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‘Everything Sucks’ Delivers A High School Lesbian Love Story Set In The Nostalgic ’90s

Everything Sucks is like a gayer and somehow nerdier version of Freaks & Geeks set in the ’90s. Now on Netflix, the show follows a group of misfit freshmen as they begin their journey through the nightmare that is high school in Boring, Oreg. Along the way, we are introduced to a bunch of cute kids and surprisingly likeable straight adults. Like Degrassi, some of the parents work at the school, and that’s the scenario for resident lesbian character Kate, whose father is the principal.

Kate (played by Peyton Kennedy) is the quiet and somewhat awkward camera person in Boring High’s A.V. Club. She wears flannel, she loves Tori Amos, she’s got a Jonathan Taylor Thomas poster on her wall and she parts her hair down the middle. She’s just about every teen lesbian growing up in ’90s America.

Luke (Jahi Winston) develops a crush on Kate right off the bat, and while he is plotting out different ways to make her his girlfriend, Kate is having the ultimate gay panic. She’s realizing she has a crush on Emaline (Sydney Sweeney), the leading lady of the school’s drama club.

When we first meet Emaline, she’s got a boyfriend, she’s beautiful, popular, and a little mean. She is exactly the girl I would have been in love with in high school.

I found myself experiencing gay panic of my own when I watched Emaline’s reaction to the discovery of Kate’s obvious attraction to her. In one early painful locker room scene, Emaline is exuberantly talking about her breasts with her friends, and poor gay Kate is trying very hard not to look. She’s caught doing exactly that and Emaline, in true mean girl fashion, approaches her, taunts her, and then proceeds to force Kate’s hand on her chest before quickly draws back, and announcing to the entire locker room that Kate has sexually assaulted her.

It all transgresses in the usual way–the old “dyke” written on the locker routine and so forth–but we’re soon rewarded with a refreshingly unexpected turn of events that makes Everything Sucks the coming out story lesbians can truly relate to.

Historically, TV lesbians and bisexual women are doomed from the beginning. (See: The OC, The 100, The Walking Dead, even The L Word), so to say I went into this show cautiously is an understatement. I was happy to be proven wrong. More than a few times, it would have been easy to make it about how it affected the young male protagonist to be rejected by a girl who prefers girls, but instead, the writers have given us a truly radical concept–an in-depth look at a young, happy lesbian who tells a boy she’s not interested and then moves on.

The reward is in that, after learning she’s gay, Kate isn’t left agonizing over it, which is groundbreaking in itself. But we also get an incredibly sweet love story that unfolds when Emaline finds herself suddenly single and, during an intimate moment in which Kate’s feelings are confirmed, her own interest in women–specifically Kate. Before that vulnerable moment, Emaline’s feelings had only been hinted at and layered under showy cruelty. Not ideal, but a truthful depiction of internal homophobia.

From this moment on we are treated to a story that isn’t about being gay and hating it; it isn’t about the straight girl falling for the gay girl or vise versa. It’s simply about two young people who like each other and decide they’re going to give it a shot.

In addition to the fairly uncomplicated lesbian love story, Everything Sucks gives us levity in the types of moments we don’t often get to see–from the horrifying experience of Kate caught almost masturbating to a nude magazine by her father (to which he promptly chalks up her oogling a naked woman to body issues), to the incredibly satisfying and relatable scene where Kate tears down all the posters of boys on her bedroom walls in order to replace them with those of women.

Kate’s story is handled with impressive sensitivity. The attention given to moments of quiet resonance that gradually evolve to that of discovery and self-acceptance are a real treat to watch, thanks in large part to Peyton Kennedy’s ability to convey so much while saying very little. It’s also a testament to the show’s integrity, for Everything Sucks to not be so in love with itself that it tries to teach the audience a lesson, or attempt to prove anything other than the normalcy by treating Kate like the other kids, and not like the token lesbian.

Show creators Ben Jones and Mike Mohan have gifted us the 90’s romcom every teenage lesbian was thirsty for but never got, dance and kiss to Duran Duran included. Truly, that is all any of us ever wanted in high school, because a private dance in an empty auditorium and a sweet make out sesh to “Ordinary World” is the gay equivalent to Jake and Samantha kissing to The Thompson Twins in Sixteen Candles. Happy binging.