Everything Sucks! is kinda adorable, actually.

It may sound like damning with faint praise, but the best adjective for this show is adorable.

The young cast is adorable (and talented), the plots about innocent young love are adorable (and properly teenage-awkward), the set dressing is adorable (though its period budget is obviously less than, say, Halt and Catch Fire), you get the idea. 

It doesn’t hurt that the theatre kids are going to make a genre movie, that the Aladdin in Portland, OR, is a venue I used to go by regularly, and that Kate is developing a girl crush and has no idea what to do with all her thoughts and questions and hormones. Everything from the filmmaking to the gaybeing is highly, personally relatable, is what I’m saying, so take the review with a grain of salt.

Other things are more important than adorability, of course. They don’t start with ‘adorable’ in screenwriting 101, they start with a 3 [or 5] act structure and story and establishing place and tone and all that jazz. Those things are mostly here, or at least the potential for those things is here, three episodes in. The story seems to have an idea where it’s going, which is more than you can say for a lot of offerings, not just Netflix’s recent crop. There are a couple knowing after-school-ish bits, like a cut from a conversation about the importance of names to a character staring at her locker with DYKE scrawled across it, which play mostly because of their earnestness and referential feel.

As an 80s/90s kid, there are a few moments in particular which ring really true. For example in the montage where Luke makes a video to broadcast at school, you know he’s done when there’s a closeup of him snapping out the little tab on the front of the VHS tape; everyone growing up then knows that’s how to keep your precious data from being recorded over.  Those little moments add up.

Tonally, the show doesn’t always hold together. It aspires to Freaks and Geeks and Stranger Things, but mixing nostalgia, charm, embarrassment, heartache, empathy, and realism into a genre piece is a real task, which Everything Sucks! doesn’t always nail. Cutting between young people figuring out their sexuality while their parents try to connect with their youthful impulses is not as profound or contrasting as the show hopes. There are some truly absurdist bits (in the first eps at least) and they overuse their generic bed music (just use the actual songs you somehow afforded rights to, and let the rest stand on its own merits), but it’s definitely got some good hooks.

The characters, then. What about the characters.

Broadly, the show does well to give the antagonists a complex relationship with theatre as a way to relate to (and sometimes sympathise with) the protagonists, but sometimes it feels done out of convenience and not the characters. While it’s great the protagonists don’t always handle their emotions well (do any of us always?), sometimes the emotional switches are too quick and unmotivated. Yes, we are dealing with teenagers, and their hormone-driven decisions don’t always make sense even to them. Still, we need more information to ground the actions and make them believable. Most of the friends and parents currently serve as pure archetype, sometimes swerving to serve a scene rather establishing who they actually are as people. Most of the secondary characters are merely plot vehicles, someone to keep the ship moving, as opposed to full formed people. The main two characters, however, are coming into their own as we watch. These two are Luke and Kate, and their stories drive everything.

Luke is our audience surrogate into the film world, and Jahi Di’Allo Winston brings a real energy and stubborn optimism we often envy, even when we see it headed for disaster. He’s got a talent for filming and editing, but makes up his story as it goes along, so the arc of his film could go just about anywhere, and I for one am curious what the final product will look like. The actual film is probably the trickiest thing the show will have to pull off in the first season; to have it be realistically teenager, not too twee, not too polished, yet effectively moving. 

Kate is our audience surrogate into the gay, and most of it comes through Peyton Kennedy’s eyes. She’s watching her classmate undress, she’s overly-consciously averting her gaze in the locker room, she’s straining to see two women making out at a Tori Amos concert. There’s also something about her body language which I painfully recognise; “oh yes, THAT’S what I must have looked like, okay.”  Though she does get a boyfriend (and kisses him gently), she is coming to her own, alternate conclusions pretty quickly, helped by some TV shorthand and montages. 

The way Luke reacts to Kate’s discoveries is not particularly thoughtful, but it is human. Assuming this show goes where I think it’s going, he and she are going to have a lovely relationship, which will continue to shift even as it makes up the core of the show. Unspoken (so far) is one of the things which draws these two together is their outsider status; nerds, yeah, but one a black kid in a mostly-white school, and the other a burgeoning gay girl in a small town. They surely picked the town for the name of Boring, but it’s not inconsequential that it’s set near Portland, which tries to portray itself as one of the most progressive cities in the US, but has massive issues with systemic racism, and though it’s sure queer as fuck (especially in pockets), can also be conservative and constricting now, let alone 20 years ago. ‘Progressive’ is all relative, and even with somewhat understanding parents, they’re going to have to defend themselves fiercely as they build their own supportive micro-community and attempt to learn and escape through film and music.

And that’s a story as worth telling now as it’s ever been. Let’s hope they sharpen their characters and continue to tell stories in a way which values them as people, and continues to be a gentle little show while it goes. We can all use some of that sometimes.

 

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