Just when you think you’ve finally gotten “Two Princes” out of your head, along comes Netflix’s teen comedy-drama “Everything Sucks!”
The show, which premiered last Friday, is set in 1996 and is thick with Clinton-era pop culture references like that earworm Spin Doctors song. The opening montage to the first episode is an unrelenting assault of slap bracelets, troll dolls and Mighty Mighty Bosstones lyrics. I lived through the ‘90s and I don't remember them having so much ‘90s in them.
But perhaps the biggest ‘90s reference in “Everything Sucks!” is to the 1999 TV show “Freaks and Geeks.” Created by Judd Apatow, “Freaks” was a bittersweet, nostalgia-infused comedy-drama about life for the outsiders at a 1980 high school. It barely lasted a season on NBC, but is now one of the most critically acclaimed shows on TV.
“Everything Sucks!” created by Ben York Jones and Michael Mohan, clearly wants to be an update of “Freaks and Geeks.” It also follows the exploits of three misfit nerds in a small town so boring it’s actually called Boring, Oregon. (And it really exists.) While it’s refreshing that one of the nerds, Luke (Jahi Di'Allo Winston) is African-American instead of the usual pasty white guy, I’m getting a little tired of the “nerd gaze” in shows like this, "Stranger Things" and a hundred others. When one of Luke’s friends begins a sentence with “According to my calculations,” I think I died a little inside.
Fortunately, “Everything Sucks!” has a secret weapon.
Much of the first few episodes involve Luke’s attempts to woo a classmate, the shy and awkward Kate (Peyton Kennedy). Luke is so obsessed with getting to date Kate, even creating an elaborate music video of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” to express his feelings, that he overlooks the painfully obvious signs that she values him purely as a friend.
And that she’s a lesbian.
This is 1996, when President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, a year before Ellen DeGeneres announced “Yep, I’m gay,” and there’s no internet for Kate to discover lots of other kids are going through the same thing. “Everything Sucks!” beautifully captures Kate’s messy, tentative journey toward accepting her sexuality, anchored by Kennedy’s authentic and poignant performance.
The end of the second episode, where she panics and accepts Luke’s date proposal just so her classmates will think she’s straight, is heartbreaking, as is her dawning attraction to another girl, drama club diva Emaline (Sydney Sweeney). Her relationship with her father (Patch Darragh), the bumbling school principal who hides his deep loneliness under cheery school spirit, is also nicely handled.
While “Everything Sucks!” is an ensemble show with a lot of characters and storylines, it’s at its best when it focuses on Kate. It would be great if Jones and Mohan could refocus the show around her in future seasons. That’s what makes the show special, not the Gin Blossoms references.
Also on streaming: Fans of the first six episodes of Amazon’s “The Tick” will be happy to see that the back half of Season 1 premieres Friday. The show takes a darker but still very funny take on Ben Edlund’s long-running superhero spoof.
Writer-director Duncan Jones has made some of the best science-fiction films in recent years with “Moon” and “Source Code.” (Last year’s adaptation of the “Warcraft” video game was less well-received.) His new movie, “Mute,” premieres on Netflix Friday, and stars Alexander Sarsgaard as a mute bartender searching for his missing girlfriend in near-future Berlin. Jones has said the film is a tribute to his late father, David Bowie.