Everything Sucks! Is a Bangin’ TV Show With a Sweet Lesbian Lead

There’s no shortage of period TV these days, but what sets Netflix’s new comedy, Everything Sucks!, apart is the lesbian lead at the center of the ensemble. Set in Boring, Oregon (a real place!) in the mid-1990s (a real time!), Everything Sucks! follows Kate Messner from her first listen of “Wonderwall” to the Tori Amos concert where she sees two girls kissing for the first time and her world clicks into place. Along this route of self-discovery are plenty of other quintessential ’90s artists (Spin Doctors, Alanis Morisette, Blues Traveler, Gin Blossoms, Weezer, Deep Blue Something) and references (Zima, Fruitopia, Jim Carrey), and while they all work together to afflict a deep, steady sense of nostalgia on any ’90s kid, there’s something very now about this show.

Freaks and Geeks, That ’70s Show, The Wonder Years, Stranger Things: All of these coming-of-age period shows focus on a mostly white group of friends made up of mostly guys. In Everything Sucks!, burgeoning lesbian Kate shares the spotlight with Luke, the son of a black mom and a white dad. They’re also both being raised by single parents. The friends who fill in around them make up your standard Breakfast Club, but the fact that the group is tied together by two minority characters feels like a really big deal.

Luke (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) and Kate (Peyton Kennedy)

Also, Kate’s story is just great. For one thing, she’s played by 14-year-old Peyton Kennedy, and it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a lesbian teen played by an actual teen on TV. For another thing, the writing is so informed and authentic. Series creators Ben York Jones and Michael Mohan don’t trip over any tired tropes. Kate doesn’t flip out and sleep with a guy to try to squash her feelings about girls. She doesn’t make out with girls for the male gaze. She’s not psychotic, she’s not invisible, she’s not chaste, and she’s not dead. And just when you think her triumph is going to be coming out, you find out there’s another queer girl in the mix and baby gay love peeks its head around the corner.

Riese and I both binged the show as soon as it came out on Friday and we decided to review it together. Well, we tried to review it. Mostly we just ended up having a giant feelings atrium about it.

WARNING: Major spoilers for season one of Everything Sucks! below — it’s more of a post-watch conversation than a pre-watch review.


Heather: We should probably start off by saying what our deals were in 1996. I was 16 and a junior in high school. In retrospect I’m like, “I knew I was gay.” But I didn’t know-know, you know? Obviously lesbian representation on TV was almost non-existent at that point — although Ellen was about to land with the gayest splash in history — and I lived in an oppressively religious southern town. I knew I didn’t like boys, but also I loved Jesus and gay people hated Jesus and therefore I couldn’t be gay.

Riese: I was 15 and a sophomore in high school and had absolutely no idea I was gay, although I was very aware that I did not, under any circumstance, WANT to be gay, because that would make me abnormal and a freak which I already felt like I was for real family-related reasons and abstract I-knew-I-was-different reasons! I wanted a boyfriend so people would think I was pretty and cool. I dressed like a boy but also rubbed glitter all over my face and saved up the money I made at Dana’s Deli to buy carpenter pants at Urban Outfitters. My character is probably, honestly, a mash-up of Luke and Kate, and I wanted to be / be near girls like Emaline. Desperately. Was drawn to them like water. I got that, too — I wanted to be near them and I was. That came easily to me somehow. Did you have girls like that who you thought were the coolest and wanted to be near them but didn’t know why?

Heather: Oh yeah, absolutely. My best friends were the coolest girls in school. I loved them. I loved being near them and watching them put on makeup (because I’ve never ever been interested in makeup) and I loved when they took me clothes shopping. The scene with Emaline and Kate in the thrift store changing room was such a delightfully nostalgic sucker punch for me. I remember feeling like that, not like raging with lust really, but feeling like a part of something so special when another girl was helping me get dressed or letting me behind the curtain to tell her what I thought about her clothes.

Riese: Yes! And it was always at these sort of upscale second-hand shops like Rag-o-Rama, or whatever. I felt so inadequate around girls like that who had boobs and makeup and I was like this scrawny A/V weirdo. But it didn’t stop me from best friending them and letting them give me makeovers.

For the life of me I cannot believe we’d ever die for these sins

Heather: I know from your reaction on Friday that this ’90s nostalgia got you good. What parts of the ’90s did this show make you feel in your guts?

Riese: I was worried the show would treat the ‘90s in a way that was super over-the-top, where the “LOOK IT’S THE 90S LOL SLAP BRACELETS” vibe would triumph realism, which was the preview’s vibe. But it felt really authentic! The music was spot-on — I listened to SO MUCH TORI AMOS in 1997, sitting on the floor of Lizzy’s kitchen, drinking Jolt and talking about art and running away to New York and boys. I was big into Oasis and made a movie called “High on Life” basically built around (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? I heard “Champagne Supernova” on the radio and the whole arc of the film just came to me in my head, because I was clearly a great artist.

Heather: Oh boi, that soundtrack. I had the (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? CD and I used to drive around listening to it on my Discman with the cassette tape adapter for hours and hours. “Wonderwall,” especially obviously. I spent so much time thinking about how my best friend’s boyfriends sucked and how I knew and loved my best friends more than their stupid boyfriends ever could. So I was a big fan of that whole “I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now” sentiment. But as much as I loved the Oasis bits in the first episode, I was not prepared for those Tori Amos feelings. I was actually the only person I knew who had full Tori Amos albums and I used to lie on my floor and stare at the ceiling and play them on repeat with headphones on while my friends were out doing god knows what handjob stuff with their boyfriends — feeling so completely misunderstood by everyone except Tori. Also “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” remains one of my favorite songs to this day. What other ’90s stuff besides the music felt real to you?

