Cast: Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Peyton Kennedy, Patch Darragh, Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako, Quinn Liebling
The Netflix show Stranger Things brought audiences back to the 1980s. The program’s nostalgic affection for the decade of Ghostbusters and The Goonies was obvious as the program lovingly paid tribute to so many cultural experiences from the time.
Everything Sucks strives quite pleasantly to conjure up a similar experience by focusing on the 1990s.
Explicit in its affection for Tori Amos, Blockbuster and Beavis & Butthead, the new program celebrates its decade while offering emotionally-rich stories that remind audiences of what high school was like.
The story quickly introduces a trio of wannabe filmmakers who have just arrived as freshman in a new school. The outgoing Luke (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) is the most driven of the trio. His best friends are the lovably eccentric Tyler (Quinn Liebling), and the serious-minded McQuaid (Rio Mangini). Knowing their strengths, the group join the AV Club, which is where they meet Kate Messner (Peyton Kennedy), the introverted principal’s daughter.
What’s interesting about the story though is how it often subverts expectations, leading to unexpected results.
For instance, there are two major bullies introduced early in the series: Oliver (Elijah Stevenson) and Emaline (Sydney Sweeney). Although these upperclassmen aren’t traditional bullies (they are hopeful thesbians craving the attention of others), they both are all too willing to intimidate the four main characters. It’s easy to dislike these characters early on.
However, as the season progresses, the production of a film brings all of the main characters together. As the film starts taking shape, so do some of these characters as they grow and mature as young adults.
Relationships are built while others fall apart but what remains is a sensitivity to the characters, who are each going through their own personal struggles. “You’re not the only one having a hard time,” Kate notes in the season’s most heartfelt scene.
As one of the characters notes, “We’re all the heroes in our own story. Without ever realizing it, we’re probably the bad guy in someone else’s.” The show powerfully captures that, creating empathy for characters once thought one-dimensional. Characters that once earned our empathy reveal their moodiness as well, showing how people move and bend in high school — trying to figure out who they are and who they ultimately want to be.
Unlike other teenage shows, several of the parents play a prominent role. Kate’s father Ken (Patch Darragh) serves as the school’s principal so it’s inevitable he would have a presence. But instead of just having a presence, he serves as one of the key characters here as he begins a relationship with Luke’s mother Sherry (Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako). These adults are given their own storyline, which showcases them as fully-developed individuals.
The adults offer a nice addition to the story but throughout the program’s running time, it’s consistently Jahi Di’Allo Winston and Peyton Kennedy who keep the program centered with stirring and brave lead performances. Their hope and heartbreak are depicted in a raw and captivating fashion and it’s hard not to root for both of them to find true happiness.
Created by Ben York Jones and Michael Mohan, the dramedy’s first season is only 10 episodes long and each one is approximately only 23 minutes long. Despite the program’s short season, its throbbing heart is hard to forget. This is a show that lovingly celebrates its decade but also joyfully celebrates its characters and their journeys. It can be hilariously silly but it’s always heartfelt and by the end of this first season, you realize that this offers much more than a nostalgic road trip back. Much, much more.
Review by: John Hanlon