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Netflix Loves the ‘90s in New Teen Comedy Everything Sucks!

Generational coming-of-age storytelling conventions endure.

'Everything Sucks!''Everything Sucks!', NetflixEverything Sucks! Available now on Netflix.

One of the most enduring cultural contributions of the Baby Boomers is the serio-comic generational-coming-of-age flick. (Whether that's a positive contribution or a cosmic banana peel is a discussion for another time and bottle of Jack Daniels.) Since American Graffiti's teenage archetypes drove off into the night toward Vietnam, the civil rights movement and K-tel hell, every generation, sub-generation and random demo (Hey, remember Generation Jones? The Bay City Rollers will never die!) has gotten a movie or TV series about its teenage years. From The Lords of Flatbush to The Wonder Years, from Pretty in Pink to Freaks and Geeks, getting older never gets old.

What's interesting about this is that—except for the records/cassettes/CDs/mp3s they listened to—there doesn't to be a great deal of difference in the generations. Nerds, jocks, bullies, cool kids, bad boys, and mean girls march shoulder to shoulder through the decades in an eternal cycle of mindless oppression and hopeless sexual obsession. Toad, the Vespa-riding geek of American Graffiti, could just as easily be the reeking-of-virginity Finch in the American Pie movies. The bitch-to-the-bone Heathers of Heathers are clones (or maybe it's vice-versa) of the devious Cheerios cheering squad in Glee. Growing up is growing up.

So saying that Netflix's back-to-the-'90s Everything Sucks! is derivative isn't a criticism, just an observation. Unlike ABC's Grown-ish, which swallowed The Breakfast Club and then regurgitated it whole, Everything Sucks! isn't a ripoff. But it's trapped by the parameters of the genre. There isn't much to see in it that you haven't run across before: a doomed romance not unlike the one in 16 Candles, a raucous cafeteria scene with echoes of Animal House, botched and malapropistic morning school announcements like Grease.

But God knows kids who went to high school in the late 1990s deserve their chance to wallow in fuzzy nostalgia, too, especially since the two decades since they graduated have been largely comprised of economic malaise and Middle Eastern wars.

So Everything Sucks! will have to do, and it does. It's funny, if not clamorously so; superbly acted, by a bunch of people you never heard of; and good-hearted, without being Hallmark-ish. You may not be screaming "Author!" at the end of every episode, but you might be smiling and thinking that 1996—existing in an age when the primary teenage use of cell phones was not to tearfully inform parents that a madman with an AR-15 was firing through the school windows—wasn't so bad.

That's the year in which Everything Sucks! is set, in Boring, Oregon, which really exists even if the show's precise mise en scène, Boring High School ("Home of the Boring Beavers!") does not.

Freshman geeks Luke (Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Feed the Beast), McQuaid (Rio Mangini, Nickelodeon's Bella and the Bulldogs) and Tyler (newcomer Quinn Liebling), frantically searching for protection from the terrors of high school, decide they might have a shot at the Audio-Visual Club. "It's beneath choir," notes one of them hopefully. "It's beneath Weather Club."

Indeed, the AV Club turns out to be largely populated of clods and spastics whose closed-circuit TV production of the morning announcements is an ongoing technical disaster.

When Luke tries to help out one of the crew, a pretty but eremitic girl named Kate (Canadian TV actress Peyton Kennedy), he peers into the viewfinder of her camera and warns her, "You're a little out of focus." Her reply—"I know, I'm trying to fix that"—will prove to be more ambiguous than Luke understands. Kate is laden with secrets, which Luke doesn't know as he lays plans to date her.

What follows is the predictable if amusingly well-executed humor of a nerd suitor trying to punch above his romantic weight. (First dilemma: Whether to ask for the date via fax or telepathy.) But there's also a poignant streak; both Luke and Kate live in single-parent households that have left them with significant emotional scar tissue.

And the rest of the characters are all, to some degree, loons. McQuaid, the group's Cassandra, goes epochally gloomy upon learning that Kate is the principal's daughter, which will surely put targets on all their backs. The nothing-left-to-lose Tyler, his family so disaffected that his dad named the family dog after Charles Manson, is too awed that Luke has a shot at an "older woman" (Kate is a sophomore) to worry.

Then there's Emaline (Sydney Sweeney, The Handmaid's Tale), the oversexed queen of the drama department, who launches into Shakespearian scenes in the cafeteria, hallway, or wherever she happens to be, which often end with her hyper-erotically stabbing herself to death while the nerds clamber over one another to eat the weapon, an ice-cream bar. For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, of Columbia House CD clubs and Beavis & Butthead and Ricky Martin… .

Photo Credit: 'Everything Sucks!' / Netflix

Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin is the author of Everybody Had His Own Gringo: The CIA and the Contras and (with Ana Rodriguez) Diary of a Survivor: Nineteen Years in a Cuban Women's Prison. He writes about television for the Miami Herald.

