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Netflix's Everything Sucks! Offers an Endearing Look at '90s Adolescence

With a killer soundtrack to boot

Liz Raftery

Nineties nostalgia has hit its peak with Everything Sucks!, Netflix's charming new coming-of-age comedy that premieres Friday.

Set in 1996, the show follows a group of high schoolers in Boring, Oregon (really) as they navigate the pitfalls of adolescence, the most prominent being unrequited crushes and sexual awakenings. It's all set against the backdrop of kids from the AV club and the drama club joining forces to make a short film. The expertly-curated soundtrack alone will hit anyone who came of age in the '90s right in the feels.

On paper, there's nothing that will make Everything Sucks! stand out to television viewers in today's saturated landscape. There are no big names among the cast (many of which are still high schoolers themselves) or executive producers, and anyone looking to get a '90s fix can turn to any of the dozens of reboots that are currently airing or in development.

But Everything Sucks! is something special.

[Warning: Mild spoilers ahead.]

As classmates Kate Messner and Luke O'Neil, Peyton Kennedy (Odd Squad) and Jahi Di'Allo Winston (Feed the Beast) are the real standouts of the show. Fourteen-year-old Kennedy in particular shines as Kate, the object of Luke's undying affection who - FINAL SPOILER WARNING - begins to question her sexuality after he musters the courage to ask her out.

Everything Sucks! Wants to Be the TV Show About Your High School Experience

It feels slightly wrong to spoil that twist, which is revealed in the first episode and hinted at in the show's trailer, but it's also impossible to adequately praise Everything Sucks! without doing so. That's because it's the show's handling of Kate's coming-out story, especially her subsequent interactions with Luke, that truly sets Everything Sucks! apart from... well, pretty much every other teen show out there.

Peyton Kennedy, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Everything Sucks!
Scott Patrick Green/Netflix

We've seen plenty of coming-out plotlines by now, but Kate's arc, and the show in general, zigs where you expect it to zag and is anything but predictable. It's hard to imagine any series pulling off an episode set almost entirely at a Tori Amos concert, but in Everything Sucks!, that conceit works perfectly and, thanks to Kennedy's performance, packs an emotional gut-punch as well - even for people who didn't spend large portions of their teen years smoking clove cigarettes and listening to Little Earthquakes.

Like Fox's tragically short-lived Freaks and Geeks, Everything Sucks! adopts a warts-and-all approach to its characters. Teenagers have a tendency to be assh---s, and that's certainly true of the students at Boring High School. This, if anything, is the show's biggest weakness: Some of the characters (especially, ahem, the drama kids) can be grating at times, just like real-life teenagers. But for the most part their behavior, as occasionally obnoxious as it is, doesn't ever make you stop rooting for them. Freaks and Geeks was also set two decades prior to its airing, a clever conceit that made it appealing to both teens and their parents in the late 1990s. It's easy to anticipate the same being true for Everything Sucks!, because it's not only the kids who have issues to deal with. The title holds true for adult characters too, including single parents Ken (Patch Darragh), Katie's father and the school principal; and Sherry (Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako), Luke's mother, whose job as a flight attendant makes her a sporadic presence in her son's life.

Its availability on Netflix, and thus not having to adhere to broadcast standards and practices, also contributes to Everything Sucks! feeling like a more authentic depiction of high school than many of its counterparts. The kids curse, make crude references to masturbation and sex, and in general seem like real teenagers rather than made-for-TV ones. (The same can be said of the kids in Netflix's other teen-focused hit, Stranger Things.)

The season ends on a note that indicates creators have already mapped out the direction for a (literal) sophomore season, should the show get picked up. And here's hoping it will, because these teens' stories are far from over.

All 10 episodes of Everything Sucks! Season 1 premiere Friday on Netflix.