Riese: Those fucking CDs from the Columbia House Music Club, for one. I feel like I made collages with the exact same pictures Kate did, like I recognized the inside header font from Seventeen magazine and that pic of Claire Danes & Leonardo DiCaprio. I also was sort of the A/V Queen. So I’d edit videos using the same equipment Luke used, but we used way more stupid special effects than he did, because they were new and exciting. The fashions, for sure, and that sort of confusing moment for feminism where we were “EMPOWERED” but in a very contrived and specific commercialized “girl power” way. I was also just remembering, and this goes back to Tori Amos, how even “alternative” culture was only available in limited portions — the internet gives us access to fall for very specific types of music, film, TV, whatever these days — back then you sort of had to look at what mainstream or easy-to-access alt-media was offering you and pick what best fit, even if it wasn’t a really good fit, if that makes sense? Tower Records sold ‘zines and we listened to our friends bands, but mostly we had to find out about stuff from MTV or Sassy Magazine or whatever.

She’s been everybody else’s girl, maybe one day she’ll be her own

Heather: Yeah, absolutely! You and I were talking the other day about One Day at a Time‘s flashback scenes this season, and how jarring it is to realize we spent most of our lives, actually, without computers in our pockets hooked into a constant stream of news and the ability to communicate with everyone all the time on a dozen platforms. I loved that Luke took his phone off the hook to keep from getting harassed, and that Mr. Messner had a beeper. Also their foray into The World Wide Web for the first time. And I love period product packaging. Those Fruitopia bottles!

Riese: I LOVED FRUTOPIA. Nobody was as sad as I was when they stopped making it. They had Frutopia vending machines at the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp which was the only part of camp I didn’t hate.

Heather: Let’s talk about Kate! Does she remind you of yourself and also does she remind you of any other TV characters?

Riese: While I was watching I kept saying, “THIS SHOW IS ABOUT ME,” like “Kate would be me if I’d known i was gay in high school,” but I’m not sure if that’s a literal truth or just an abstract emotional truth. Because it was mostly an aesthetic similarity. I’m probably more like Luke. Did Kate remind you / anyone?

Heather: I know I say this all the time but I really believe that we engage with stories as our present selves and our past selves at the same time. I’m pretty much a lesbian as a profession at this point, but watching Kate was like sitting on a couch with my teenage self. I was interacting with her as a 16-year-old too. I would like to say she reminded me of me, but she’s got about a zillion times more courage than I did when I was her age; but if she had existed when I was in high school, maybe I would have had more? I like that these actors are actually teenagers. I’m kind of hard on myself when I think about how long it took me to realize I’m a lesbian and come out, and when I’m watching 35-year-olds play high school sophomores it’s easy to ride that frustration — but when I look at Kate and I think about being in high school, I’m like, man, I was just a baby.

She reminds me of Emily Fitch a little bit.

Riese: I can totally see that Emily vibe yeah! I think one specific way I related was that her big crush was on the sort of sexually open, alterna-girl, who read to me as bisexual from the jump, rather than on the kind of classic, Quinn Fabray / Alison DiLaurentis type, popular and bitchy in a more mainstream way.

Heather: When we first got the tip that there’s a lesbian character on this show, I thought, at best, we’re talking a side character with a good story. But Kate and Luke are really the co-leads on this ensemble show. I was obviously very pleasantly surprised!

Riese: Yes, that wildly defied my expectations, as did the fact that the writers would see the opportunity for a Kate/Emiline romance, which felt very authentic. But it also made me nervous that mainstream viewers would reject it while pretending they were rejecting it for another reason. Or if that’s a legit way for them to ever feel?

Heather: I think that’s a completely valid worry. I will always stand by my theory that Carol didn’t get a Best Picture Oscar nod because it eschewed straight male pleasure at every turn.

Riese: Do you think you would’ve liked it as much if you hadn’t been a ‘90s kid?

Heather: Yes, absolutely. I never get tired of coming of age stories, especially when they’re gay. And this one had two separate revelations of gayness: Kate being a lesbian and Emaline being bisexual. Two completely different paths to each other but they both felt real. You mentioned Emaline putting off those bi vibes early, and I completely agree. The reason she noticed Kate noticing her in the locker room was because she’d noticed girls in that same way, right?

Riese: Yes! I also felt like she had noticed Kate — that they had something in common that Emaline recognized and felt ashamed of and wanted to push away.

Caught beneath the landslide

Heather: Right! Like she drags Kate out into the open and ridicules her to keep the attention off herself. But when she realizes what’s going on with her she just seems to accept it as just another moment of self-discovery at a time in life when every day is full of self-discovery. I like that story especially juxtaposed with Kate, who was troubled by the question of her sexuality in a way that felt like she was never going to be true to herself unless she figure out whether or not she was a lesbian. Kate tells Emaline she’s sexy and Emaline’s like “Oh, huh. I’m into girls too.” Meanwhile Kate’s hunkered down in the library taking an Are You a Lesbian quiz in a human sexuality book.

What did you like gay-specifically about the show?

Riese: WELL it had my fave storyline as you know — the (sometimes weirdo or otherwise outcast) lesbian gets with the cool girl who has a boyfriend at the start of the story. It’s very common in YA novels, like Deliver us From Evie and even, I think, Cameron Post?

Heather: Haha, I know. As soon as Emaline stormed up onto that lunchroom table dressed like Gwen Stefani, I was like, “For Riese, I hope she’s gay too. I hope they fall in love.”

Riese: Thank you for putting that intention into the universe for me. Was there anything that you didn’t like about Everything Sucks! Did anything suck?

Heather: I don’t think anything really sucked but I wasn’t super invested in the storylines that didn’t involve Kate, Luke, or their parents. I get it, and I always appreciate a good ragamuffin group growing together but I think the last half of the season stalled out a little bit by spending time bonding the other characters. I also confess that I get a little anxious generally when there’s a loner outsider white kid who gets rejected by a girl, because in real life that often leads to violence. I don’t like watching it. (It’s surreal to think this show takes place before Columbine, isn’t it? It really was a different world.)

Riese: I got anxious about Luke for a while, I was like “stop being so selfish there is so much else I like about you!” But I understand how that worked for the plot. But to be honest if I imagine this show without a lesbian storyline I’m not sure I would’ve loved it as much. Although I guess I could say that about a lot of shows. I think I’m just discouraged that it hasn’t gotten better reviews. Did watch Altered Carbon? I couldn’t get past ten minutes of it and it’s getting RAVES. The response to Everything Sucks! from mainstream press seems to be “ehhhh.”

