Ask any comedian today and they will tell you…. you have to be extra-careful about the jokes you tell in today’s climate for fear of it creating a firestorm that destroys your career.
That seems to be a memo that was either not received by Heathers, or received and attempted to be turned on its head.
There’s plenty here that feels like a no-go zone, from jokes about suicide, to Auschwitz, the death of Heath Ledger / Robin Williams / Jim Henson (really?), refugees, “poor black kids getting shot” and anybody on the spectrum. Did we leave anything out?
Based on the cult hit 1988 movie of the same name, it isn’t hard to see why it arrives with a troubled history. The US premiere was delayed due to another high school shooting. Despite a statement that Paramount stood by the series, it passed on broadcasting the series (as did Netflix and Freeform) and it is yet to screen in the US. In Australia the series was due to premiere on SBS VICELAND, which I can’t help but feel would have been inappropriate given the way some of the jokes at minorities miss their mark.
Shannen Doherty, an original star in the feature, appears in a cameo as a suicidal mother in the series set largely in 2018. Updates notwithstanding, the bulk of the storyline appears to ring true to the original: Veronica (Grace Victoria Cox) is subjected to peer group pressure by high school bully Heather Chandler (Melanie Field) and her clique of fellow “Heathers” (Brendan Scannell, Jasmine Mathews) until an incident when she and love interest JD (Jason Scully) accidentally kill her.
But in the age of social media, this increases Heather’s posthumous popularity to becoming “the face of suicide.”
“Are we supposed to unfollow her now?” one of her tribe asks.
The script by Jason Micallef is bursting with the most pop-culture references and bitchy put-downs since Glee ended. Many are clearly designed to shock, referencing anal sex, post-queer pro-gun latinos and more. Yet as drama it’s important we like our central characters if the show expects us to keep tuning in, and this is where there are problems.
Veronica begins from a sympathetic position “I’m literally nothing” but is later depicted having quickie car sex and publicly fat-shaming Heather.
Even more perplexing is the the choice to turn minorities into the Heathers clique: queer, black, overweight teens are now bullying the straight-white community, which sounds like a fun dream sequence but completely ignores the reality.
In seeking to subvert what made Heathers so unique this one is crumbling under its own smarts.
I’m also confused about who the show is aimed at. Insta-obsessed teens, most of whom it clearly detests? Gen-X who remember the superior film? No wonder that in an age where shows such as Insatiable and 13 Reasons Why are attracting parental concerns, nervous networks bailed…. even Stan has added a Lifeline contact at the end.
The cast led by Grace Victoria Cox and James Scully rise above the friendly fire, and the lighting and colour spilling off the screen are strong.
But the sum of the parts does not add up to a whole that is particularly funny, leaving Heathers as an adaptation that fails to match a clever original.
Heathers is now screening on Stan.