There’s an indelible scene early on in Netflix’s new, ‘90s-infected series, Everything Sucks!, where the protagonist, high-school freshman Luke O’Neil (Jahi Winston), recreates Oasis’s music video for “Wonderwall” and broadcasts it for the entire school to see, after which he breaks character to ask out sophomore Kate Messner (Peyton Kennedy). Like many aspects of the show, it’s cringe-worthy, saccharine, woefully unfunny and so overtly and extremely “nineties” that it threatens to overwhelm even the most nostalgic amongst us. But it’s also weirdly perfect, if only because of the enduring, endlessly referential power of “Wonderwall.”
The series takes place at Boring High School, in 1996. Any hopes that the name of the high school indicates a sort of cheeky self-awareness on the part of its creators are quickly dashed; the name of the town is Boring, Oregon, and the show is defiantly not a spoof, nor a parody, nor even a subtle play on its predecessors. With its trio of nerdy-nice A.V. Club boy leads, the show is so obviously derivative of Freaks and Geeks—a fact the creators do nothing to acknowledge or improve upon. The result is a less humorous, unimaginative replica of a show about high school in the ‘90s, mostly sapped of any of the original’s charm.
To be fair, though, the series does make an attempt to tell a high school story not even Freaks and Geeks would’ve touched at the time of its creation. Luke, the protagonist, is black, with a working single mom and a (white) absentee father. Kate, his love interest, who wears flannels and jeans and waxes poetic about Tori Amos, is a lesbian. This would make for the stuff of great drama were it not for the fact that the plot seems merely retrofitted onto a facsimile of a series that already exists. (That the actors who portray them are given so little to work with does not help.)
Luke meets Kate in A.V. Club, and falls for her almost immediately. When he invites her over to his house so he can clean one of the school’s cameras, he gives her a CD of Oasis’s classic album, What’s the Story (Morning Glory)?, that came in the mail. He already has a copy, he explains. At school soon after, in the girls locker room, the Shakespeare-reciting vixen Emaline (Sydney Sweeny, one of the show’s few bright spots) takes Kate’s hand and puts it on her breast, and then tells everyone Kate grabbed her boobs. Ostracized, Kate takes to wallowing on the stairs—a classic spot for adolescent wallowing—and listens to music on her Walkman. Luke comes by to comfort her, and Kate tells him that “track 3 is kind of saving my life right now,” before giving him her headphones so he can listen. Of course, track 3 of What’s the Story (Morning Glory)? is “Wonderwall.” And of course it would be “Wonderwall” that’s “saving her life.” As the song floods Luke and the viewers’ ears, it becomes clear he’s having an epiphany. Naturally, Luke decides to create a kind of homage to the music video as a ploy to ask Kate out.
“Wonderwall” is, in many ways, the perfect high school song, particularly for those who grew up with it. It’s a ballad that can feel like an anthem, a yearning declaration of vulnerability tinged with enough angst to make its latent sincerity bearable. These are things that appeal to high school kids, of any generation, color or creed, who often don’t have the words or gall themselves to admit what they want—to admit that they sometimes need saving.
The undeniable emotionality of the song is such that every time you hear “Wonderwall” it feels like a reference to the last time you heard “Wonderwall.” Other great songs, particularly those with a campfire-y, sing-along quality, do this, too. But “Wonderwall” is different, at least to the generation for whom Everything Sucks! is presumably made; to me, the experience of playing and listening to it is a somewhat conscious attempt to recapture the experience of the first time you heard it, and who you heard it with. “Wonderwall” plays on a regenerative well of built-in nostalgia; the song has a half-life of pure, adolescent feeling.
It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that people feel like they have a special relationship to “Wonderwall.” Recently, on a family vacation in Costa Rica, I was hanging out with a group of teens my brother’s age—roughly 18 and 19-year-olds (I’m 26). To my surprise, they kept on requesting “Wonderwall" at the resort's makeshift dance club. My brother, and the guy of a similar age whom he’d just met, both told me that “Wonderwall” was the song their respective fraternities played at the end of parties.
“But it’s our song,” one of them countered, when I said I’d had enough of hearing it.
“Dude,” I said. “It’s everyone’s song.” From the look on his face, you might’ve guessed he’d just found out Santa Claus didn’t exist.
Luke’s rendition of “Wonderwall” in Everything Sucks! is almost unbearably mawkish. He’s so boldly putting himself out there to ask a girl out in front of the entire school, you can’t help but feel embarrassed for both of them. Yet the obvious choice of “Wonderwall" managed to stay true to its helplessly sincere protagonist, as well as its viewers' desire to re-experience that brand of teenage vulnerability. Of course Luke would think that this was “their song” and “their song” only. We all did.