Heather: I did try Altered Carbon because I’ll always try anything for Dichen Lachman but it was so boring. And I agree that’s discouraging! I have gotten to a place where I feel like I live in a different world than mainstream TV and film critics — which I guess is true. The fact that they’re judging TV like it happens in a vacuum is maddening to me; it’s ridiculous not to at least try to give stories cultural context. Of course they wouldn’t have to do that if they hired minorities to write for them. I think if Luke had had an extra story where he fell in love with a girl who loved him back people would have responded better to it.

Riese: I agree and I also don’t think that it would’ve taken away from the rest of the story. I loved that the queer romance was centered, but I kept hoping for a real love interest for Luke to show up (I was thinking it’d be Kate’s weird friend?) and was kinda sad that it didn’t happen.

Heather: So overall where does this fall for you on the scale of lesbian TV that’s happening in the world right now?

Riese: There’s a few boxes it checks off that we haven’t seen checked off until recently: written by two men, yet centers a lesbian storyline. One of the LEAD characters is a lesbian and the series’ primary romance is queer. I think those two things are both unusual and important.

Heather: I think Everything Sucks helped me fully realize how much my metric for measuring lesbian TV has shifted from when I first started doing this job ten years ago. For so long it was about the quantity of characters, whether or not they were good guys who got screentime and maybe a love interest, what network they were on and what that meant in terms of reach. It was all very mathematical with the idea behind those measurements being, of course, that straight people would like us more and treat us better if they saw us on television (which is absolutely true). Now I want to enjoy gay stories that make me feel stuff in my guts. I want it to be for our community and about our community in a way that resonates, and in a way we don’t have to beg and grovel for. Kate and Emaline in the dressing room, on the stairs, in the hotel room, on the stage: I felt all that and that’s why I fell in love with TV in the first place. I think maybe One Day at a Time‘s first season is what cemented that attitude shift in me, and Everything Sucks helped me understand it had happened. I really liked this show, and I don’t care if straight people did!

Riese: BUT IF STRAIGHT PEOPLE DON’T LIKE IT, IT WON’T GET RENEWED

Heather: Sigh. Yeah. I know. I guess maybe a more accurate thing to say would be: Everything Sucks! reminded me that I don’t want to have to care.

Riese: I think it’d pass based on the old metrics, too, actually, which is refreshing. It hasn’t been marketed to the queer community at all or promoted as that kind of story, which is interesting. I really appreciated the relationships Kate and Luke had with their single parents, too. That was really well done and so tender.

Heather: Yes! I didn’t expect that to warm my heart like it did.

I also had a vision of Kate growing up and starting her own lesbian website and writing an essay one day about how she realized that was her future when she was sitting on the floor of the library taking a sexuality quiz from a book written in the 1960s. She even kinda looks like you!

Riese: I know, she totally does. It’s funny you say that because somebody on Twitter said they felt like Haley in “Halt and Catch Fire” was young me and I was like, “YES.” And I think age-wise both of those comparisons function. I think I was more precocious and talkative than Kate, she’s very reserved, more of a reactor than an actor. So I’d probably lean into the Haley comparison more. Maybe Kate would grow up and get a job writing for a lesbian website she commented on while doing accounting in Georgia and then leave that job to go work for Haley’s website.

Heather: Thank you for talking about this show with me. Below you will find a playlist of every song from season one, in case you can’t find your Tori Amos tapes.

Riese: I definitely still have Little Earthquakes and… that weird cover album she did… and Under the Pink? Was that one of them? I have those all on CD, should you ever come across a CD player.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Heather has written 736 articles for us.

63 Comments

  1. I have SO many feelings about this show.

    I loved how it surprised me. I was sure they would go for the trope of the teenage lesbian falling for a straight girl and getting her young heart broken but nooooo instead we get puppy love 💕

    Also what I recognised a lot was
    1) the over the top drama students. Totally had the same ones in my school

    2) the posters of pre pubescent boys that turn into posters of rad women yes!

  2. KATE IS ME. I AM KATE. except for the getting the girl in the end. one of my friends who was a boy asked me out and i was like FINE I’LL TRY IT but then also literally ran away whenever he tried to kiss me and I had the actual almost-word-for-word conversation with him about carrying my books/walking me to class. The feeeeeeeeels. So well done. So much nostalgia. Thanks for the playlist! 😀

  3. I absolutely love this- the scene at the Tori Amos concert, the scene on the stage, the bit in the shop and then in the changing room… I’ve been listening to Tori Amos continuously for 24 hours, and all the sad awkward teen feels are amazing. Thank you Autostraddle, once again, for signposting the things that make me happy!

  4. I was also really glad that the actors were actually kids. It just worked so much better because Kate was SUCH A BABY I JUST WANTED TO PROTECT HER and I totally had an Emmeline my freshman year (just the first half tho where she messed with me, not the happy ending to the story).

    Basically this show was a MESS of emotions for me. Just thinking about the scene at the concert I’m crying again, because I wish that moment could have happened for me in high school.

    It didn’t really truly happen until I was 30, the first time I kissed someone I really truly wanted to kiss, and in that moment, part of me totally was that scared high school kid, realizing she didn’t have to be scared anymore. It’s like that moment in scifi stories when characters slide into a parallel universe and their memories change. 16 year-old me was somehow healed with a magic kiss when I was 30.

    So…yeah. A LOT of feelings, and I think her arc was very well done, and it made my heart full.

  5. For a Swedish queer like myself, I thought Kate and and the blonde girl reminded me extremely much of this amazing film called “Show me love” (aka “Fucking Åmål”) from 1998, both look-wise and personality wise. A quick googling and it turned out it was one of three films the writer named as main influences. I had to re-watch Show me love ofc, and it’s even better than I remembered, så pleaaaase, for the sake of 90’s lesbianism: don’t miss out on watching that way-before-its-time, lesbian, coming of age film if you can catch it anywhere with English subtitles!

  6. So many feelings about this show! I was also a freshman in 1996, but I didn’t know I was gay in high school, so watching this show was like watching an alternate-universe version of myself. It felt profoundly healing to relive that era through Kate, to imagine what my life would have been like if I’d put the pieces together sooner, and most importantly, to forgive myself for not doing so because growing up is difficult and awkward for everyone.

