In Netflix’s new eight-episode UK teen drama series Everything Now, 15-year-old protagonist Mia Polanco (Sophie Wilde) has just returned home after spending seven months in the hospital for inpatient eating disorder treatment. She transitions into an outpatient program while also transitioning back into her friend group, quickly learning that while she was gone, they were plowing through all of those typical rebellious teenage experiences (sex, drugs, etc.) without her. She’s insecure, frustrated and overwhelmed by it all.
Her friend group consists of her best friend, semi-fuckboy Cameron (Harry Cadby), sweet and funny overachiever Becca (Lauryn Ajufo) who’s secretly hooking up with Cam, and funny gay Will (Noah Thomas) who’s possibly discovering he’s demisexual. As they catch up, Mia feels the urge to also literally catch up, thus drafting what becomes known as the “fuck it list,” a to-do list of all the things she thinks teens should do at least once and that she has yet to do herself.
But for Mia, settling into the teen life expected of a protagonist in a sex-filled, party-filled teen series proves challenging. At every turn, she encounters roadblocks to her recovery: triggers, an internal monologue that works against her, fears that she’s somehow failing by no longer doing the one thing she believed she was good at. It’s a painful and authentic representation of just how nonlinear, long, and grueling the road to anorexia recovery can be.
Mia’s interiority and character development is fleshed out by a narration device as well as flashbacks to her time in the hospital. We quite literally get into her head and hear her thoughts, which are often at odds with her outward behaviors and words. She lies — to herself and others. And the narrated monologue device works well to establish some of these stakes and contradictions.
My favorite monologue of the series comes in episode two, when Mia explains her eating disorder stems from much more complicated things than just straightforward body issues and a desire to be thin. In narration while walking through a mall, she says:
People think anorexia is all about wanting to be beautiful, wanting to be thin, and believing they’re the same thing. But it wouldn’t matter how thin I got when I still feel this wrong. Like there’s something missing in me, something that reaches far deeper than delicate hands and elegance and estrogen. You are incorrect, Mia. Incorrectly feminine. You must have been sick that day they taught you how to be a girl. A real girl.
Here, we’re let into the contours of Mia’s mind and her illness, all tied up in gender and other thorny things Mia can’t quite grasp. Everything Now is very queer in the way it tackles eating disorders (and other issues throughout the series, as not just Mia but a lot of the characters are some form of queer).
In another episode, we see a flashback of a very young Mia rejecting a party dress in favor of her dad’s oversized suit, donning an adorable rocker-chic look she feels more comfortable in (and a foreshadowing glimpse of the baggy clothing she prefers to disappear into as part of her eating disorder later on). She cries when people laugh at her, and the only adult who sees it as an opportunity to affirm her is her father (Alex Hassell), who’s often more in tune with what Mia needs than her aloof and semi-famous designer mother Viv (Vivienne Acheampong, who is fantastic throughout).
I’m most interested in Everything Now‘s unflinching determination to portray all its characters fucking up, over and over. Mia, in particular, is no idealized victim. You ache for her throughout the series, are rooting for her. But there are also times when she frustrates, disappoints, hurts. She lashes out at her friends and has outsized rage bursts that end up pushing away people trying to help. Anger is a common side effect in recovery but also just when it comes to eating disorders in general. And sometimes, it’s easy to be angry right there with Mia, especially when the adults around her are fucking up. Her mother Viv pushes her to open up but meanwhile scrapes the cream out of the pastry she’s eating across from Mia, completely unaware of how her own relationship with food might impact her daughter. Everything Now never explicitly addresses this moment with the pastry. Mia never confronts her about it. And I like that storytelling approach so much more than if the show had called more attention to it. Even people claiming to help sometimes do harm. Stephen Fry plays Mia’s doctor, Dr. Nell, and the scenes between them are similarly complex. Mia desperately wants more agency in her situation, and it’s easy to empathize with that. It’s also easy to see all the reasons why her own choices might be self-destructive.
