“Everything Sucks!” does not live up to its name. Showrunners Ben York Jones and Michael Mohan’s Netflix Original parody of the ‘90s drops their captive audience into 1996 with sets and wardrobe to rival even the most seminal films produced during the iconic decade.
Set in Boring, Oregon, in 1996, “Everything Sucks!” drops the viewer into the first day of high school for protagonist Luke O’Neil (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) as he chases the affections of the principal’s potentially gay daughter Kate Messner (Peyton Kennedy) and invokes the ire of the drama club. After ruining their spring production, Luke proposes the two groups unite to create a film better than their play.
Kate’s wardrobe is a fantastic example of ‘90s grunge — flannel, baggy jeans, with little attention paid to accessories and hair — but without the culture and music typically associated. These wardrobe choices translate to the idea of Kate’s character flawlessly, as she spends too much time listening to “Wonderwall” on repeat to care about her appearance. Kennedy’s portrayal of Kate is true to the real experience of questioning one’s own sexuality among inquisitive looks and stares from her classmates. Many of Kate’s scenes concern her inner turmoil, with complex changes in Kate’s worldview becoming ever more apparent as she struggles with her relationships.
Through the inclusion of “found footage” of his absent father, Luke’s changes and development are spurred. It is an interesting choice on the part of the showrunners to provide a source of guidance which isn’t quite a character but is definitely not a dedicated narration. Luke’s interaction with his absent father through video is a major driver of Luke’s actions and subversively influences
While the movie created by Luke, Kate and their friends Tyler (Quinn Liebling) and McQuaid (Rio Mangini) is a central point in the beginning of the series, it quickly fades to the background as they navigate their relationships with each other and the drama club.
There is a scene during the production of their film where they run into the issue of a blue screen keying out the blue faces of their aliens, a clear nod to James Cameron’s 2009 film “Avatar,” where Luke experiments with different colors to maintain continuity in their film. As he discovers green can be keyed out by dying his bedsheets and painting his face blue, the camera pans over his face in such a slow and methodical manner. Not at all to be taken seriously, the scene is clearly referencing advances in video production during this decade. It’s also just plain funny.
The comedy of the series, while initially laden with ‘90s references such as Tamagotchi digital pets and the advent of “Wonderwall,” is not inaccessible to those who were born post-1990. Rather, it is based mostly on things in the ‘90s which were oddities, but are completely normal now, such as the internet. The choice to make the internet a point of comedy becomes especially funny when the only reason it’s being used by the characters is to discover whether copious amounts of nutmeg will get them high. The real gift to “Everything Sucks!” in terms of comedy is hindsight, with today’s memes of “Wonderwall” and Kurt Cobain sunglasses appearing frequently. These icons of the ‘90s may not have been recognized in their heyday, but in 2018 they are clear as day.
“Everything Sucks!” is intelligently funny, while bridging nostalgia with issues remaining relevant in 2018. This series is worth watching not only for its comedy, but the depth of characters and careful attention to detail as well.