Netflix's New Series Is Set in '90s Oregon. What's the 411?
On February 16, Netflix drops Everything Sucks, the latest in its line of exclusive series (see the '80s-seeped Stranger Things and women’s wrestling fashion fantasy Glow). This time around, the online streaming service—quickly turning into a Hollywood studio rival—turns its gaze on 1996 Oregon, centering on the complex relationships between a high school’s AV club and drama club. As someone who was president of an Oregon high school drama club in 1996 (shout out to my fellow Salemites), I was tasked with casting my editor's eye over the series to see how it measures up to my own memories of the '90s-era Northwest.
Thirty seconds in and we've already had slap bracelets, a tiny pink-haired troll, neon graphic backpacks, and the flash of a Tori Spelling lookalike while that one song from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones plays. So yeah, we're off to a solid, authentic start. In fact, set decorator Jenelle Giordano and costume designer Alexandra Welker deserve all the accolades for their so-familiar-I-forgot-it-wasn’t-current world where the kid with the Zack Morris floppy hair mixes with the sweet girl in the Tori Amos tee.
Freshman Luke O'Neil (played by Jahi Di'Allo Winston) brings the wisdom of youth with some of his first lines: "Guys, we're in high school now. We gotta find our people." With such truths about the secret to social survival in a teen-eat-teen world, Everything Sucks pulled me in.
The series follows Luke and his crew as they join the AV club, and Luke develops a bond with Katie, the daughter of the school's goofy principal. Their relationship with the school’s drama club is introduced in such a histrionic guerrilla cafeteria performance I felt pangs of adolescent embarrassment for the times when I inflicted my loud Shakespeare monologues upon the world. And the thrift store army jackets mixed with fishnets, Doc Martens, and Wet n Wild too-dark lip liner is so perfectly on '90s point I nearly checked my closet to see if my old stash was missing.
The familiar tropes are there: dealing with family, sexuality, the intense homophobia of the time (please tell me that's not still a thing), and figuring out just who the hell you are. The after-school-special vibe initially feels nostalgic and a little out-of-date, but as the series progresses, it figures itself out—much like how we all did in high school. It seems primed for Gen X and early Gen Y-er parents to watch with their kids. The issues of adolescence remain, but the debates over whether Alanis’s lyrics are actually ironic, the reference to Columbia House memberships, and perfectly timed Oasis songs make it sweet for the adults, too.