Netflix teen dramedy ‘Everything Sucks!’ gets an ‘F’ in music nostalgia

The holiday weekend kicked off Friday with another hopeful entry into the endlessly binge-worthy Netflix offerings as Everything Sucks! premiered with 10 episodes. The nostalgia-fueled dramedy is set in the year 1996 — and in the ok-we-get-it town of Boring, Oregon — focusing on a trio of hapless high school freshmen and their attempts to navigate the intimidating throes of early teenage awkwardness.

Taking its familiar cues from the brilliance of Freaks and Geeks with a healthy serving of 10 Things I Hate About You’s greatest hits, reviews have been mixed thus far, which happens when those seeking to find sentimentality in a period piece only to find it doesn’t match their own personal experiences. It can fall on the side of negative reception though when the days of yore are blatantly off, an attribute which rears its unfortunate head way too often in this case.

Consider a key scene where the A/V Club geeks try to win over the Drama Club upperclassmen with a six-pack of Zima. The punchline malt beverage debuted in 1994 with a staggering share of the beer market but, according to a Bloomberg report, sales tumbled from 1.3 million barrels to 650,000 in just one year. Come 1996, they dropped an additional 38 percent. Simply put, no one — not even misguided underage kids in the Northwest pilfering their parents’ stash — were drinking the stuff during the Everything Sucks! timeline.

Call an example like that nitpicking, but it’s the glaringly obvious musical inclusions that are beyond grating in their misplacement, ones which nearly drove this writer insane more than a dozen times by making me ask, “Wait — that’s not just off, it’s way fucking wrong!”

Take Kate Messner, played with the impeccable combination of vulnerability and fear of coming out by Peyton Kennedy, who is obsessed with Tori Amos. That’s not odd in itself, as any sensitive female — and quite a few males — were locked onto the piano crushing songstress in 1996. She’s stuck on Amos’ 1992 debut Little Earthquakes, and can’t stop waxing poetic on it to educate the stellar Jahi Di’Allo Winston, who plays Luke O’Neil (inducing a bit of hilarity around these parts).

The problem, of course, is that by the start of the school year, Amos was on her third LP and had delivered a pair of EPs, all of which go unmentioned, other than the single “Cornflake Girl” from 1994’s Under the Pink which plays over the credits of the sixth episode. Speaking of that episode, a portion of it is set at Portland’s Aladdin Theater where Amos performs.

Except she never did. Not in 1996, not ever. Amos did play Portland twice in the same day that year, an early and late show at the Schnitzer Auditorium in July. Obviously, that doesn’t fit as the two leads hadn’t even met, so improvisation was needed; but why?

During the first episode, O’Neil is frustrated at the fact his Columbia House membership (the mail-order music club popular way back then) sent him the brand-new Oasis CD (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? when he already had it but never mailed it back. The Britpop masterpiece came out in September… of 1995.

So much of the music in Everything Sucks! is behind by a year or two — or more. Songs featured on the show which, again, no nerd trying to get ahead would be listening to or referencing on any level inexplicable to straight out bizarre include Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be,” Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” and “Leave Them All Behind” from Ride (!). It just doesn’t make any sense.

Then there is the futurism issue. The pilot episode kicks off with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones “The Impression That I Get,” which didn’t come out until January of 1997. It was released the same day as “The Freshmen,” another track used in a pivotal moment in the series. Even worse, the poor, forgotten Sunset Strip alums and amalgamation of Rough Cutt and Ratt castaways Jailhouse had their song “Season of Suffering” highlighted, a song that didn’t even see a street date until 1998.

So where does the blame in all of these missteps lie? Music supervisor Tiffany Anders should accept the finger pointing, and as she explained in a recent interview with Billboard, well, that’s just what she was listening to then!

“It’s a total mix tape of the time and discovering those songs again was so fun,” she says. Yeah, but it’s not realistic. High school students of any generation pride themselves of being one of two things musically; on the cutting edge or stuck in tried and true touchstones of the past. The latter epitomized in theater senior Oliver — played by Elijah Stevenson — who in his wardrobe patches and pins does up the Clash and Joy Division, two bands we don’t hear from. And for new, relevant melodies, how about Ash, The Fugees, Nada Surf, Beck, Fiona Apple, or Failure?

Failure… that’s a good way to put the tracks which ended up on Everything Sucks!, where, for the most part, the choices fall flat – and the show suffers greatly for it.

Featured ‘Everything Sucks!’ photo via Netflix; follow Michael Christopher on Twitter @BlackBranchMC.