- Business Insider spoke to the creators of Netflix’s new 90s comedy, “Everything Sucks!”
- They discussed how they managed being one of Netflix’s lower budget shows by casting locally in the Pacific Northwest.
- They also talked about how they approached writing the show’s central character, Kate Messner, a sophomore in high school who is realizing that she’s a lesbian.
The series follows A/V Club nerds and drama kids from Boring High School in Boring, Oregon (a real town) as they reluctantly make a movie together. It takes place in 1996, and has all the 90s references and 90s songs to constantly remind you of the decade.
Business Insider recently talked to the show’s creators, Michael Mohan and Ben York Jones (who appears in the show as the teacher running the A/V club), about writing a show with 2018 stories set in the 90s.
We also discussed writing for a lesbian character as two guys, casting the series beyond Los Angeles and New York for budget reasons, and the series’ inspiration: It’s a mix of “Freaks and Geeks,” “My So-Called Life,” and a Swedish film from 1998 about a love story between teenage girls.
Carrie Wittmer: “Everything Sucks! ” tells the story of a high-school sophomore coming to terms with being a lesbian, and a black freshman with a single mom. These are both obviously very different experiences than you two had in high school. What kind of research went into getting these stories right?
Ben York Jones: What was great was when we were collaborating with Jahi [Di-Allo Winston] and Claudine [Mboligikpelani Nako], the actors that play Luke and Sherry, is when we rehearsed their scenes, we’d actually rewrite their dialogue together so it felt even more authentic to their experience with little affectations. Like when Sherry refers to Luke as “little man.” That was not us. That was all them.
Michael Mohan: In 1996, even Ellen DeGeneres hadn’t come out yet. So to try and sensibly depict a 15-year-old girl living in Oregon, it just seemed like a very compelling coming of age story that we hadn’t quite seen.
Jones: We had a writers room that was as diverse as we could make it, and everybody contributed to the character of Kate and lent a voice to her arc. We had a representative from GLAAD come in and we got to pick his brain a little bit about what some of tropes were in this kind of depiction. You know, what we might want to steer toward, and what we might want to in turn avoid.
Wittmer: The show’s been getting compared a lot to “Stranger Things.” And it seems like that’s happening simply because this is a Netflix show that has teenagers kids in it, set in another decade. What show or movie do you want the show to be compared to?
Mohan: The obvious comparisons are “Freaks and Geeks” or “My So-Called Life.” “Freaks and Geeks” is like the best high school show ever made. And what’s so great about “My So-Called Life” is that it was one of the first times you saw characters in a very real and grounded way. But the biggest influence for our show is actually this Swedish movie from 1998 called “Show Me Love,” which is just a beautiful coming-of-age lesbian story about a girl living in a small town and just trying to deal with the purgatory of high school.
Jones: Thematically and aesthetically, it probably seems like an outlandish reference, but we both like that filmmaker quite a bit. And that movie in particular is incredibly funny but also very emotionally raw, and we certainly look up to his sensibilities.
Wittmer: You had to cast a lot of kids for this show. What was the casting process like?
Jones: It was indeed extensive. The whole process lasted maybe four months. Amey René, our casting director, she’s based in both Los Angeles and the Pacific Northwest, and she really put out feelers in all four corners. I mean, Peyton Kennedy, who plays Kate, we found in Toronto. And Jahi, who plays Luke, is from Atlanta. The kids are from all over. We saw well over 1,000 kids. In the evenings, there were months and months where I didn’t watch any TV or movies, just two hours of watching audition tapes.
Mohan: We’re one of Netflix’s lower budget shows [Netflix did not confirm this], so we knew that we had to cast a number of roles from the Pacific Northwest. But what was incredible was some of the roles that we weren’t expecting to cast from there, we actually did. Like Claudine who plays Sherry, she’s a woman from the Seattle theater scene up there who came in to read. And originally we figured we’d be casting Sherry from Los Angeles or New York.
Jones: Yeah, we assumed, wrongly. And Claudine came in, who had a bit part on the show “Grimm” and was really known for her work in theater up there. She blew everybody away. Like, everybody. She was for sure the right person and Netflix supported our decision to cast this no-name actor in a lead role.
Mohan: Similarly, Quinn Liebling, who plays Tyler, is from the Pacific Northwest and that was another role we thought we were gonna have to probably cast from New York or LA and we were wrong: We found him right there. I think he’s from a place called like Bainbridge Island.
Wittmer: I think casting outside of New York and LA helped you bring this diverse little group together.
Jones: I’m glad to hear you say that. And to add to that, a lot of our “featured” extras casting, of course, is pulling people from the Pacific Northwest and they add such character and texture to the show.
Wittmer: Is that where you shot the show?
Mohan: Yeah, we shot it in and around the town of Boring, Oregon, which is a real place about 20 miles south of Portland.
Wittmer: There’s a song that dominates each episode and it typically serves as that episode’s theme. Did you think of a song when you were writing an episode? Like the use of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s?”
Jones: Speaking specifically to “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” we kind of imagined that Ken Messner’s personal playlist would be the soundtrack at Applebee’s. So somehow, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which is a catchy and rocking song, became the flagship for Ken’s musical taste. But frequently, needle drops were written into the scripts and were conceived in the writers room.
Mohan: We didn’t know we’d be able to get this much music in the show. I was shocked. Every episode has four or five big songs. But the one that is my personal favorite that derived from our very, very initial inception of this show, is Ace of Base’s “It’s A Beautiful Life.”
Wittmer: That episode made me cry.
Mohan: Oh, that’s good to hear! I mean, sorry.
Wittmer: No! It was tears of joy. I’ve also been on a bus in the 90s singing an Ace of Base song with my classmates.
Mohan: Exactly! And it’s just the perfect song to be like, when the episode begins and everyone’s happy and it’s this bittersweet thing and then the end of the episode when everyone is just destroyed and how that plays in counterpart to that.
Jones: Something about that pop song under images of these depressed teenagers really stuck us as poignant somehow.