There are plenty of things to love about Netflix’s latest original series, Everything Sucks!, but the shameless amount of nostalgia the show banks on in every scene could be its greatest achievement. Sure, we could wax poetic about the character arcs of Luke O’Neil (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) and Kate Messner (Peyton Kennedy) and coming-of-age narratives and teenage angst but let’s get down to business and talk about all of the killer ’90s references that will likely make many yearn for the acne-riddled, hormone-driven days of their youth.
Here for you now, an alphabetized catalog of all of the ’90s throwbacks in Everything Sucks!
“All That And A Bag Of Chips”
Learning to “speak ’90s” is like learning to speak a foreign language. There are so many phrases and idioms, someone should teach a college course in it. Saying someone’s “all that and a bag of chips” means not only are they awesome or cool, they’re a step beyond. It’s like when you order a sandwich for lunch but decide to make your meal even better by adding on a side, preferably of chips. You can replace “chips” with anything really but then again, why? If it’s cool enough for the AV club at Boring High, it’s cool enough for us.
There are plenty of great ’90s musical references in Netflix’s Everything Sucks!, but Tori Amos doesn’t just lend a few songs to the show’s soundtrack. She’s a vital piece of the puzzle in a central character’s coming-of-age, coming out storyline. The singer/songwriter gained fame in the early ’90s thanks to her soulful lyrics about feminism, sexuality, abuse, and the struggle to establish an identity — all things that resonate with angsty teenage girls.
Before Netflix and Hulu and Redbox there existed a magical place where movie lovers of all ages could convene to browse aisles of films in search of the perfect Friday night flick. Sure, sometimes you’d check out Pulp Fiction and realize someone had mistakenly placed a copy of Flipper in the case when you popped it into the VCR. But if you were a teen in a small town, the local Blockbuster became your own dingy-carpeted, badly lit nightclub after 7 pm. Or, if you’re Luke O’Neil, it’s where your deadbeat dad escapes to in order to “realize” his Hollywood dreams.
If you were a ’90s chick like Kate Messner, you probably owned a transparent plastic landline at some point. Sure, this trend carried over from the ’80s – the neon gives that away – but it was pretty rad a decade later too. Maybe, somewhere in our subconscious, we liked seeing the inner workings of a machine that fueled our social life. It’s like looking under the hood of a car or watching a time-lapse video of how braces straighten teeth. Everyone’s done that right? Not just me? Cool. Moving on.
The term “Coolio” was both an affirmation and a nod to a cultural icon. Coolio the rap artist gave us the ultimate ’90s hip-hop ballad “Gangsta’s Paradise” a moving ode to life on the streets. “Coolio” the phrase was just a more gangsta way to say “fine.”
There were two types of ’90s kids: those that mastered the use of “coolio” and those that had reached a level of acceptance when it came to their nerdiness and bravely repped team “cool beans” instead.
When Emaline, Boring High’s resident drama club bad girl, shows up to a day of shooting in full-goth gear, Everything Sucks! drops a reference to the greatest teen witch movie ever made. If you happened to have the bad luck of being born after the ’90s, and therefore never introduced to said witch movie, maybe the reference went over your head. Let us explain: The Craft is a ’90s teen drama that follows a young girl who transfers to a new high school, befriends a badass group of chicks who practice witchcraft for fun and worship the devil in their free time, and who help our young heroine tap into her own dormant powers. There’s some betrayal and evil sorcery and murder involved too, but whatever your feelings about the plot of the film, the fashion has never been up for debate.
Scientists have yet to discover why ’90s youth preferred to phonetically abbreviate definite articles but origin stories aside, “da bomb,” which meant something was so stellar it could potentially combust from coolness, was a phrase every kid in middle school uttered at least five times per day, on average. It’s a fact. Look it up.
Let’s take a moment to mourn for every child who’ll never experience Dial-Up Internet Access. Before WiFi made connecting to the web easy and commonplace, computers had to tap into phone lines in order to bring us online. That minute-long wait, that shrill, robotic, soothing melody produced by the gods themselves, that slow-loading page teasing us with just a few pixels at a time, it was all part of the excitement, the anticipation, the foreplay of the net.
A true ’90s kid owned no less than seven flannel shirts, one for each day of the week. It was a kind of unofficial school uniform, a way to look cool without seeming to care too much. It was lumberjack chic meets Kurt Cobain grunge: comfortable, unruly, preferable unwashed and a bit wrinkled. It was the checkered flag of a generation worn on the backs of misunderstood youths. It. Was. Glorious.
Slang meaning “for sure” or “great,” this particular ’90s phrase was often overused by delusional white guys who thought they possessed more melatonin and swag than they actually did.
