Heartbreak High

The ensemble is on fire in the energetic, ultra-cool new YA reboot of an Aussie classic.

Reboots really shouldn’t be as good as the new Netflix take on Heartbreak High.

It’s the best YA Australian show in years and worthy of carrying the brand which resonated around the world in the 1990s.

Some shows work because of the writing, the direction or the cast, but here there’s a synergy that combusts on screen to elevate the show to the next level.

Set once again in Hartley High (and filmed in a Maroubra high school as the original), this melting pot of defiant, working class kids ricochets in all kinds of anarchic, omnisexual ways.

The centre of the universe is no longer Nick (as famously played by Alex Dimitriades) but Amerie (Ayesha Madon), a brash, loud teen who has fallen out with her bestie Harper (Asher Yasbincek).

Both are behind an “incest map” mural mapping out who-has-hooked-up-with-whom (shades of The L Word right there), spilling on everybody’s secrets like a sordid Bridgerton gossip sheet. It’s a scandal to rival Knox Grammar, with a veritable dynamite stick lit under the school social structure.

Amerie has managed to piss off most of her classmates in one fell swoop, and her chance to land class heartthrob Dusty (Josh Heuston) is slipping further from view.

“That map is real dog, man. I just think you need to do some work on yourself away from us,” teen lesbian Sasha (Gemma Chua-Tran) tells her.

If anybody is in her corner it’s the street-smart, non-binary teen Darren (James Majoos) whose single parent wants them to spend more time with their father (original cast member Scott Major returning). Darren is also having secret sex with Ca$h (Will McDonald), struggling with his identity.

Proud Bundjalung boy Malakai (Thomas Weatherall) is also drawn to Amerie as she deals with school humiliation, rejection from Harper and little attention from Dusty.

Not to be forgotten is school principal Woodsy (a scene-stealing Rachel House) who clutches her tiny pooch while snapping orders to keep the kids in line, the school funded and cool teachers like English teacher “Jojo” (Chika Ikogwe) to academic curriculum.

There are also further parents and guardians to be found, such as one played by Ben Oxenbould and a grandmother with attitude played by fantastic veteran Maggie Dence.

This ensemble is on fire and they make this series sing.

Ayesha Madon is bolshy, funny, and a loveable geek in Amerie, who handles the scenes of vulnerability and resistance with ease. James Majoos is an absolute find as Darren who, like Glee‘s Kurt Hummel manages to rise above the pedestrian beige of the world around them, with a biting quip or an insight beyond their years.

“We are beautiful exquisite jellyfish. Of course they saw us…,” they purr.

Thomas Weatherall is also solid as the quiet, handsome Malakai who you know Amerie needs to connect with.

The beauty of this set-up is there’s a tapestry of storylines yet to emerge from the talented ensemble, including autistic teen Quinni (Chloe Hayden) chasing Sasha, or Ca$h fitting in with alpha-male mates as they break the law.

Creator Hannah Carroll Chapman and writers Megan Palinkas,Matthew Whittet, Marieke Hardy, Meyne Wyatt, Thomas Wilson White and Natesha Somasundaram have packed a punch into this reboot. They tackle sexuality, consent, peer group pressure, self esteem, inclusion, rejection, family and more.

It bounces along with energy from directors Gracie Otto, Neil Sharma, Jessie Oldfield and Adam Murfet, crackling with a cool soundtrack, and dripping in colour from its production design and costume.

As it nails the language of Gen Z kids, it never loses the blunt Australian flavour for which the original became so famous.

Sure, it’s no longer the unspeakable romance between the original’s teacher and student (how did we ever see that as romantic?), but this Heartbreak High deserves to be seen by fans of Sex Education, Heartstopper, Euphoria and those missing Puberty Blues.

Everything just clicks. An inspired reboot that warrants an early renewal, please.

Heartbreak High is now screening on Netflix.

14 Responses

  1. I take it back what I said about this show. It was much better than I thought it would be. For the first time, I feel seen in the media because of Ca$h!

  2. All seemed a little over styled and try hard in the first few episode to me. Compare it to the opening of Euphoria or Sex Education and you kind of have to wonder whether the producer really got the money on screen in the right places. I’d rather have seen some more innovative photography and direction. Casting seemed good. Looking forward to watching more and being proved wrong though. I’m also definitely not the target audience… whom I’m sure will lap it up.

  3. I binged it in 2 days, I wasn’t even sure it would be any good, but gave it a go, had me hooked from the get go!!
    I was concerned it would be too woke and try too hard, but boy was I wrong, they have created characters that are engaging and who you want to root for. And many overlapping storylines that all tie together superbly!
    The spattering of original characters was great too!
    I can see this being a massive sleeper hit, which I hope means we get a season 2!

  4. Huge breath of fresh air for Aussie dramas, proving we can still do it right. I agree with the synergy comment – everything in this show just works! The story had enough to lure you in, as well as some excellent twists and turns. The series also subverted many stereotypes, such as a male character not being worried about being with a man in a threesome, but concerned that he was losing interest from the girl. When all of this is paired, it really shows what our current dramas have been lacking.

    The characters are complex, well written and exist beyond one “quirk” or their sexuality. We need more of this on our screen! Phenomenal job for one show touch on so many hard-hitting topics – racism, sexuality, inclusivity, disabilities, mental health, crime, social status, class status – but still not come across as woke.

    Well done to all involved.

  5. I was surprised at how good this is. It’s clever and has a genuine lightness of touch befitting the original. It is meaningful without taking itself too seriously, which is what Heartbreak High always did.

  6. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by how much I’m enjoying it, particularly since the trailer didn’t do much for me. There is a real energy in the show and the production values are terrific. It’s giving me some Skins vibes also, the UK teen show from about 15 years ago.

  7. As a kid born in the late 90s, I’ll admit that I can’t compare it to the original but I’ll say how lowkey surprised I was by how much I enjoyed it – to the point of binging it til 3:30am Saturday! I do hope my mutuals will watch & talk about this more than the notorious Byron Baes so it has a chance of season 2 but also for kids in high school? I remember the impact Puberty Blues had in my grade with everyone talking about it and saying “moll”. Also normally I would only praise the actors (which they deserve) but I really need to give props to Hannah & Gracie for being a phenomenal writing & directing combo, would love to follow their future projects!

  8. As I mentioned in a previous post somewhere, the pilot episode is very nearly flawless in introducing all the players. And not a murder mystery in sight, which has become such a work out, unoriginal add on to so many shows of late.
    The word you used in your review David was synergy, this show has it in spades. Writing, direction, acting… everything just gels incredibly well. The writing in particular is superb. I still can’t get over the pitch perfect delivery of “a tongue punch in the fart box”. Hilarious.
    What an unexpected revelation for this entire production. I hope we see more from this talented ensemble and excellent team behind the scenes.

  9. “Set once again in Hartley High (and filmed in the same Maroubra Bay High School as the original),”

    The s Netflix adaption was not filmed at Maroubra Bay High School (I believe it was demolished). The Netflix version was filmed in South Sydney High School (also located in Maroubra)

      1. Technically the first 5 series were filmed at one high school which was “Hartley High” and that got closed/demolished and they moved for season 6/7 to another school which was “Hartley Heights”. So in that universe Hartley High doesn’t even exist anymore but perhaps this one is being filmed at the second school? I haven’t watched the new series.

  10. I thought it was great but it did borrow a lot from Elite. The casting was great but I thought Rachel House was the weakest link. Maggie Dence needs to have a spin off show with her character she was terrific.
    I look forward to another series.

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