Everything Sucks!’: Any Fans of the ‘90s?

Season One

Everything Sucks Photo
Luke (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) and Kate (Peyton Kennedy) outside their high school in Boring, Oregon, on the new Netflix show "Everything Sucks."
The nerdy high school freshman kids in audiovisual (A/V) club, the theme of unrequited love, and introverts stepping out of their comfort zones could be in any ‘90s, coming-of-age movie or TV show, and “Everything Sucks!” is no exception. But the Netflix original takes all of these familiar tropes and exaggerates them to comedic effect, altering them to sidestep expectations.

The show centers on Luke (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), a freshman A/V club enthusiast, and Kate (Peyton Kennedy), a taciturn sophomore, also in the A/V club, who both live in the town of Boring, Oregon. Luke and Kate’s relationship is the first and primary way that the show manages to take a staple of the genre—the nerdy romance—and turn it on its head. Luke’s romantic interest in Kate is near-instant, but complications arise as Kate comes to terms with the fact that she is gay. The imbalance in their attraction to each other creates a series of miscommunications, leaving Luke upset that his romantic gestures (including a spoof of Oasis’s “Wonderwall”music video) have not been met with enthusiasm, and Kate struggling to not hurt Luke’s feelings. Rather than the classic “boy-chases-girl” storyline, “Everything Sucks!” strives to be something more, and creates beautiful, complex character relationships in result.

Running parallel to the main love story is a relationship between Luke’s mother, Sherry (Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako), and Kate’s father, Ken (Patch Darragh), who is also the principal of their high school. On the surface, these simultaneous relationships appear to be another factor meant solely to complicate Luke and Kate’s lives. However, Sherry’s and Ken’s relationship takes on an unexpected life of its own. Ken is a buttoned–down type of man: kind, but awkward and by the book. Sherry is more easy-going and sociable, evidenced by her relationship with Luke, which more closely resembles a friendship than traditional parenting. With Sherry’s help, Ken starts to come out of his shell, and the two embark on their own coming-of-age story, despite being adults. Ken teepees his ex-girlfriend’s house and smokes weed for the first time, while both of them try to overcome the pain of losing their departed spouses.

Both the cinematography and soundtrack of the show reinforce its themes. Most of the shots, even those involving camera pans and tilts, are handheld, creating a slight shakiness. Director of photography Elisha Christian also frequently makes use of the quick zoom, like those used in home videos. The shakiness and sudden zooms create the feeling of an A/V club video without feeling amateur. The soundtrack establishes the tone and setting of the show almost exclusively ’90s songs, including the aforementioned “Wonderwall” by Oasis, “Fire Water Burn” by The Bloodhound Gang, and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something. At times, the music directly relates to the onscreen events, such as when Kate reveals she is a lesbian to Luke and the line “I’m dumb, she’s a lesbian / I thought I had found the one” plays from Weezer’s “Pink Triangle”.

The cast of characters covers many other archetypes of the genre: Oliver (Elijah Stevenson), the overly dramatic theater king; Emaline (Sydney Sweeney), Oliver’s girlfriend and the most popular girl at the school; McQuaid (Rio Mangini), the cynical super nerd; Tyler (Quinn Liebling), the stupid but innocent freshman. However, the show manages to successfully develop all of these characters by throwing them through an emotional wringer. In the end, all of the characters embody their archetype, but also appear genuine in their relationships with each other. By focusing on the bonds between characters, “Everything Sucks!” manages to combine a clear nostalgia trip with characters for whom viewers end up cheering.


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