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TV Series Review

Luke's town is Boring.

No, it really is. Boring, Oregon, to be exact—the sort of place where tourists only visit to take pictures of the welcome sign.

"You notice they don't actually ever go into town?" Luke asks his friend, Kate. She does, and they slowly walk back into their Boring community, where they attend Boring high school in 1996 and do the sort of Boring mid-'90s things that Boring citizens do.

But in truth, high school isn't boring in Boring. Not for Luke, anyway—or, at least, not just yet. He and his best chums, Tyler and McQuaid, are high school freshmen now, freshmen so fresh that they still have their new-student smell. It's a challenge for most new students to navigate high school's complex pecking order and find their place in the world. On top of that, Luke's also feeling the first stirrings of young love—and an undeniable attraction to sophomore Kate Messner.

But his would-be relationship suffers from a few little hiccups. One, Kate's the daughter of Boring's goofy, if well-meaning, high school principal, a widower who's suffering a bit himself in the love department. And, two, Kate has eyes for someone else: Emaline, the high school drama queen.

Yeah, things got complicated in Boring real quick.

Smells Like Teen Angst

Back in 1996, television was a simpler place. The History Channel showed history shows, The Learning Channel aired educational programming and Netflix was still a year removed from sending its subscribers DVDs through the mail. These days, the History Channel is mainly Ancient Alien repeats, TLC is wall-to-wall reality shows, and the megalithic streaming force that is Netflix has built an empire on nostalgia.

Consider Netflix's Fuller House, Arrested Development and Gilmore Girls, all reboots of one-time broadcast shows. Then there's the appeal of The Crown, which whisks viewers back into the glamorous and sometimes decadent 1960s and '70s, or Stranger Things, which built its brand not just on creepy monsters, but a love of all things '80s. Even its controversial series 13 Reasons Why, which took place more or less in the present day, insisted its main characters listened to, of all things, cassette tapes.

So it was only a matter of time before the 1990s joined the Netflix original programming party, and Everything Sucks! explicitly, perhaps embarrassingly, plays to viewers' presumed affections for Oasis and Surge soda.

Which forces me, a child of the '80s, to ask … was the '90s simply a shallower age?

Listen, The Crown and Stranger Things both have plenty of weaknesses, as we've chronicled here. But both seem to truly understand the eras in which they take place. They so seamlessly slip into their respective times that, paradoxically, they scarcely pay attention to them. Everything Sucks!, meanwhile, constantly and self-consciously reminds us of the time period. "Hey, look at that!" it seems to shout. "Someone's doing an Ace Ventura impersonation! Ha!"

If only the show's main failing was its tone-deaf sense of nostalgia. Alas, we're just beginning.

All Righty Then!

Obviously, the theme of same-sex attraction resides at the core of this show, and Everything Sucks! presents the mid-1990s as a time of pervasive homophobia. Hateful, bigoted slurs are scrawled on lockers and hurled in conversation. The show clearly wants us to embrace Kate as she questions her sexuality, and anyone who questions whether those same-sex leanings are part of God's plan can just lump it, the show implies.

Other romantic and sexual dalliances fluff out much of the show's subplots, from Kate's father's own search for a significant other to high school bragging and banter. And it's not just talk, either: Netflix allows for explicit nudity to be shown. In the opening Kate pilfers a pornographic magazine, looks at the exposed bare breasts therein (which we get an eyeful of, as well), then, it's suggested, masturbates.

A reminder: Kate's a sophomore in high school. And to me, she looks even younger. Everything Sucks! introduces us to characters who are just beginning to understand what sexuality is … and the show then follows them into their bedrooms as they explore that aspect of their identity further.

The show's preoccupation with sex is problematic in and of itself. But when I consider how young its main players are, I wonder: Is Netflix aiming this show at equally young viewers? Hard to tell. Sure, its preoccupation with '90s-era nostalgia suggests an older demographic. Then again, the show feels like it's aiming for a gentle, coming-of-age dramedy vibe—you know, except for all the porn mags and stuff—and Netflix has mystifyingly rated Everything Sucks! as TV-14. Back in 1996, porn mags would be kept covered behind the convenience-store counter. Now, you can apparently access 'em with just a remote control and a promise to your parents that your homework's all done.

Language can be pretty rough, too, and we also hear some conversations about suicide.

It's all too bad, because underneath its sexual preoccupations and its obsession with '90s pop, Everything Sucks! does have some interesting things to say about growing up. And it takes the time to treat the kids' parents as real people (with real problems), too, something that often gets short shrift in teen-focused series. There's a good show underneath the skin of this bad show. But in this case, the skin just goes too deep to get at it.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Everything Sucks: Feb. 16, 2018 "Plutonium"

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Jahi Di'Allo Winston as Luke O'Neil; Peyton Kennedy as Kate Messner; Patch Darragh as Ken Messner; Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako as Sherry O'Neil; Quinn Liebling as Tyler; Elijah Stevenson as Oliver; Rio Mangini as McQuaid; Sydney Sweeney as Emaline

Director

Distributor

Network

Netflix

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

Released

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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