keep them,” Entwistle commented. “Netflix was basically saying we’re paying large groups of filmmakers and actors to remain doing nothing. We were locked into I Am Not Okay With This and it looked like it was never going to shoot and because I don’t have an overall deal or anything at Netflix, it was prohibiting me from working on other projects through COVID.”
Ultimately, Entwistle says, “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. I do think when they were looking at all the finances, the show was more expensive than they figured it was worth doing.”
I Am Not Okay With This Season 1 is available to watch on Netflix. For more, find out what big project Entwistle has on the horizon.
Allie Gemmill is the Weekend Contributing Editor for Collider. You can follow them on Twitter @_matineeidle.