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Review: ‘Everything Sucks!’ pits A/V club freaks against drama club geeks in 1996-set teen drama

Netflix's new series Everything Sucks!, well, doesn't.

The nostalgic dramedy is set in 1996 and follows two groups of misfit teens as they navigate the awkward, the hormonal and the downright dull aspects of life in suburban Boring, Ore.

It sounds a lot like Freaks and Geeks. And it looks a lot like that quintessential '80s teen drama from 1999 with a little Stranger Things mixed in. Creators Ben York Jones and Michael Mohan recreate the familiar plot for 1996 with Zima, floppy checkered shirts, VHS tapes, slap bracelets and music from Alanis Morissette, Oasis and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

Everything Sucks! mainly follows freshmen Luke O'Neil (Jahi Di'Allo Winston) and sophomore Kate Messner (Peyton Kennedy). Luke and his friends (Rio Mangini and Quinn Liebling) are the dorky newbies who still giggle about kissing girls and heatedly debate the quality of the new Star Wars movies coming out. Kate is the sweet, shy daughter of the school principal whose favorite music of the moment is from Tori Amos.

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Their worlds collide in A/V club, where Luke quickly falls for Kate. To show his affection and ask her out, he produces a video set to Oasis's Wonderwall that mashes up bits from other iconic '90s music videos. It's an impressive feat of amateur technological savvy before the ease of smartphones and high-speed internet.

Breaking up this lovey-dovey nonsense are two older stars of Boring High School's drama club. Whether it's performing obnoxious skits in the cafeteria or trying to get revenge after the first play of the season gets canceled, Emaline (Sydney Sweeney) and Oliver (Elijah Stevenson) live for the angst and drama.

The warring geek clubs eventually band together for the greater good of producing a zero-budget sci-fi flick. But the heart of this familiar series isn't in its overarching story or even in its throwbacks to the '90s.

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The pressures and drama of high school, the weird hormonal changes, the process of figuring out who you're meant to be, the annoying parents and the discovering of one's true sexuality aren't ideas explicit to the age of Tamagotchis and dial-up internet.

For all its quaint quirks and kitschy homages to the past, Everything Sucks! falters in its disorganization. It's a bit all over the place, and it's often hard to figure out if the show is trying to poke fun at typical teen drama tropes or just be sweet and heartfelt.

Alongside genuine scenes of Kate talking to her widowed dad about personal boundaries at school and him struggling to connect with her are cheesy and unironic nods to films like 10 Things I Hate About You and She's All That.

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Where the show truly shines is through following Kate as she realizes she's a lesbian. It's a satisfying upset to she and Luke's typical awkward romance and lets the series shift to exploring how a young woman becomes comfortable with her own sexuality.

Everything Sucks! may not be original, but it has moments of brilliance and a stellar young cast that will hopefully push it into a second season.

And for all the '90s kids out there, watch and listen through the end of the credits for more jams from Weezer, the Offspring, the Cranberries and the Spin Doctors.

Contact Chelsea Tatham at ctatham@tampabay.com. Follow @chelseatatham.

Watch

Everything Sucks!

Season 1 premieres at 3 a.m. Friday on Netflix.

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