The early ’90s knew what kids needed. Sure, we like fruit juice, but Snapple was your grandma’s drink. For a generation so steeped in effortless cool and rebellious experimentation, only a beverage as bold, trippy, and unashamedly obnoxious as Fruitopia would do. The Coca-Cola-backed soft drink was an enticing blend of soda, juice, and a sh*t ton of sugar which is probably why every school in America had their own Fruitopia vending machine. It was the social currency of the lunchroom, the academic fuel of the classroom, and a liquid slice of heaven just too sweet for this world. Let’s all pour one out for Strawberry Passion Awareness. You were taken too soon.
Things that are “grody” (an incomplete list): public bathrooms, those pimple-popping videos on YouTube, dog poop on the sidewalk, toe cheese, Donald Trump’s toupee… you get it.
Jolt was a beverage ahead of its time when it first made an appearance in the ’80s but on Everything Sucks!, teachers and kids alike recognize the power of a soft drink that promises “All the sugar, twice the caffeine.” It’s the secret for staying up long hours to finish your AV club’s B-grade sci-fi space film and the energy aid to help you deal with crushing on a girl who’s actually a lesbian and has no interest in sucking face with you.
Jonathan Taylor Thomas
These days it’s Harry Styles and K-Pop but in the early ’90s there was only one heartthrob every girl with a Teen Beat subscription fantasized about and it was Jonathan Taylor Thomas. JTT was a baby-faced boy-next-door type who starred on shows like Home Improvement and in films like Tom and Huck. He even voiced Simba in Disney’s The Lion King, so there’s that boxed checked. (Like Kate on Everything Sucks!, I too had an oversized poster of JTT holding a puppy plastered on my wall but, sadly, it took me much longer to realize my hormonal teenage-self would never have a future with a smooth-skinned, dog-loving God like Jonathan — and it wasn’t because I was a closet lesbian.)
Look! was like the In-N-Out of chocolate bars. Confined mainly to the West Coast, the decadently rich bar filled with a chewy, peanut nougat was the OG Snickers.
Pizzerias rank high on the list of snack foods that still haunt ’90s kids as adults. A close cousin to the Dorito, this triangular crunchy chip covered in spicy pizza flavoring was so beloved that today, petitions and entire Facebook groups exist to bring them back. May the Keebler elves hear your cries, you champions of snack.
Slap bracelets were a particularly troubling ’90s jewelry trend that encouraged wearers, mainly young girls, to participate in self-mutilation in order to look cool and hip. (In my case, the moldable wrist accessories were also the cause of more than a few trips to the office for minor assaults against classroom douchebags, so it’s probably best this brightly-colored weapon is no longer allowed in schools.)
Like Jolt, Surge was a cult-favorite among the alternative soda crowd. Sure, Mountain Dew was tastier and even more terrible for you, but it was mainstream. For the punks and the anarchists and the ’90s teen revolutionaries, Surge was the drink of choice. A knockoff with attitude, an unapologetically second-rate citrus-flavored soft drink that gave zero f*cks. Surge, we salute you.
One of the greatest gifts of the ’90s was the Tamagotchi – an egg-shaped device that housed a virtual pet and was the biggest middle finger an angsty pre-teen could give to parents who refused to buy a real f*cking animal for their kid to play with. Watching a tiny blob hatch from an egg on screen, eat pixelated loafs of bread, turn left and right, and shit all the time was stressful and fun, until you realized years later that there was a trick for potty-training the damned thing and now that childhood bond with your virtual pet is ruined forever.
Sure, Trolls are cute and commercially successful again thanks to Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake and DreamWorks Animation. But before that, trolls were just creepy, half-naked dolls with badly kept hair and big eyes. Why kids spent money on them remains a mystery.
Video Home Systems existed before DVDs and Blu-rays and streaming came around to make movie-watching easier, quicker, and more efficient. A VHS required patience and technological know-how, and it involved minutes spent rewinding or fast-forwarding through film tape, and sitting through gritty picture quality and warped sound effects. It’s also, to this day, the best way to watch a movie.
I’ve heard plenty of adults lament about kids these days always plugged into their phones, playing their music too loud and too often, shutting out the rest of the world, but I’ll remind everyone that in the ’90s, when Walkmans were a thing, we all lived with headphones on. Of course, we also had to pop cassettes in, rewind them, and hope to God the tape hadn’t somehow dislodged in order to “jam out,” but this obsession with music isn’t a millennial thing, people. Everything Sucks! proves that.
If you happened to have a fake ID in the ’90s or if your local liquor store clerk just didn’t give a sh*t, Zima was probably your drink of choice. Because let’s be real: every teenager has terrible taste in alcohol. Luke knows this, which is why he makes a peace offering to the drama club with a six pack of the alternative, carbonated boozy beverage. With an ABR of just 4.7%, we’re better off without this overly-sweet monstrosity.