It seems like pop culture is obsessed with nostalgia as of late. Especially on the small screen. Whether it be a trip back to the ’80s with “Stranger Things” or the steady stream of revivals and reboots getting greenlighted (“Roseanne,” “Will & Grace,” “Dynasty,” “The X-Files”). In these turbulent times, many creators are looking backwards to tell entertaining stories.
The latest example is the new Netflix series “Everything Sucks!” which started streaming Feb. 16. The series was created by Ben York Jones and Michael Mohan and features a cast of relatively unknown teen actors. (Actual teenagers playing teenagers, what a concept.) It’s a coming-of-age story steeped in ’90s nostalgia and delivered in less than 30 minute intervals.
At first look, it feels like Netflix is simply looking to capitalize on the success of “Stranger Things.” “Everything Sucks!” has a lot of similarities: small town setting, group of nerdy kids who are bullied, single parent trying to understand their child. And other elements are simply updated for the decade (i.e. the Radio Club becomes A/V Club). But, “Everything Sucks!” has a very different tone than its sci-fi counterpart.
“Everything Sucks!” rests somewhere between a drama and a comedy, never leaning to far into either category. It’s a frank and realistic look at high school in the late ’90s.
The show takes place in Boring, Oregon in the year 1996. It follows characters from the Drama Club and A/V Club as they work to make a movie together. The main characters are Luke O’Neil and Kate Messner. Luke is a nerdy freshman, optimistic about what high school has in store. Kate is a sophomore, and the principal’s daughter.
Luke falls for Kate almost immediately. But what he doesn’t know and can’t see is that Kate is a lesbian. It doesn’t help that she accepts when Luke asks her out after rumors spread about her sexuality.
But things don’t just suck for the kids. The series also follows two single parents working to understand their kids and feel like they aren’t failing as parents. Luke’s mom, Sherry O’Neil, is left as a single mother after Luke’s dad leaves them when Luke is still young. Her job as a flight attendant doesn’t help her ability to keep in touch with her son’s life either. Ken Messner, Kate’s dad, is trying to stay close to his daughter but also get back into the dating game years after the death of his wife.
The first couple of episodes are teeming with ’90s references. They really don’t want you to forget what decade they’re in. There are scrunchies, slap bracelets, debates about the “new” Star Wars movies and all the classic jargon. The characters passionately discuss Oasis, Alanis Morissette and Tori Amos. The soundtrack is also full of ’90s hits like “Two Princes” by Spin Doctors and “The Impression That I Get” by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
Like the first season of most Netflix originals, the start is a slow build. Not much happens in the first handful of episodes. But once it lightens up on the nostalgia, “Everything Sucks!” has the space to become a unique show that’s worth the binge.