The Buzz: 90s Nostalgia Overwhelms Netflix's 'Everything Sucks!'
Nostalgia is a powerful thing, especially in the internet age, where anything and everything you remember about your childhood can be googled. And nowhere is this more prevalent than with ‘’90s Kids”, a group to which I humbly claim membership, and a group that’s more vocal than most when it comes to glorifying the popular movies and the questionable fashion trends of the day. We all do it, it’s okay to admit it. I can only assume that this communal passion was what led to the creation of Everything Sucks!, a Netflix series that, admittedly, might just take the whole nostalgia thing a bit too far.
There’s a limit to how many Pulp Fiction references and Zumi bracelets someone can take before it feels like they’re choking on their own childhood. Everything Sucks! Does not care. It feels as though it was designed in a lab to be the most ‘90s concoction ever. The song “The Impression That I Get” by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (remember that one?) sets the mood in the pilot episode, and it doesn’t let up from there, bombarding you with troll dolls, talk about the “new” Star Wars movies that are supposed to come out, and un-ironic use of the phrase “as if.” It’s admittedly fun to see some of these things come back to life, but it isn’t long before the thick artifice the show starts to take away from the actual narrative.
Which I should probably discuss here. The show focuses on a trio of incoming high school freshmen in Oregon in 1996. We got main character Luke (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) and his friends, McQuaid (Rio Mangini) and Tyler (Quinn Liebling). In the midst of figuring out where he fits in, Luke falls for Kate Messner (Peyton Kennedy), an upperclassmen and the camera operator for the school news. Just when it seems as though it’ll follow the standard teen romance formula, however, Everything Sucks! throws the viewer for a loop. As it turns out, Kate isn’t really into Luke-- or guys at all. She’s slowly coming to grips with her homosexuality, and Luke, being the good friend that he is, does what he can to help her adjust.
It’s a pretty clever twist on these kinds of shows, and one that I didn't see coming. Kennedy gives a legitimately touching performance as Kate, hitting just the right notes of awkward and outspoken to make her feel real, while Winston, given the tougher role here, does just as well. You empathize with him and the romantic feelings he has for Kate, making it all the more admirable that he puts them aside to help her. The “coming out” aspect of the show is also handled tastefully, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say showrunners Ben York James and Michael Mohan could have given allotted more screentime to it, seeing as it is the most interesting thing about the series thus far.
Another problem that Everything Sucks! has to rectify is the Stranger Things parallels. Granted, they’re set in different decades, but the character types and aesthetic of both shows (supernatural elements notwithstanding) are way too similar to be coincidental. Luke is very much the Lucas of the group, Tyler is a dead ringer for Dustin, and Kate assumes the girl outlier role that Eleven occupied in season one and Max did in season two. If the Everything Sucks! crew wishes to continue the story into their own subsequent seasons, they would be wise to drop the uncanny resemblance and hunker down on the things that make them unique.
I don’t want to sound like I hated Everything Sucks! On the contrary, I would enjoy the “phat” vibe of the show if it was toned down ever so slightly, and some of the narrative directions if it was focused on more succinctly. I get the impression that all James and Mohan have to do is recalibrate their scale, and they'll have something that could draw a sizable following from millennials like myself.
All ten episodes of Everything Sucks! are currently available for streaming on Netflix.