    • You’ve just perfectly described how this show made me feel. I also didn’t know/understand that I was queer for most of high school (I finally started to figure it out towards the end of senior year) and this show just made me wonder, if I’d had something like it to look to when I was that age, would I have figured it out sooner? I think most definitely yes, so seeing Kate & Emaline figuring it out together just makes me so happy.

  7. Well, I loved the show too, but I have to say it feels like we were watching different shows a bit.

    I thought Kate getting together with Emaline was an absolute disaster for both of them, since Emaline’s speech about how she was completely unable to function independently, without being in a relationship, led directly into Kate presenting the opportunity for a new relationship that Emaline jumped at immediately.

    And Luke’s coming-of-age journey was about learning to live with the fact that life is not just his story, but everyone else’s story too. That journey was already rather undercut by the fact that he was, in fact, co-lead of the show and directed a successful student film, and having him actually find love, as he had originally hoped to do, would have pushed it much too far.

    • I was rooting for Kate and Emaline to get together, but I agree, there are some red flags there. Emaline complained that she was just a prop to Oliver, yet as soon as she jumped to Kate, she pierced her nose like Kate and started dressing like Kate… the girl needs to figure out her own identity instead of copying the identity of whoever she’s with! At least Kate’s unlikely to be as cruel to her as Oliver was. Maybe Emaline can blossom when she’s with someone who liked her even when she was being an asshole. (I have some issues with Kate thinking Emaline is “perfect,” too, because putting someone on a pedestal like that rarely ends well.)

  8. i loved reading y’alls perspective and sharing your memories! this show was a lot of fun to watch and reminded me of my own baby gay high school feelings. that hotel scene with kate and emmaline, ajdslfa;kdfalk!! i know exactly how that felt and had a couple of those moments on school trips

    my sister was a freshman in 1996 so this is totally her era and when she left for college i inherited all her mixed tapes and cds and her stereo so i got to dive into a lot of this show’s music so THANK YOU FOR THE PLAYLIST

  9. I was about to tip autostraddle off to this show — so glad you found it first! I binge-watched it over the weekend and am so happy about it. Also Riese — I went to Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp too and had my first real lesbian make-out session there!

  10. I’ve been eagerly waiting for your thoughts on this Heather, and how you might compare it to how “Skins” made you feel that first time you watched it (Naomily, specifically). Thank you both for this discussion!

  11. 90’s chick here. In the fall of ’96 I was entering senior year, I was a drama club person, not the most popular but I was friendly with most people and I had my core group of friends (what the kids nowadays call their squad).

    I was reluctant to watch this show but with everyone in the 90’s inner circle singing it’s praises for the majority of the weekend I said why not; and half of me is glad I did because it brought back so many memories that I laughed at and the other half hates me that I went down this rabbit hole with no guarantee of a 2nd season or most likely a whole year to wait for season 2 if it happens.

    I think the easiest way to break down my feelings is by character, though some might be grouped together.

    Kate is a great character and I like that she is played by a real 14 year old (although they filmed this when she was 13) but then again knowing that she was 13/14 made it a bit weird to watch. Like when she is looking at the porno mag (you know) or when she was driving, they said she had her learners permit but is 14 the age you get that in Oregon? And although I cannot find confirmation on my super fast internet I think Emmaline (the actress) is at least 18 so watching her and Kate interact was a bit awkward. Also because Kate is 14 (but let’s be honest looks 10) and Emmaline might be 15 but she looks 25.

    And I tried to think if there was that vast divide by how baby freshmen and sophomores looked compared to the maturity of juniors and seniors and after a quick scan of my yearbook the pictures were like night and day.

    About Emmaline, there is something that is not sitting right with me about her that may be dealt with in season 2. She was with Oliver and had these star-crossed overly dramatic scenes and she kept going back to him even though he treated her like crap. Kate says all the right things and Emmaline likes her after originally treating her like shit. And she gets jealous/fuming mad when Kate brushes her off for Luke the next day at the motel. Then when she shows up with her nose pierced like Kate it just seemed like a red flag to me, like this girl wants to be loved by anyone and will change herself for them. I don’t know how to describe this vibe that I have about her. Like I said, maybe it will be addressed in season 2.

    Luke has 2 gears, sweet and innocent and Candyman (as his friends say), like there is no in between. And especially when he had his outbursts he was the worst (even more than Oliver who was the worst on this show in my opinion). I thought it was terrible how he treated the parents, I also found his encounter with his father very weird and shredding the tapes. Hopefully more will come to light in season 2 because they left us hanging with that.

    I think Tyler was my favorite because he had no filter. and I felt so bad for him in the end when all his friends ditched him. Him putting on Oliver’s trench and sunglasses seemed very ominous to me.

    McQuaid was an okay character, definitely got better toward the end. I felt sorry for him walking in on Emmaline and Kate but dude, you had game with the other girls and you brushed them off.

    Oliver was the worst. I was so glad when he left and they didn’t have to waste time on him in the last few episodes which were probably my favorite.

    Okay so that is my breakdown, I will probably re-watch the series again next weekend but I need to spread the word to my friends so I can discuss this with people in real life.

    • @cyclone, it seems like your concern about the age difference the actors playing Kate and Emmaline has to do with dramatic believeability of the plot-line. Do I have that right?

      I find Peyton Kennedy being 13 to be a problem for other reasons. See my post below and I’m wondering if you share any of the same concerns.

      • yes, it would have been less uncomfortable to see certain scenes (you know the ones) if she was played by an older actress but it didn’t seem like they pushed her past her limit (interrupting dad). They cast her at 13 to play a 15 year old and I would think she has her parents on set (along with tutors and kid wranglers specific for shows like this) to set boundaries. It would worry me more if she was the only underage kid on set but she wasn’t.

        • I’m not convinced. Peyton Kennedy is great; may she have a long successful career. But she wasn’t the only actor out there who could fill this role.

          And frankly, parents on set might have led her to say she was okay with stuff that she really wasn’t sure of just because it was a parent who was there to look for her and she is appropriately trying to become her own person. Playing in a romantic and sexually charged role might be a legitimate part of that process. But I think it is a risk. And she isn’t the director.

