On My Block is an incredible show. It demarcates the highs and lows of living in an inner city, the camaraderie, the darker side, the danger, the laughter, all through the eyes of children who’ve seen and experienced more than enough trauma for one lifetime.
It’s refreshing to see a show about a bunch of Black and Brown kids who are just trying to survive. It’s funny, it’s endearing, and it’s everything I could ask for in a television show.
Now. As I am known to do, instead of simply enjoying a thing, I am going to delve into the tiny, insignificant details and overthink every single thing about it. Dear reader, I present to you the question of the week: Is Jamal the best character in On My Block? Let’s Discuss.
Spoilers for On My Block seasons 1 and 2 below.
Exhibit A: He’s the best friend of the best friends
The On My Block fam is tight. We’re talkin’, met in the fourth grade, homies ever since tight. But Jamal remains the rock, the glue that keeps the Freeridge four together. Through the ups and downs, the drama of budding high school romance, gang violence, and a scavenger hunt for hidden money, Jamal has always got his friends’ backs.
Season 1 sees Jamal being the level-headed one among his friends, the peacemaker in a group that explodes with drama every other scene. He protects Monse from Cesar when rumors crop up that Cesar has been telling people that they smashed. He cools everyone down with a game when the block gets locked down from the cops. He even shorts out the power at Ruby’s house as a means to keep the secret that Cesar kissed Olivia. Even though he’s not the toughest or bravest of the bunch, he’s always got his crew’s back.
In season 2, Jamal really begins to shine. Not only does he go from being the weirdo friend obsessed with an urban legend, but he moves closer to the focal point of the show and we get to see him do more than crack jokes and dig for treasure. The season sees him helping Cesar again and again, after his friend gets marked, kicked out of his family gang, and has nowhere to go. Jamal helps Cesar get a job at his dad’s BBQ joint, lets him live with him when Cesar is effectively homeless, and (begrudgingly) parts with the money he spent the entire first season finding to ensure his friend’s safety. Jamal risks everything for his friend, in spite of the very necessary monologue he delivers in the first episode about how his friends always interrupt, ignore, and abandon him. It’s true. Jamal is often overlooked and not taken seriously by the squad, but despite all that, he shows up for his homies when they need.
Exhibit B: He lives his life unapologetically
Jamal isn’t afraid to be himself and that’s one thing that makes his character so lovable. He’s goofy, funny, and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He loves his friends and his family, and he’s intentional and determined to complete whatever goals he sets his mind to. He lives in a dangerous part of South Central Los Angeles, but is able to live his most authentic life, be carefree yet cautious, and doesn’t let his circumstances define him or limit his life.
While all his friends make fun of him for believing he’ll be the one to find the rumored RollerWorld money, Jamal sticks to his plan. He goes it alone most of the time, finding clues and maps and puzzles that lead him to the treasure. And, yeah, he gets defeated sometimes, but he gets his head back in the game and keeps it moving, eventually finding a quarter mil buried beneath his high school.
Jamal is nothing if not committed, as we see when he adopts a variety of silly props to convince his parents he’s been hurt at football practice when the reality is he quit the team on the first day of school. While Jamal eventually fesses up to his parents about the long-winded lie, his dedication to the long con gives us a peak into a quintessential part of Jamal’s characterization: he is determined. An eye patch, an arm sling, and a leg cast in tow, Jamal commits to both keeping himself safe and keeping his sports-obsessed parents proud, finding a perfect, comical, and very 14-year-old boy approach to the predicament he gets himself in.
Exhibit C: He’s funny AF
On My Block has tons and tons and tons of gut-bustingly hilarious moments. Anytime Jasmine enters a the frame, you know it’s about to get hysterical. If a scene takes place at Ruby’s house, there’s a 50% chance that Abuelita is gonna burst in with a perfectly timed one-liner. But Jamal is a frontrunner for funniest character in the show. Brett Gray’s comedic timing is impeccable; every single one of his jokes land, and his attitude and tone drum up even more hilarity, even without dialogue. The tiny, random, factoids he bursts out with, his squeaky, high-pitched nervous voice he adopts in scary situations, his inability to understand why cops would hurt white people, his pleading of “the fifth, the third, and the Black,” and countless moments catapult Jamal to being an absolute hilarious character.
What’s cool about him being so funny is that he doesn’t exist solely as comedic relief. The show is funny and the rest of the cast are funny in their own right, which gives Jamal a chance to shine in two ways: one, in not being relegated to just “the funny friend” since the rest of them are funny and two, amidst a group of funny characters, he shines head and shoulders above the rest of the crew.
Exhibit D: His character development
His character development in 2 seasons is strong yet subtle, which makes sense for a 14 year old boy; it’s only been a few months in between the seasons, we can’t expect much to change. But we get a glimpse of Jamal as a graduating 8th grader and a newly enrolled high schooler, and finally as a teenager coming into his own. He’s got a lot of growing to do, and we see the gradual shift in his behavior and how he interacts with his peers and his friends, as is expected of a young high school student.
