This is a SPOILER-FREE review of Everything Sucks!: Season 1. The series premieres on February 16th on Netflix.
Don’t let the title fool you. Netflix’s new coming-of-age drama does not suck. Set in 1996, Everything Sucks! is a quirky dramedy that tells the story of a battle between the AV and drama clubs of Boring High School. While the description might not sound as enticing as the Battle of Helms Deep in Lord of the Rings — the series still packs quite a punch. It lives up to other high school classics like Saved by the Bell where there’s plenty of heart mixed in with a few laughs.
Everything Sucks! excels at developing its high school ensemble without going for the heightened sense of reality that 13 Reasons Why and Riverdale seem to embrace. There are no scenes with teenagers drinking scotch and martinis on a Thursday afternoon. Even when they do try drugs and alcohol, the scenes are portrayed in a way that’s authentic. Remember when Zima Beer was hot, or that time when you tried household products to get high? Well, maybe that was just me, but the kids do feel grounded in a world that actually exists.
Take Luke, for example, played by a talented young man named Jahi Winston. He’s one of the newest members of the AV Club — oh, and did I mention that he’s a freshman who also has to look after himself at home since his single-mom is an international flight attendant who’s gone for days at a time? The only kind of relationship he has with his dad is through a series of old-school vlogs — called videotapes — detailing his father’s passion for filmmaking. He’s a tough kid that’s difficult not to root for.
Another standout from the AV Club is Kate (Peyton Kennedy) — She’s also raised by a single-parent, who happens to be the school’s principal — Mr. Messner. Similar to Luke, Kate is having a rough go of things, but for a very different reason. Her thought-provoking story centers around her discovery that she might prefer women. Luke and Kate’s bond as they struggle with the harsh realities of growing up in a world where you don’t always get what you want, kept me engaged for the entire season. The drama club kids are another story…
The drama club mostly consists of the upperclassman. They play their parts well enough as the aggressors but aren’t as memorable as their younger counterparts. There simply isn’t enough time spent with them outside of school with their families, so if the show is picked up for a second season, a deeper dive into their lives would help flesh out their characters.
One more gripe: Everything Sucks! has this sense of existing in a post-racial world that doesn’t mesh well with its other strengths — like Kate’s story surrounding her sexual orientation. For Kate, there is a deep concern that if she comes out people will think she’s a freak, but the writers never address the fact that Luke is black and comes from a mixed family. Boring, Oregon is set in a small town where most of the students are white and this is supposed to take place in 1996, so some mention of race would have been nice. Shows don’t need to be racially-charged to be effective, but when it’s taken out completely, the series loses some of its potency.