          I’ve recently come across the early teen singer Grace Vanderwaal who won America’s Got Talent a year ago which catapulted her into stardom. That is an incredibly difficult thing to handle for a young teen. What gives me hope about Grace are things like her telling Simon Cowell to his face and pissing him off saying, “America’s Got Talent was the worst year of my life.” And also, she’s writing her own lyrics which helps her a lot to feel she she is herself, and not a monster created by the music industry or her fans.

          An actor, on the other hand, is always speaking in someone else’s voice. What opportunities does Peyton Kennedy have to assert who she is. As far as the world is concerned, Peyton Kennedy and Kate Messner are one and the same.

          25 year-old Jessica Barden just did an amazing job playing Alyssa in “End of the F***ing World.” Did you see it?

          Good point about the teen cast. I do think that makes it better. But I’m still not convinced about the appropriateness of this casting choice. [Best teen cast ever in “Short Term 12” (from 2013) starring Brie Larson]

          • @queer girl, I hear you. It took me awhile to figure out this was a space for queer women. I was Googling “Review of Everything Sucks,” read a bunch, landed on Heather’s review here and liked it the most of any I read. And the comments were interesting. I had no clue of what autostraddle.com was. I realize posting somewhere without even thinking about the community aspect of a site is insensitive.

            In advance of you sharing the comment “I’m really uncomfortable” I had figured out the audience was mostly gay women. Sort of at the edge of my consciousness I was wondering about whether queer women’s “audience” is the same thing as a queer women’s “space.”

            I think the key word in your comment is “spearheading.” I get it.

            Regarding the issue itself, I’ll make one last point and say goodbye. If the show were about a heterosexual couple with Emmaline’s character being a boy portrayed by a 20-year old man and Kate was portrayed by a 13-year old girl, I think someone would have said, “Time out: let’s not do this, this might not be safe.”

            Why should our sensitivity about protecting a child actor evaporate just because the child actor is playing a gay character?

            I think the producers blindness on this issue was unfortunate and, even as the show is a cathartic and valuable telling of a story so many have experienced and is so rarely told, ultimately that benefit is diminished some by such a questionable casting decision, in my opinion.

            Okay, now my spearheading is over. I’m sorry for any discomfort I may have caused anyone.

  12. I’ve heard really good things about this show, so I’ll add it to the list! I have to admit though, the age difference between the actresses that play Kate and Emaline makes me a bit uncomfortable. They were 13 and 20, respectively, during filming. And as a 21 year old, the thought of kissing a middle-school aged girl, even if it’s just acting, feels skeevy and inappropriate.

  13. I’m a 59 year-old straight man that loved the show. Yah, the relationship is not destined to last because of how fragile Emmaline is. That fact didn’t take away at all from the joy and power released in the wake of these two teens finding each other and not letting a gay-unfriendly world stop them from feeling some very powerful things. Really emotional and inspiring.

    But here is where I’m stuck. It’s not with the story or the characters.

    It’s the fact that Kate and Emeline are played by real people: Peyton Kennedy, 13 at time of filming while Sydney Sweeny was 20. This is crazy. What were the casting people thinking?

    It’s not that unusual for leads in romantic roles to fall in love (for example Kerry Russel and Mathew Rhys of The Americans — that one broke up a marriage). If Peyton and Sydney fell in love Sydney could be arrested for statutory rape.

    Everybody is so excited about how real teens are playing teens. When romance is involved, at least, there is a very good reason why that isn’t often the case.

    Being a child/teen actor is hard enough as it is, but then to cast a thirteen year-old in a role which has so much romantic emotion and sexual energy really problematic. And this is in the age of #metoo.

    Let me be really clear; I’m not criticizing the plot line one bit. I’m so happy to see this wonderful coming out high school romance.

    I’m angry that they cast a thirteen year old in the role. And I think it is one more black mark on an industry that is still so clueless. This is a human rights issue.

    Obviously I’m not criticizing Peyton Kennedy. She was amazing. I’m hoping, hoping, that she’s totally cool and everything is fine. (Though it is possible that she thinks things are fine but aren’t actually.) But it was a huge risk and I think she should have been protected from that risk.

    This show is such a f***ing mix. I agree with people that the almost masturbation scene in Episode 1 breaks new ground and is really important. Yes, girls masturbate.

    But I keep thinking of the person Peyton Kennedy, who is real, unlike Kate Messner.

    Did Peyton Kennedy know that the director was going to zoom in on her crotch for that shot? And could a 13-year old really give meaningful consent for such a shot, even if it wasn’t zoomed in?

    I think that the show is seriously interesting to straight people and I don’t think lack of interest will prevent a second season from happening.

    Thanks for the great post.

  14. So, I watched Everything Sucks this weekend and, overall, I found it incredibly endearing. I didn’t see myself in it necessarily–my experiences during that time period were very, very different–but the emotional component of Kate’s journey resonated with me deeply. Peyton Kennedy was amazing in the role and hearing her sing “Rocket Man” was probably my favorite moment of the entire series. Banana slug, indeed.

    After that moment, it was impossible not to cheer for Kate so when she and Emaline connect, it feels like a triumph. But it also feels hard to trust Emaline’s evolution as complete or authentic, so I don’t know whether I should cheer for them together or brace myself for the spectacular heartbreak that’s coming.

    But here’s my big misgiving about the show: the actor that plays Luke, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, doesn’t appear to be biracial and while that’s not a thing that I’d usually be concerned about–especially since Hollywood has more often trended the other way–it bothered me here because it felt like an act of cowardice. Like these two (obstensibly) straight white guys, who felt perfectly comfortable crafting this world for a teenage lesbian–this world to which they are not personally privy–were just like, “we’re not going to write a story about a black man abandoning his family, so we’ll just make the dad white.” And on some level, I imagine they must feel good about it…about not allowing their show to traffic in stereotypes…but the answer to upending stereotypes can’t be erasure. It just can’t be.

