’90s nostalgia is in full bloom across the Internet, and its finally made its way to Netflix. Everything Sucks, one of the streaming giant’s new series, is an unabashed celebration of the mid-1990s, designed to make audiences yearn for the days of grunge rock and Blockbuster. But dig through the nostalgia on display, and you’ll find something interesting: an incredibly sweet series that’s as bingeable as it is lovable.
Playing like a fusion of The Wonder Years and Freaks and Geeks, Everything Sucks focuses on three freshmen in the aptly named Boring, Ohio: Luke (Jahi Di’ALlo Winston), Tyler (Quinn Liebling), and Oliver (Elijah Stevenson). The three have already resigned themselves to four years of torture due to their status as “nerds,” and are committed to remaining under the radar – a goal that becomes difficult when Luke falls for the principal’s daughter, Kate (Peyton Kennedy). Soon, Luke is roping his friends and the entire AV department into his plan to woo Kate, completely unaware that she’s actually questioning her sexuality and has a crush on theater queen Emaline (Sydney Sweeney). Eventually, the AV club and theater kids (sworn rivals at Boring High) are forced to work together for a group project, resulting in sitcom hijinks and plenty of teen angst.
From a storytelling perspective, Everything Sucks doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. Viewers will undoubtedly notice similarities to series like My So-Called Life and teen comedies like 10 Things I Hate About You, with dashes of Richard Linklater thrown in for good measure. That’s not necessarily a problem, however, especially when these tropes are written and performed with such earnest appreciation for its influences.
While the call-backs to 90s pop culture can be a bit tiresome at times, the show wisely starts to dial back those references around Episode 3 or 4 and lets the story stand on its own two feet. Everything Sucks is also incredibly focused in its storytelling, pacing the plot exceptionally well and building up to a conclusion that feels satisfying as a conclusion, while still leaving enough material to build a second season from. In many ways, this feels like a three-hour long teen movie, not a comedy series, and that totally works for Netflix’s business model.
And while not all of the references in Everything Sucks feel organic, the series uses music incredibly well. The soundtrack – which includes at least twenty different 90s staples – does more than just remind viewers of how many rock gems were born on that decade. Instead, the music is used to perfectly punctuate scenes and provide insight into how the characters feel, forging an emotional connection between the story and the soundtrack.
Series creators Ben York Jones and Michael Mohan clearly understand how much of an impact the right song could have on a young person at a particular moment in their coming of age. One wonderful scene is set to “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something, and amplifies the joy the character is feeling to an infectious degree. Another episode is devoted to Oasis’ album “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?,” and completely shifts “Wonderwall” from cultural joke to a powerful song. And an episode set at a Tori Amos concert will undoubtedly bring tears to audience’s eyes.
It’s also worth noting that Everything Sucks contains one of the finest young ensembles currently on television, rivaling the Stranger Things kids in terms of sweetness and overall likability. Peyton Kennedy – who was 13 at the time of filming – gives a subtle, sad, and overall remarkable performance as the closeted Kate. She’s so good at capturing her character’s emotions in subtle facial ticks, but delivers a monologue that will leave audiences gutted. The boys, meanwhile, manage to deliver consistent laughs, without ever turning their characters into precocious caricatures. But the real scene-stealers are Luke and Kate’s onscreen single parents, played by Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako and Patch Darragh. These two end up stumbling into an endearing, innocent romance that makes for one of the series’ best subplots.
All in all, Everyting Sucks is a gem of a series, filled with little moments of joy that add up to a wonderful overall season. Buried beneath the nostalgic flash backs to the 90s lies a coming of age story that feels wholly relatable and timeless. Much like Stranger Things, Everything Sucks is a wholesome look back at childhood. Except instead of dealing with aliens, these kids are dealing with teen angst. Binge it now to laugh and cry along with them.
Everything Suck Overall rating: 8 out of 10.