In the span of a few months, we see Jamal complain that his friends ignore him to seeing him stick up for himself more and demand the squad listen to him and pay attention to him. We watch him go from befriending characters much older than him, like Abuelita and (to an extent) Chivo, as he is often left out of his friend group, to integrating the squad with the adults he met in their absence.
Brett Gray speaks a lot about how much Jamal has changed in relation to his friends and his self-confidence, noting that while the rest of the characters are forced to grow up fast, Jamal remains the display of a child in transition.
He’s the one that reminds me that they’re still 14 years old. I think it’s the contrast of seeing Jamal doing his thing in comparison to the world around him. There are some people who have to grow up quicker and there are some people, like Jamal, who are still in the middle of that transformation.
The squad is navigating tricky waters as the show gets darker and they deal with increasingly turbulent situations. The character growth we see in these teenagers is already tremendous, but balancing Jamal’s innocence amidst it all is unique and refreshing. Despite being a kid entrenched in all the drama that comes with living in the inner city (and a Netflix original), he’s able to evolve while remaining his authentic self.
Exhibit E: He’s relatable
At his most base level, Jamal is a kid. He gets into fights with his friends for not paying him enough attention, he makes up elaborate lies to his parents while pretending to be on the football team, he scours the neighborhood for a mythical treasure, and he can’t keep a secret to save his life. He’s just a normal kid navigating teenage life with his friends and figuring things out.
He’s a dependable friend, going through hilarious lengths to make sure his friends are ok. His insecurities, his fears, his relationships with his friends and his family, as silly and chaotic as they all can be, mesh together to prove that the role Jamal plays in the middle of this show is special. He’s the glue that holds the fam together.
As cliche as it sounds, he defies stereotypes that are so easy for Black male characters to fall into. He’s quirky and smart, but he’s not the nerdy friend. He’s loud, but not the obnoxious, aggressive friend. He’s clearly the funniest, but not the funny friend. He lives in the hood, but he’s not hood. He’s not one-note; there’s no one attribute that can define him. Jamal is such a well-rounded character who flourishes in every plot he’s a part of and keeps the show grounded. He’s authentically himself and shines such a bright light in a show that can sometimes venture into the dark.
Oh. And his relationship with Abuelita is gold.
In Conclusion: Yes, Jamal is the best character in On My Block
Jamal is definitely the best character in On My Block. He’s the funniest, he’s the most loyal and dependable friend, he’s the constant that keeps the squad together. He’s smart, charming, and determined. He’s grown up a lot in the 20 episodes we’ve known him. In a show so rich, thoughtful, and full of fantastic characters and stories, it’s hard to zero in on the best part. But, Jamal is such a phenomenal and stand-out character and Brett Gray’s portrayal of him is flawless. His performance is always amazing and really solidifies Jamal as an essential part of the squad.
Jamal is such a treasure, the best character in the entire series, and like critics have been saying since the beginning, we need to see more of him.
Of course, this show and cast has amazing characters played by incredible actors. Jamal may be the cream of the crop, but here are three other characters who are just shy of clinching the number one spot:
Jasmine is such a breath of fresh air. She’s confident as hell, takes no bullshit from anyone, gives amazing advice, and lives her best life. While not an official part of the squad (as much as she wants to be), she’s a key part of the show. Often a cutaway for a laugh, Jasmine has so much heart and is such a genuine character. She doesn’t care what people think about her and has the toughest skin of any high school girl on TV in the history of TV. She’s a great dancer, an even better friend, and On My Block owes her a hell of a lot more screentime.
Abuelita is the grandma we all aspire to be one day. She’s cool as hell, is high what seems like all of the time, is a constant source of support for the squad, and she believes in Jamal when no one else does. To be honest, she’s the only one Jamal should even split the RollerWorld money, since she was the only one who had faith in him. Abuelita is the centerpoint of her family, and she’s not afraid to roast literally every one of her relatives when they need it. Along with being absolutely hilarious, she’s extremely loving and caring, and her usually silly demeanor makes the tender moments that much sweeter.
I know, I know. Ruby is hella annoying. He’s one of the most detail-oriented, control-obsessed, overbearing 14-year-olds ever. He thrives on making plans, coming up with ideas for businesses and getting his friends out of trouble through his convoluted plots and penchant for running his mouth. He’s a little neurotic at times, but it all comes from a good place. Where Ruby really shines is in season 2, when, after getting shot and grieving his friend and crush Olivia, Ruby deals with PTSD and a mountain of emotions he doesn’t know what to do with. Seeing such tender moments of him breaking down and figuring out how to rebuild the life he once knew, regain trust in himself and his block, grieve, and recover is almost devastating and feels so unfair to watch a young kid go through. But the story gives so much to Ruby’s depth, forcing him to grow up fast and learn who he is in this new space.
So, what do you think? Is Jamal the best character in On My Block? Let’s discuss.