    • I just read an article with the creators (I can’t find it now, sorry) that I will badly paraphrase but in a nutshell they say that race is never brought into the mix as a definition for Luke. He’s a Freshman, an AV nerd, crushing hard on Kate, friend, buddies with his mom, etc. etc. etc. I guess we are predisposed to think that race would be the 1st thing when it was never even mentioned. If that makes sense.

        • Thanks for sharing the article, @Cyclone. I hadn’t gotten around to reading that post from Alan Sepinwall (one of my favorite TV writers).That said, I’m not sure that interview made me feel any better about my misgivings…in fact, I may feel worse. I wanted to give them credit for being thoughtful about stereotypes but clearly I was being too generous…it turns out that they might just be your typical oblivious white guys.

          The writers are asking their audience to be colorblind, essentially…to treat race as an interchangeable presentation…to believe that the character wouldn’t be altered if Luke were white or Asian or Hispanic (and, thus, his father’s race is inconsequential). That’s not the way the world works.

          • I see your point and I am in no way defending the creators but if they did cast a white kid wouldn’t the argument be ‘well why couldn’t this character be a person of color?” or is they made the dad black wouldn’t the argument have been about stereotypes?

            I have to say that learning more about the cast I really think they cast the people who were good for the role. Peyton (Kate) was 13 and Kate is supposed to be 15 but Peyton probably nailed the audition and gave her the part. Knowing that she would fall for Emmaline they could have cast an actress who was 15 or 16 but instead they went with someone 18-20 (I’m not exactly sure how old she is but I know she’s not 15). That’s more of an argument for me to make than Luke having a white dad.

            But I do respect your opinion about it, I just have a slightly different view on it.

  15. OK, I’m happy to find a community that loved this show as much as I did… and I’m a hetero man in his 50s, and spent the 90s in graduate school with very little contact with the pop culture of the time.

    What got to me most was the Emerline, and the truth to her feelings for Kate. I went back and watched every interaction that they had in the first 7 episodes, and its there… she has feelings for her, micro-expressions of kindness and fascination… it builds beautifully and subtly over the first seven episodes. It seemed so real to me… While Kate was attracted to Emerline, and surprised by the joy of dicovering Emerline’s feelings for her, I feel that what Emerline has is deeper.

    (I also fell in love with Oasis’s “Don’t look back in anger”… how did I miss that!)

  16. I watched the trailer for this and was like, meh, another show centered on young teenage boys, but then was like – wait is the female love interest looking longingly at that other girl? Maybe I do want to watch this?
    So, thank you for confirming that I was correct and maybe I will watch…

  17. Too bad I was born four years late to be in the 90s but I was kind of raised with 90s things and stuff, does that count? 😀

    Well, I hope for a second season it needs one, after the end I mean some people and some relationships really changed. And bless the little puppy Kate, is she already an inofficially nominee for the best lesbian and bi characters 2018? ;D

  18. I was 14 in 1996, freshman in high school so I couldn’t wait to watch this show when it was first announced.

    My gf and I started last night and we talked over it so much due to all the nostalgia that we’re gonna have to re-watch for sure.

  19. So I was a freshman literally a decade later than this show, but I vividly remember the day I threw out all my posters of the OC & Gossip Girl guys and wallpapered my room with Lady Gaga instead so glad this is a universal, generation-spanning experience

  20. I didn’t have the teenage experience in the 90’s, being born in 1990, but I have more attachment to the decade than the 2000’s. (Partially because the 00’s had a hideous aesthetic that I don’t wanna think about!)

    Kate’s story hit me right in the feels, especially her “maybe I don’t have to be a freak” speech after the concert. ;_; Her dad is great too and is such a kindhearted person, so I’m hoping for a sweet and emotional coming out scene if a season 2 happens.

  21. I’m a few episodes in and a bit uncomfortable for Luke, so we’ll see how I persist.

    But then again, I couldn’t sit through a single Mary Tyler Moore episode without leaving the room at least once out of mortifying embarrassment. I have a very low threshold for people being made a fool of.
    Forget Lucille Ball, and even 99% of the Ellen Show, I just couldn’t.

    Overly empathetic, I guess…

  22. Thanks so much for putting this show on my radar–I had no idea what it was til this headline. Watching Kate was a little like watching high school me (although I didn’t know I was gay even though a best guy friend played Weezer’s ‘Pink Triangle’ for me all the time and belting out those lyrics never got old). Lilith Fair in 1998 was my Tori Amos concert–I watched the lesbians in the crowd as much as any of the acts. And the actor who plays Luke is adorable, even when he hasn’t quite realized that being a nice guy doesn’t mean you can’t also be the bad guy in a situation. I loved that Kate called him on it.

  23. It made exactly how I want to feel, all mushy and emotional… I’m transitioning and I’m just kinda wonderfully stuck back in my teenagerhood… All the emotions except depression. Katie felt like I did when I was questioning myself at the time… So many 1960s books on biology and feminism… I spent so much time in my schools library. The Drama Geeks were a bit more Asshole in the show than my high school…. Of course I was also a Theatre geek… I really hope this show gets a second season.

  24. Gosh this show hit me so hard. Just a few years younger than Kate and Luke but oh boy did I see myself in the “why do I want to hang out so much with these *particular* girls I can’t quite.. oh” storyline. Also Oregon is where I moved to figure out how to be queer and also saw Tori Amos in concert so…

    my only question comes down to basically: no grunge or inklings of riot grrl in this version of 1996 PNW?

  25. I loved this show! I can see how people might not like the Emiline storyline, especially how she goes right into being super intense with Kate after a breakup, but I REALLY LOVED IT! I already loved Kate so it was so moving to then have a surprise second well done queer character. And I actually thought it was so cool that they made her kind of a typical drama club wild girl, even a little fragile, and she doesn’t change really but is just a little more genuine and happy by the end. I loved that they didn’t try to fix her OR write her off as a crazy mean girl. I kept worrying in earlier episodes that they were going to have Emiline be using Kate somehow or tricking and outing her or make her a two-dimensional attention seeker who just wants Kate’s adoration but isn’t actually into it. But they didn’t! And the love story part was so teenage and sweet. It seemed authentic that they are both sort of confused or cagey and defensive or mean and then pretty suddenly just like, dating.