Everything Now places its messy characters in messy situations. There’s plenty of levity, too, but that’s part of its realism. Sometimes people make morbid jokes to cope with bad things. I like that Mia and her friends talk rather openly about Mia’s anorexia right away instead of talking around it. The friend group feels very believable throughout, including (especially?) when they’re having huge fights and hurting each other. But there’s big, big love there, too.
Rage really is one of the most compelling emotions at the center of Everything Now — Mia’s rage but also other characters’, especially her brother Alex’s (Sam Reuben). In a standout episode of the series, we flip the point of view so that we’re getting Alex’s internal monologue as narration instead of Mia’s. Alex often feels like he’s ignored or expected to be easy because his parents only have capacity for Mia. The episode allows him the emotional agency he feels he doesn’t have in life. We watch him confront racist bullies, teenage hormones, and his own anxieties and insecurities, gendered expectations also foisted upon him and internalized. We learn how Mia’s illness and rocky recovery affects him, and the episode does so in a way that doesn’t diminish or demonize Mia but rather just further complicates everyone. Alex keeps his innermost rage so locked up you almost wish he’d let it out, even though it’d cause more harm than good. Everything Now does an excellent job of making each of its characters’ choices and words convincing and understandable — even when they’re at their worst.
The show itself, unfortunately, has some flaws, too. One of Mia’s love interests (she ends up in a sapphic love triangle with TWO other girls) is flip about her eating disorder in ways that never feel fully reckoned with, particularly a line in the first episode. And for a series about eating disorders and body dysmorphia, I would have liked to see more actual body diversity at every level of the cast.
When making art about eating disorders, there’s always a certain calculus one has to do. To portray all the visceral, intimate, hard-to-watch details of eating disorders is to run the risk of potentially triggering folks. Some critics of literature and film/television about eating disorders argue that depicting the various tactics people with eating disorders use could provide a roadmap for mimicked behavior for readers and viewers. At the same time, to soften the edges of the disorder or not show certain things is to downplay some of its severity and obscure the full breadth of the mental and physical harm caused by these disorders. For me, Everything Now finds an impressive balance: It doesn’t romanticize eating disorders, of course, but it also doesn’t sensationalize them. It portrays these mental and physical side effects of Mia’s anorexia (including mouth sores, cracked nails, hair loss, violent mood swings, and more) starkly but without going for shock value. We see the tactics she uses to evade treatment, the things she does in the cover of night and behind closed doors that are all in service of her disorder.
I won’t disclose details, but as someone who has struggled in my relationship with eating and food, I don’t tend to find the art about it to be anywhere near as triggering as everyday interactions with people who comment about the way my body looks and other similar aspects of just regular life. The art I find comforting. The art I find powerful.
But I think it’s important for viewers to know what they’re signing up for here, so I want to be clear that this show does show a lot about what it can be like to live with an eating disorder. If you don’t think that’s something you can watch right now, that’s okay, and you should feel free to opt out. I do think the makers of the show have gone the extra mile to make sure viewers are appropriately warned about the content. None of the promotional materials skirt around the fact that this is very much a series with a protagonist who has just gotten out of an inpatient treatment program for anorexia. Every episode ends with a message detailing a resource for viewers who might have or be close with someone who has an eating disorder, and some of the more graphic episodes open with a content warning.
Queerness throughout the series is never a point of conflict or something that goes unsaid or glossed over. It’s baked into every part of the show. Will’s journey to understand his own feelings about desire and sex is captured with nuance and an organic approach to storytelling that doesn’t feel like Everything Now is just checking off boxes in the LGBTQIA spectrum. Mia’s very queer love triangle makes for teen soap fun, but it’s also wrapped up in some of the other central conflicts of the series.
Mia’s folding back into her friend group isn’t just difficult because she was gone for seven months, but because she was gone for a long while before that, too. Eating disorders take you away from time and space. Life for Mia isn’t going to feel “normal” any time soon, because she’s also having to reconstruct what her own definition of normal even is. In just eight episodes, Everything Now explores so many big emotions and fraught relationships with depth and specificity. Even when it traffics in teen drama tropes, its original voice shines through.