Unless you're a wealthy Manhattan socialite, an international underwear model or a high school junior who can pass for a 27-year old, it's hard to find the high school experience that you lived represented on television. Most teens on TV these days could play linebacker for the Steelers or are werewolves, not the spindly blunder the majority of us were in our early teens.
"Our respective high school experiences weren't filled with [crazy parties]," Jones, whose 2011 film Like Crazy won the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, told TV Guide. "It seemed as though the representation of high school [on TV] was either — the way we were seeing it growing up — was either Saved by the Bell or American Pie. And neither one of those really accurately represented the high school experience that we were familiar with."
Everything Sucks! is set in 1996 in Boring, Ore. (which is a real place, about an hour from Portland if traffic is bad) and, though it's a TV show about teens in high school, features zero vampires or superheroes, but something more scary and exhilarating: the awkwardness of adolescence and triumph of finding your own way. It lives comfortably between the saccharine and the dramatically grown-up, with teens who curse and talk about masturbation but aren't dealing with serial killers or getting blasted on drugs.
"We loved both [American Pie and Saved By the Bell], but it wasn't really an accurate picture as far as Mike and I are concerned, as most people are concerned," Jones said. "We wanted to portray high school as it is, which is to say, not watered down and not sensationalized, but real, awkward and exciting all at once."
Everything Sucks! follows two Boring High School freshmen and their friends as they bridge the gap between their dorky A/V Club and the much-cooler drama students, bumbling through lofty dreams of romance and the stark reality of self-identification. As you probably remember from your days in high school, the two notions are frequently at odds with each other, leading to slow-motion car crash viewing of teens learning life lessons on the fly. And it's delightfully awwwwkwarrrrrrd.
"These characters should always be running toward disaster," Mohan said, reflecting the duo's love of pushing their characters into uncomfortable situations. That idea became one of the rules of the series. And more often than not, they aren't just running toward disaster, they're running face first into it. Unlike kids today, there wasn't a whole lot to look towards for advice and getting through the early years of high school was every man for himself.
"Well, I think [the awkwardness] comes directly from experience to be honest," Jones said with a laugh. "To me, every movie is either a coming-of-age story or a horror movie. Because it's about stepping into something unknown. You can dress it up a bunch of different ways, but it is awkward when you don't have a roadmap, and these kids don't, they're too young and that's part of what's so beautiful and charming about their experience."
The show's youthful authenticity is also apparent in the actors. The two leads, Jahi Winston and Peyton Kennedy, are 14 years old in real life, appropriate for high school freshmen but about the age that most shows would cast them to play 10 year olds. Compare that to other teen shows, like the twentysomethings who populated Netflix's 13 Reasons Why, and suddenly Everything Sucks! becomes less of a television show and more of a visual yearbook. The age appropriateness is something that Freaks and Geeks, which Everything Sucks! will most frequently be compared to, used with great success. You can't fake that awkwardness even with the best makeup.
But ultimately, the charm of Everything Sucks! comes from its earnestness and honesty, and that means watching these kids deal with the simpler, universal problems of yesteryear, like crushes and fitting in, but with enough bite to make it relatable to real life.
"A big part of it is it feels honest," Mike says. "It's John Hughes meets John Cassavetes."
Everything Sucks! premieres Friday, Feb. 16 on Netflix.