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  • Citizen X - #6||

    But God knows kids who went to high school in the late 1990s deserve their chance to wallow in fuzzy nostalgia, too

    No thank you. It was lame enough the first time around.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Where have you gone, Parker Lewis? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    If they don't used Semi-Charmed Life as the intro song then it isn't right to me.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    The happiest song ever written about a life-destroying methamphetamine addiction.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It turns out that when a company loves glass buildings and also creates devices for hours of addictive personal use, sometimes it ends up with injured employees who are too distracted by the products to notice walls. A report from MarketWatch today details how the company has had to call emergency services to assist multiple employees who can't help but accidentally walk into glass walls.

    It wouldn't be the first time Apple got in trouble for putting its architectural vision before prioritizing safety. In 2012, an 83-year-old woman sued Apple after walking into a see-through door at an Apple Store and breaking her nose.
  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

  • loveconstitution1789||

    But it looks cool.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Grown-ish

    Americans under 40.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I know several dudes in their early 40s who still get around on skateboards, so maybe not.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I resemble that remark.

  • Marty Feldman's Eyes||

    Eh, if I want a dose of 90s teen nostalgia-comedy I'll re-watch Daria.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Netflix does not choose wisely what they spend their money on.

    Much of their original programming is garbage and they spend too much on them.

    They occasionally get some good movies even with the rights holders asking unreasonable amounts for some material.

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    Never heard of Generation Jones before. I clicked the link, but it turns out it's just an alternate name for the latter half of the Boomers.

    That was disappointing. That mention of the Bay City Rollers (who were huge around the time I was ten, which seems to have been their prime demographic) made me think that maybe my own generation had finally been granted an actual identity. I'm one of those unlucky people around the dividing line between the Boomers and Generation X, so I never really fit either category.

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    I'm in essentially the same boat. 1964 was nominally last year of the Boomers, but I always identified more with "X".

  • Trollificus||

    Yeah, that's considered to be "The Generation With No Name". General consensus is that they're good, bad and ugly; kinda like Gen X but with a few dollars more.

  • RockLibertyWarrior||

    Oh God, their doing a fucking show on the years that I went to high school, which was from 1994-1998. The good ole' days weren't so great, I actually wish I would've been born in 1970 instead of 1980, the 90's had their moments but they were a little lame. In fact, 1996 was the year I found out there was something called "libertarianism", I remember hating liberals even back then but also not liking the religious majority zealots dictating what I could or couldn't listen to, smoke, read etc. so I labeled myself a "liberal Republican" until I stumbled on Harry Browne's book for that campaign year 1996 and I've been a libertarian ever since.

  • RockLibertyWarrior||

    Not to mention most the music of my high school years 1994-1998 sucked shit. I was always going back through my vinyl, tapes and CD's listening to Judas Priest, Kiss, Motley Crue, Poison, Alice Cooper, Dio, Black Sabbath, Guns n' Roses, Thin Lizzy etc. To find anything good those days I had to subscribe to zines, through them I got into Death and Black Metal not to mention alot of the older 1980's underground bands I had never heard of. I hated Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Korn, Kid Rock, Matchbox 20, Wallflowers, Incubus etc. the mainstream music was fucking awful. I have some nostalgic memories of those years, the key word is "some". I actually enjoyed the early 90's better before I hit high school.

  • Trollificus||

    I'm sure the review is fine, perceptive and at a level of artistic analysis suitable for REASON readers. But the sentence ending
    "...living in an age when the primary teenage use of cell phones was not to tearfully inform parents that a madman with an AR-15 was firing through the school windows—wasn't so bad."
    is pretty much inexcusable.

    If you're participating in some sort of Caring Olympics, don't share it with us. Don't virtue signal us. Stop fucking indulging yourself. 50 such attacks since 2000, 141 people killed. Every one of those lives lost was a tragedy. But the implication that there are now BILLIONS OF FUCKING PHONE CALLS DEALING WITH MILLIONS OF VICTIMS DAILY...that's a level of hyperbole that disqualifies it as even good virtue signalling, or therapy, or trolling.

  • Brandon||

    I hope to save some people from wasting their time on even a single episode here. It's NOT a 90s nostalgia coming of age show with a variety of characters. From the first two episodes it's pretty clear (I got it after the first) that it's a LESBIAN coming of age show that takes place in the 90s.

  • Texasmotiv||

    I watched the trailer and was not at all interested. It did not authentically look like a 90s show. It's like the production designer wasn't even trying. It looked more like a show written by millennials, for gen z kids, making lame jokes about the 90s.

    They should have hired the production designer from stranger things and tried to tell a story that used the setting as a backdrop not a source of comedic material. "Look how lame the technology was haha"

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    My problem with all such shows (eg, Juno) is that they are so heavily invested in promoting a message. Sometimes (rarely enough) it works (eg, the original Guess Who's Coming to Dinner -- tho what could fail with that cast?), but as a rule the fixation on message overwhelms such tawdry concerns as character development, dialog, believable conflict and so forth. Maybe I'm in a dwindling minority on this, but when I go to movies (seldom) I want to be entertained not "made woke". A well-done movie will reveal many messages and layers of meaning over time, which is why one goes back to watch them more than once.

  • JOHN SMEETH||

    the AV Club turns out to be largely populated of clods and spastics whose closed-circuit TV production of the morning announcements is an ongoing technical disaster.https://babasupport.org

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