The recently released Netflix comedy drama Everything Sucks was tipped as the new show to fill the Stranger Things void we’re all currently experiencing until season 3 hits our screens. But does it live up to the Duffer brothers’ cultural phenomenon?
Everything Sucks is a parodic view of high school in the 1990s, set in the appropriately named town Boring, Oregon. Starring a group of strong child actors, you can see the parallels with Stranger Things, but that’s really all that those two shows have in common – better comparisons would be Freaks and Geeks, or My So Called Life, but this comes with much less impact.
The show follows three freshman nerds who decide to join the AV Club at school and look to navigate the world of girls. The protagonist Luke (Jahi Winston), immediately falls for sophomore Kate (Peyton Kennedy), a fellow AV Club member, and the series follows his pursuit of her. We realise fairly early on that Kate is in fact gay, and therefore what ensues is a Chasing Amy style narrative which fails to impress.
Considering that there are many references to director Kevin Smith, it is not surprising that creators Ben York Jones and Michael Mohan were inspired by Smith’s film Chasing Amy. Thankfully, the writing has been updated since that time, and whilst Luke isn’t only there to try and “convert” Kate to become straight, there still seems to be an air of blame directed at Kate because Luke can’t have her.
During the first half of the season, Kate’s hidden sexuality also seems to fall to the wayside behind the meagre plot of the AV Club and Drama Clubs joining forces to make a low budget sci-fi movie. Rumours are spread around school about Kate’s sexuality, and Luke’s best friend overhears Kate clearly lying about it, but these dissolve from the plot almost instantly and are never revisited.
However, the second half of the season is far stronger than that of the first, in that it seems to have transitioned into following Kate’s story arc rather than Luke’s. It begins to follow her pursuit of her own love interest, Emaline (Sydney Sweeney), a senior who is part of the Drama Club and the lead in the group’s school film.
This part of the narrative is far more organic, genuine and original. It delivers a poignant portrayal of the exploration of sexuality at a young age, emphasising the awkwardness and fear that would be experienced in a high school environment. Had the creators decided to have Kate as the lead character over Luke, this would have been a far more convincing show, as her storyline is the one we are rooting for from the get go. She becomes the driving force behind all the turning points in the plot, and essentially is the main reason behind any positivity surrounding the show’s release.
The weakest part of Everything Sucks is its reliance on nostalgia. Unfortunately a tool used in many films and TV shows of late (more of the Stranger Things effect), it is becoming quite a tired one. From the get go, there are pop culture references being thrown into the mix through dialogue, scenery and the soundtrack – to the point that it all seems a bit forced.
The soundtrack in particular uses all the most obvious tracks from that period insofar that it moves away from travelling back through time, and just feels like you are listening to a compilation of all the number 1 hits of that year. It isn’t imaginative and begins to take you out of the story instead of immersing you in it.
Overall, Everything Sucks is a messy but pleasurable watch that needs its audience to stick with it until the very end in order to be truly rewarded with something worthwhile. What started off as a fairly poor and unoriginal show becomes a heart-warming, funny and necessary piece of television. 3 stars.
Season 1 of Everything Sucks is available to stream on Netflix now.