  26. I have three initial comments:

    1. I do not welcome straight men is this space. It reeks of entitlement. You are not so important that you get to come into a space for queer women, I do not think I am alone in thinking that your opinion is irrelevant to me and it is arrogant and aggressive to come here and demand to be heard.

    2. The acting/storyline so far as not been age inappropriate. Teenagers do kiss. There have not been any sex scenes.

    3. In Harry Potter the actor who played Cho was I think 17/18 when Cho and Harry kissed, with Daniel Radcliffe being several years young.

  27. This show was very moving. I really liked when Kate went to a Tori Amos concert and said she realised she wouldn’t always be a freak. I wish I’d had that experience at a younger age. I was 20 when I first encountered other queer girls/women in real life and I had very little media exposure to queer stories before that.

    I identified with Kate but at the same time, I did not have my first crush on a girl I met IRL until I was 17 (I had been in love with my straight childhood best friend but thankfully it wore off once she became interested in boys) and I don’t think I would have been ready to deal with my sexuality when I was 14. (Which DOES NOT IN ANYWAY mean that 13 year olds playing gay characters is age inappropriate. I wish there had been lots of 13/14 year old gay characters on tv when I was that age and then I might have been more ready to deal with my sexuality).

    I don’t think teenage problem pages when I was that age helped. They mainly told people they probably weren’t gay and if they were that was okay, without giving any actual advice. I remember a teenage girl writing in and saying that she was in love with Mariah Carey and kept crying because she would never meet her and the response she got was to buy a hamster to focus her emotions on and call it Mariah. (I’m serious).

  28. I lived on Fruitopia during this era, by which I mean we actually had it ‘on tap’ in my dorm cafeteria and I’d fill my 90s water bottle with it three times a day, and I’m still mad that it went away.

    And yes, I had a Tori Amos phase. (The weird cover album is Strange Little Girls, and it’s kind of wonderful and kind of terrible at the same time which is the most Tori Amos thing it could be.)

    I watched this because I’ve learned to trust everything Heather ever says, and because I was in the mood for some light nostalgia, but oh no, oh no. This grabbed hold of my heart and never let go and I was so terrified for these kids in every episode. Because they’re us. (I had an age-inappropriately academic friend with that exact haircut named Darwin and a goofball friend name Tick that could have been McQuaid and Tyler, even. And the real life ones had the weirder names!)

    I watch a fair amount of young adult TV (because that’s really where the good queer content lives), but it’s probably been 20 years since I was transported back to that age. This show is magic. I’m not quite okay, and that’s the point.

  29. I just finished the show last night and enjoyed it.

    Despite a rocky beginning, I stuck with it b/c of the queer lead.

    Like a lot of commenters above, I think Emmaline is a mess.

    I don’t need a storybook romance where everyone is perfect to be entertained. The flaws were 100% believable. On Kate’s behalf, teen love is blind. And Emmaline’s chameleon qualities— don’t teenagers instinctively try on different personas? It’s a little eery how she’s adopting Kate’s style, but it feels *very* real.

    Hopefully they’ll be a season two— where that and more can be explored.

  30. Add me to the list of people who didn’t know this show was going to feature queer characters. I tuned in for the 90s nostalgia & was very pleasantly surprised when Kate turned out to be the most adorable baby gay ever.

    I started high school in 1994 so was right around these kids ages at that time. However, I went to a very small K-12 performing arts school for my high school years, so I didn’t have the typical high school experience that you see in most TV shows.

    But I still relate to so much of Kate’s & Emaline’s stories. Like Kate, I gravitated toward girls who were older, more popular, outwardly confident and daring in ways I was too shy & awkward to be myself.

    And, like Emaline in the early episodes, I was sometimes mean to other girls because I didn’t know how to deal with or articulate my true feelings about them. I’ve read some comments from people who found it problematic or didn’t like that Emaline and Kate ended up together because Emaline bullied Kate, but that step in Emaline’s process of self-discovery really resonated with me. I still have a very vivid memory of calling my friend “flat chested” when we were 14, which I meant as an insult and she took as such. At the time I didn’t know why I’d said it and immediately wished I could take it back, but in hindsight it was because I didn’t understand or know how to say that I’d noticed her body and was attracted to her. There were other, similar incidents with different friends for the next few years until I finally figured out that I was attracted to girls. So, in some ways I relate more to Emaline than to Kate.

    I really hope the show gets a 2nd season so we can see their relationship develop.

  31. I just finished watching up to episode six, so far it’s more than my queer little heart could ever hope for, so familiar it’s been making me cringe (in a good “how did I not know for so long?!” kind of way!). I was 16 in ’96, Tori’s music was part of my queer journey too (my first girlfriend got me hooked!). I am so tearfully happy right now.

  32. Yes! This was everything and more than I hoped for. I was 15 years old back then (in Europe), and was wondering myself whether I am gay or not. Deep down I knew (with all intense girl crushes and so), but it took me a couple of years to say it out loud, becoming my new normal.

    Also indulging my 90’s nostalgia– Oasis, Romeo & Juliet (Leo & ♥♥♥Claire♥♥♥), and Alanis! And that bloody modem noise. 😀

    Anyhow, hope Netflix renews the series (and One Day At A Time for that matter). Bring on 1997!

  33. I finally got around to watching show, and of course when I did, I binged the entire thing in one day. I absolutely LOVED everything about it. I was 7 in 1996, so I didn’t really relate to the 1990s nostalgia, but high school is high school, whatever the era.

    I loved the character of Kate. I loved her journey, and witnessing her private revelations. I LOVED the scene after the Tori Amos concert where she stuck up for herself and told Luke off. I felt bad for Luke, she was unnecessarily harsh, but it felt so REAL.

    I loved Luke too. Yes, his “Candyman” persona was pretty terrible, but again, very real and understandable. And his journey was great too – it takes a lot of people a LOT more than 14 years to realize that they are not always the hero of the story.

    I didn’t meet my own Emeline until I was 20, but she resonated with me SO MUCH. However, while I was definitely rooting for her and Kate to get together, I anticipate that turning out badly in season 2. As some have said above, there are a lot of red flags about Emeline, and I really worry that she’s only with Kate now because of her need to be loved and because she likes the attention. I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing more growth in her character the way we got to witness in Kate and Luke this season.

