It takes two episodes for Netflix’s Everything Sucks to find its feet. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. It takes two episodes before viewers of the coming-of-age comedy from creators Ben York Jones and Michael Mohan figure out exactly what kind of show it is we are watching. It is not immediately apparent from the beginning: The ’90s lingo and the pop culture references feel a little too on the nose, and it’s not clear what to make of the characters. Is this supposed to be the comedic counterpart of Stranger Things set in the ’90s? Is this a show for people who grew up on Full House and Saved by the Bell and want to revisit those types of shows with more progressive characters and storylines? Or is it a more mature Wonder Years-like sitcom? The Goldbergs set in the 1990s? Is it a comedy purely designed to play on Gen X nostalgia? Or is it a show for the kids of Gen X’ers?
Ultimately, Everything Sucks is all of those things, but also so much more than the sum of its comparisons. This is a show for teenagers who don’t feel like they will ever fit in, and it is a show for adults who can remember what life was like before they found their place in the world. There’s a lot of nostalgia for ’90s music and ’90s sitcom tropes here, but there’s also a nostalgia and appreciation for the years in which we all felt lost, insecure, out of place, back when we would try on new identities while desperately searching for one that would stick.
The nostalgia, however, is a feature; it is not that point of the series. Everything Sucks is funny and sweet and heartfelt and, most of all, a magical series with a very keen understanding of time and place but an even better understanding of what it felt like to come of age in the 1990s. But mostly, Everything Sucks reaches deep and it reminds us of what it was like to fall in love and to get our hearts broken before cynicism had worn us into a paste of Trump-era fear and anger.
In fact, I haven’t personally connected with a piece of pop culture this much in years, which I suppose is ironic since the main storyline is about Luke, a high-school freshman in the AV Club, who falls in love with the principal’s daughter, Kate (Peyton Kennedy), who is trying to come to terms with her own identity as a lesbian. But Chasing Amy this is not: Luke may be in love with Kate, but he’s not trying to change her. He’s trying to help her find herself, and while hearts get broken and feelings get hurt along the way, Everything Sucks is about how Luke and Kate forge the kind of friendship strong enough to bond them through a difficult year.
There is also a host of supporting characters, each of which takes some time to find their place in the series as they try to find their way in high school. Emmaline (Sydney Sweeney) is a drama star who is more defined by her boyfriend than by her own personality; McQuaid (Rio Mangini) and Tyler (Quinn Liebling) are just trying to be noticed; and Luke and Kate’s parents (Patch Darragh and Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako) find comfort in one another as single parents. Each of the characters has their own arcs, but they also serve the main storyline between Luke and Kate, which manages to be cute and awkward and knowing but never heavy.
In fact, Everything Sucks approaches a host of deeper issues with a light touch, but not so light that the impact of their decisions isn’t felt, often deeply so. It’s a treasure of a series, one of those Netflix gems like GLOW or the first season of Orange is the New Black or even Stranger Things with no big stars and very little promotion that comes out of nowhere and connects with viewers in huge and meaningful ways. Even if you were never in the AV Club, if you were never gay, if you were never in the drama club or a single parent, or even if you’ve never heard the amazing ’90s music that makes up the soundtrack, there’s something in here with which almost everyone can connect. Not that the show is for everyone: If you’ve never fallen in love, or if you’ve never had your heart broken, or if you’ve never gone to high school, or never struggled to fit in somewhere, then Everything Sucks probably won’t appeal to you.
It’s worth noting, too, that while Netflix has not yet announced whether the series will return for a second season, it’s already primed several storylines for another season. If viewers find this series, I have no doubt that most will fall hard for it, making a second season all but certain.