At Boring High School it's the theater kids who rule the school — or at least they think they do. Netflix's charming '90s coming-of-age comedy, Everything Sucks!, examines typical teenage ennui and awkwardness through the eyes of the freshman geeks who sit at the bottom of the social hierarchy and the drama freaks who regularly make their lives a living hell by doing the absolute most at all times.
Everything Sucks! is My So-Called Life with even more Tori Amos references, where the mean girls aren't so much mean as they are misunderstood and the bad boys act rebellious so that no one can ever get too close. And some of the best people are the nerds no one else wants to talk to.
MTV News chatted with the Drama club's self-appointed king and queen, Elijah Stevenson (Oliver) and Sydney Sweeney (Emaline), to talk about their characters' insecurities and fashion inspirations, the '90s slang they still don't understand, and what they would tell their high school selves now.
MTV News: I love that the theater kids are kind of the villains in this show. It's a narrative we don't often see in pop culture.
Sydney Sweeney: It's more like we think we're cool, but we're not cool at all. That's why it comes off like we are the villains. We put so much of ourselves out there because we want the attention so badly, and people are just like, "Whoa."
Elijah Stevenson: We're a little much.
MTV News: So where do the theater kids at Boring High fit within the overall high school hierarchy?
Sweeney: We're at the bottom. Drama club is just slightly above AV club.
Stevenson: Do you think we're outranked by Chess club? Chess Club is probably at the bottom.
MTV News: At least you guys look cool.
Sweeney: Everyone looks cool in the '90s.
MTV News: Speaking of, Emaline definitely takes style cues from No Doubt-era Gwen Stefani.
Sweeney: Courtney Love and Gwen Stefani, yeah. Emaline dresses completely different than I do. She's really out there with who she is, and she puts on these different personas for different people. I thought her style was so cool, but I would never personally dress like that. I don't have the confidence that Emaline has. Emaline knows how she wants to look and how she wants other people to look at her.
Stevenson: I wear a lot of flannels as it is, so I got to wear even more flannels and comfortable clothes. Nothing was super fitted, so there was a lot of room to move. I wore a trench coat for almost the entire season, and it was a love-hate relationship. It looked awesome, but it was really warm — too warm.
MTV News: It does feel like Emaline is playing a different character in every episode.
Sweeney: She doesn't know who she is, so she tries to be other people, specifically the people she thinks everyone else wants her to be.
MTV News: What's the verdict on Gwen Stefani's baby hair buns? They looked really cool, but I'm sure they were a nightmare.
Stevenson: You kept tell me that they were hurting...
Sweeney: They were hurting really bad! I didn't like all my hair up in it, but I did like it when it was just the couple in the front and long in the back because I loved my hair big like that. I wish my hair was as big as Emaline's hair every day. It was so cool.
MTV News: Were you guys theater kids in school?
Stevenson: I didn't really do it in high school, but I was in theater in middle school.
MTV News: Why not high school?
Stevenson: It's not cool to be in theater in high school. Or at least that was my high school experience. Everyone would be like, "There are those weird theater kids." I avoided that at all costs.
Sweeney: I was on the math team, and I was on the soccer team. I'm a huge nerd. I was actually valedictorian of my class.
MTV News: Where does the math team rank on our hierarchy?
Sweeney: I don't even want to think about it!
Stevenson: The math team isn't even on the hierarchy. It's its own entity. If you're going to be a mathlete, you have to have something to counteract it, like soccer.
MTV News: How hard was it to be so mean to Jahi [Winston], who plays Luke? Because you guys had to be really mean to him.
Stevenson: I'm glad to say that it was really fun. I really enjoyed that. There's something really fun about being mean.
MTV News: The show features a lot of '90s slang. What was the weirdest thing you had to say?
Stevenson: I remember when you had to say apple-bobbing, and we had to look it up.
Sweeney: OK, so, when our characters were playing spin the bottle, they were making us say the weirdest things. And we could not stop laughing. There was apple-bobbing, pumpkin-patching, heavy-petting... We were like, "Is this what kids in the '90s were into?"
Stevenson: I Googled it because I didn't know what any of it meant. I thought Mike [Mohan, co-creator] and Ben [York Jones, co-creator] were making it up. I didn't know what pumpkin-patching was.
Sweeney: I still don't. Don't tell me!
MTV News: Did you listen to a lot of '90s music behind the scenes?
Sweeney: We played '90s music, we watched '90s movies and TV shows — it was just like summer camp. We got sent a list of movies to watch. We watched 10 Things I Hate About You together.
Stevenson: I took some notes from Heath Ledger. There are a lot of parallels between him and Oliver.
Sweeney: Quinn [Liebling] and I watched Freaks and Geeks together. And I went through and put all of the songs that were in the script into a playlist, and then I added a bunch that I thought Emaline would listen to, like Oasis, Nirvana, Fun Lovin' Criminals, Weezer, Tori Amos, The Cure, The Smashing Pumpkins, Madonna, Sublime... I still have it on my phone.
MTV News: Despite being set in a different decade, this kind of coming-of-age story is universal. Could you relate to your characters?
Sweeney: One hundred percent. All of the different story lines are so relatable, even though it's in the '90s. Everybody has gone through what one of these characters has gone through. I relate to Emaline and Kate, too. They both feel like outsiders, and I've definitely felt that way.
Stevenson: Even now it's nice to know that I wasn't the only person going through that super awkward, insecure phase. It's a normal part of growing up, and that's our show.
MTV News: If you could go back and tell your high school selves one thing, what would you say?
Stevenson: I would tell my high school self to not worry about who I hang out with as long as they're real people. I tried to hang out with the popular crowd, and for the most part I did, but after high school I don't talk to any of them now. I wish I would have focused more on the authentic friends that I had and still have now. You have to put your time into friends who really care about you.
Sweeney: I would tell myself to not care what other people think and to just love myself. I dealt a lot with trying to make other people happy, and I lost track with making myself happy.