    The ending with Leroy showing up at the door could end up really great or really badly. I admit I was super confused about what happened at the Blockbuster. My reading of it was that Leroy didn’t recognize Luke immediately – totally understandable, kids change a lot from age 7 to 14 – not that he recognized him and blew him off, as Luke seemed to think. Did anyone else read it that way? And while Tape 42 does provide one interpretation as to why Leroy left, my impression is that, as with Kate’s mom’s death, we haven’t really gotten the full story there yet.

    Speaking of Kate’s mom – wow. What a fucking gut punch. Gotta admit, I did NOT see that one coming. I hope the show explores a little more about mental illness in season 2.

    Finally – Heather, I agree with you about being sensitized to fear straight white men being rejected by women, and I’m really concerned about how McQuid is gonna handle this in season 2. I was very happy that he left the girls alone, and didn’t (as of yet) rat them out to anyone, but I’m still worried as to what he might do next.

    All in all, I had almost nothing to complain about with this show. The age difference between the actors who play Kate and Emeline does concern me a little, but nothing that they did in the first season crossed any lines, so as long as the actors aren’t put in a sex scene together, I’ll probably be fine with it. Not the first time a show has cast actual teenagers to play teenagers.

    I really really hope this show gets picked up for season two. Keep us posted!

  34. Oh hey, just doing that thing where you comment (v lengthily and emotionally) on a post from 2 months ago. Luckily, this is extremely true to who I was in the 90s, so let’s just say it’s purposeful nostalgia.

    This show!! And this write-up! Feeling so many feelings about both. I related to this TOO hard: “I like that these actors are actually teenagers. I’m kind of hard on myself when I think about how long it took me to realize I’m a lesbian and come out, and when I’m watching 35-year-olds play high school sophomores it’s easy to ride that frustration — but when I look at Kate and I think about being in high school, I’m like, man, I was just a baby.” This show made me both wish I’d been braver back in high school and also extremely realize that everyone is just a little baby in high school! And also that it’s not just garden variety bravery that you need — you need the sort of burning, Gryffindor Emily Fitch/Emily Fields/Kate Messner running headlong into danger, pierce your own damn nose kind of bravery. I feel like I’m maybe getting to a place where I can respect that and think it’s amazing while also being ok with the fact that I was always going to play by the rules/follow the script in high school (and for some time afterwards) and only slowly slowly come into myself/my sexuality.

    I also agree re being nervous about the slighted white guy. I also cried a LOT at the second-to-last episode (where Kate confronts Luke about breaking up their parents and gives him that speech on the bridge), and somehow had a hard time shaking the emotional hangover from this show in general, which is strange, because it’s mostly pretty light, and it has an adorable queer happy ending! I think it’s because, happy ending aside, so much of the ~thesis, or ~worldview of the show, sort of, seemed to be about misunderstandings and missed connections. The whole episode with the field trip was just people reaching out and being rejected (in friendship, familial love, crushes, and also just the most basic kind of connection of like, wanting to go to the hotel game room), and being in such pain but then turning around and unintentionally/cluelessly hurting someone else in the exact same way, and on and on. I’m not mad about it, because it felt soo true to high school, just like Emaline lightly bullying Kate because she saw herself/her own sexuality in her, or Luke being an asshole because he’s blind to anything but his own pain. Like, *real*, but kind of a huge fucking bummer. Did you guys feel that way?

    • YES HELLO I did indeed feel that way. Like it wasn’t this big blow-out drama but the drama that was there, as you said, felt so real that it hurt more. It’s like, Pretty Little Liars throws a bunch of knives at you, right? Some of them hit and some of them hurt but some of them graze the surface and some miss altogether. And sometimes it’s wailing on you over and over with a knife but it’s one of those trick knives so you’re like “what even are you doing right now?” But Everything Sucks shoved a knife quietly but deeply right into your gut. The big issue with this metaphor being of course that I loved it haha ANYWAY lengthily and emotionally written response to your belated comment done now thanks for listening

      • Yes!! So true. Like, you’re MAD at stupid Ezra for telling Emily that some people have real problems, and you’re sad and worried when Spencer is wandering around the woods after some maniac in her boyfriend’s face has burned down a barn (or something??), and you want Mona to just push A off a moving train platform once and for all, and that’s not even getting into Maya and Paige, so it’s not that you’re not having feelings while watching PLL. But you’re so right — they don’t stick the same way. It’s like, a flashy light show (that has real things to say about misogyny/the patriarchy/what our society does to girls..at least sometimes), whereas Everything Sucks is a slow burn. It’s almost like the message about the ~cycle of pain, or whatever, is underlying every single thing that happens, including the romance, so even in the cutest moments you’re sort of chased by this generalized dread/sadness about (what they seem to think is) the nature of human relationships. Maybe that’s also part of why the ending is so sweet but also feels so vulnerable/fragile, because you see the happy thing happening, but at the exact same time you glimpse in the background/foreground/waiting in the wings at least 3 hurting people who will undoubtedly go messily stomping about to make their pain known and probably make everyone else hurt in the process, and then the cycle will continue and continue. Gah, I’m getting sad just thinking about it again.

        On the flip side, though, it does make a really strong case for being gentle with people and pushing for other people’s happiness whenever you can. Usually shows that do this in either sort of ham-fisted well-intentioned Very Special Episodes about how the weirdo/queer/loner is actually hurting too and deserves your pity, OR in a gross way where the weirdo/loner is a misunderstood white boy who then immediately gets violent but you’re still supposed to feel sorry for. Who knows what’s to come, but I felt like in this first season they did a really good, pretty subtle and real-feeling job of making you empathize with everyone, even the homophobic religious girl, the clueless dorky principal/dad, and, yes, the slightly-creepy slightly-entitled white guy who doesn’t get the girl. Even the fact that Emaline was so mean when we first met her, and still seems so imperfect, fits in with this flip-side of their vision (that most people’s bad behavior is due to their own pain and they deserve a second chance or at least sympathy).

        Hmm ok that was long and I still haven’t even fully thought/felt through it all yet.

        (Thnx for indulging my belated emotions).

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.