Netflix’s new series got everything right about small towns, the 90s and sexuality.
Tori Amos references, 90’s hair, and lots and lots of plaid. Welcome to Boring, Oregon, circa 1996. And welcome to Everything Sucks, Netflix’s second attempt at historical fiction on the small screen.
I know if you squint your eyes or have had a few too many puffs from the blunt it may seem like everything about this show is VERY similar to another show about pre-teens growing up too fast, and the broken adults who can hardly take care of them. It may also seem like creators Michael Mohan and Ben York Jones just moved the camera from Finn Wolfhard’s Mike Wheeler to Caleb McLaughlin’s Lucas Sinclair.
Not true. Yes, maybe some intersectionality between genres, and yes these kids too have a lot of unsupervised time alone. But Everything Sucks answers the pivotal question, can a show about angsty kids be successful without monsters, sci-fi powers and a whole lot of Winona Rider?
Turns out yeah, you can have an amazing show by shifting a couple of really important things.
One, instead of making the Black guy the best friend, have him be the lead. SHAZAM. Immediate dynamic shift.
Next, instead of flirting with sexuality, why not address it head on with a character who evolves into who they are not for laughs or shock value but just good story and character development.
You have a real person who is facing real issues that doesn’t involve aliens coming out of their mouths. Don’t get me wrong. Stranger Things is one of the best shows on television and gets their genre right while keeping viewers engaged with the effects and the characters for two seasons and counting.
Everything Sucks is like an amazing glass of wine. You sip it slow, enjoy it with a nice meal- or several. I could not binge this show like I did with ST, because I wanted to savor the nuance. With ST I wanted to find out what happened next. How were they going to get out of the lab? On Everything Sucks everyday is the journey.
The show follows Luke O’Neill, played with Emmy deserving complexity by Jahi Di’Allo Winston, a very smart latch key kid with visions of being the next Spielberg or Singleton. I would say Coogler, but he probably was in high school at the same time this show was set.
Luke has the kind of personality that makes him popular whether he is a nerd or not. He just won’t give up on anything. So when he and his friends join the high school’s AV-Club, he is immediately smitten with the lead camera person Kate, and that becomes his destiny.
Kate, played with amazing subtle glory by Peyton Kennedy, is the perfect vision of a high school girlfriend. She is shy, humble, and pretty, knowing that if she chose to at any minute, she could ascend above the ranks of the average looking and transcend with the GODS and jocks of the good looking click. But she doesn’t, because Kate has her own demons. A mom who died way too early, a smothering father who just happens to be principal at the same school she attends. Oh, and she thinks she’s a lesbian.
Wait, let’s be real. Kate KNOWS she’s a lesbian. But the journey between knowing you are different and knowing what that looks like, and then finally accepting it, is a journey that can take years, and in this show’s case, a 10 episode arc.
That is the beauty of the show. Kate’s process is beautiful and so painful to watch. And to make matters worse. She has the Sidney Poitier of 9th grade determined to make her his girlfriend.
You just want to cry for both of them. Stuck in a reality that is doomed to fail. But Luke, the poor alpha male nerd that he is, he just keeps on trying. You can’t blame him. Like most boys he’s been trained to believe if at first you don’t succeed, try try again. Ironically this is the same mantra that is now being questioned in the #METOO movement.
Up front you know that Luke and Kate are doomed as a couple. But could there be room for them to morph into something else? It’s that idea that is magic to watch. How do two people become besties, love each other, support each other through their identity struggle and come out on the other side?
Kennedy as Kate has an even harder job. Not only does she have to deal with her own stuff, but now she has to rebuff a really good friend, all while discovering her own sexuality. She adeptly plays and explores her range of emotion, taking the worst version of a Kinsey test ever taken on screen. She and Luke are sitting in the library as he asks her pointed questions. And damn near closes the book when he gets to a point he can deal with. “You’re homosexual with heterosexual tendencies,” he yells. “I am your heterosexual tendency.”
Luke is excited about his conclusion, Kate is unsteady about the results. Enter that damn Tori Amos. Between Amos, Alanis Morissette and Lilith Fair, no questioning girl should say they didn’t have an outlet.
There are several other beautifully woven subplots and love interests for many other characters all culminating in the final two episode arc. Everything Sucks has everything for your weekend watching pleasure: Black, and Lesbian protagonists, funny ironic dialogue. A setting that doesn’t play down to the genre it’s representing, and most importantly, great direction and brilliant acting. Go find you some old school popcorn heat it on the stove and dig into this Netflix show.
Cover photo courtesy of The Verge