Directed by Jane Schoenbrun, “I Saw the TV Glow” follows the life of Owen (Justice Smith), a socially isolated seventh-grader who meets Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine), a ninth-grader, when he sees her reading an episode guide for the youth show “The Pink Opaque.” Fascinated by the show, Owen sneaks over to Maddy’s house to watch a new episode of the series that changes the course of his life.

The two develop a friendship based on the show. Owen, whose father is overprotective, has a bedtime that prevents him from watching “The Pink Opaque” live. Maddy records and sends the episodes to him. The series is special to both of them, despite being targeted at girls. Owen identifies with the show and uses it as an escape over the years, even after its cancellation. Maddy, on the other hand, feels a different connection to “The Pink Opaque.” While Owen conforms to his life through the show, Maddy is inspired to escape and live life to the fullest, far from there. This difference in perspectives creates drama between the two young friends and leads “I Saw the TV Glow” in an unexpected direction.

The film initially delivers a nostalgic vibe, a 90s coming-of-age story that seems to focus on the friendship between the characters. However, the series “The Pink Opaque,” which seemed to be just a linking element between the youngsters, grows in the plot and becomes a key point for the story’s development.

The problem is that “I Saw the TV Glow” explains itself too much and tries to appear more complex and inventive than it really is. Compared to the director’s previous work, “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair,” there is a noticeable drop in quality.

However, the film powerfully addresses the identification of people who use television series, movies, and other forms of art and media as an escape during their youth and adult life, something that resonates deeply with me. The director captures this experience brilliantly, while also exploring issues about understanding who we are and what we should do in life. No wonder many positive reviews on Letterboxd and other sites highlight this identification and other relevant factors.

Letting oneself be carried away by this identification can even bring a positive experience with the film during the first viewing, making us overlook several issues in how “I Saw the TV Glow” is constructed.

Among the various comparisons of the film with the work of David Cronenberg, especially “Videodrome,” and David Lynch, particularly “Twin Peaks: The Return,” as well as other films like “Donnie Darko,” where themes such as youth alienation, media as an escape, surrealism, and self-acceptance are common, “I Saw the TV Glow” fails by trying too hard to fit into this list. The film forces aesthetic and narrative elements that initially please the audience but later prove to be superficial and unnecessary.

While works by Cronenberg and Lynch use surrealism and strangeness organically to explore psychological and social depths, “I Saw the TV Glow” seems to mimic these styles without capturing the same authenticity and impact. The attempt to mix deep themes with an elaborate aesthetic results in a film that feels more like a copy than an original creation.

Instead of developing its own identity, “I Saw the TV Glow” gets lost in a desperate quest to appear complex and innovative, but without the necessary substance. The excess of references and dependence on established styles end up harming the narrative, which could have been more powerful if it had found its own voice.