Netflix’s latest programming fixation seems to be supernatural/fantasy teen dramas. We’ve seen a string of them over the last few months alone (Shadow And Bone, Jupiter’s Legacy, Love And Monsters, The Irregulars, Fate: The Winx Saga, Tribes Of Europa and I could go on). Clearly the data-fuelled Netflix genius supercomputer has declared that that’s what the people want. But Netflix’s latest young adult series, Zero, about a teenager who discovers he can turn invisible, has more to offer beneath its familiar surface. For one, it’s Italy’s first TV series with an almost all Black cast, centered on the lives of Black Italians. At 8 episodes of 25-minutes each, it’s a breezy watch that triumphantly uses the superhero template to explore the lives of oppressed communities.
Omar (first time actor Giuseppe Dave Seke making an impressive debut) is a pizza delivery boy who spends his time creating comics. He keeps to himself and doesn’t have many friends. He has a fraught relationship with his dad and looks forward to the day that he can escape his surroundings in search of a better life. Put simply, he feels invisible (a metaphor the show frequently underlines through the course of the series). Omar lives in Barrio, a rundown suburb of Milan, whose residents are largely made up of people of colour. It’s a rough community, the victim of vandalism and theft, that’s overlooked by the police and barely acknowledged by the rest of the grand city. Almost as if it were invisible.
Created and co-written by author Antonio Dileke Distefano, Zero has all the core beats of a simple, yet effective coming-of-age superhero story. From Omar discovering his powers to him uncovering a massive plot with villains to take down. There’s also the matter of his family, his job, his friends, a heart-touching love story with the girl of his dreams, all of which he must juggle. The big bad guy here is a real estate company looking to drive out the residents of Barrio to spruce it up and replace the invisible with something worth seeing.
But where Zero works best is when the invisibility is incidental and the superpowers secondary. The real hero’s journey here lies in the story of a boy who has only ever been dejected by his community and seen his surroundings as a circumstance to escape. That is until he has his eyes opened to the injustice around him and realises that he is a part of his neighbourhood and what he first saw as a situation to escape is actually an opportunity to make a difference.
Or, as Anna, the girl Omar likes (a charming Beatrice Grannò) explains to him in the first episode, it comes down to the Broken Window Theory. “If you don’t repair a broken window you’ll get used to it. So, next time a window breaks you’ll tell yourself, ‘if I can live with one broken window, I can live with two’ and you end up living like shit. If you let things go badly it’ll only get worse. It’s a vicious cycle. Until you take action.” Zero is essentially Omar’s coming of rage story, as he finally sees the broken windows around him as something worth fixing.
In the end, Zero is a shining example of Netflix doing what it does best, teleport you to experience the lives of those in another corner of the world through a show about invisibility that highlights the importance of being seen.