TV

Here’s Why You Probably Shouldn’t Watch That ‘Heathers’ Reboot

In an ocean of mediocre reboots, 'Heathers' stands out for all the wrong reasons.

In an ocean of mediocre reboots of 80s-90s classics, Jason Micallef’s TV adaptation of the 1988 cult classic, Heathers, stands out for all the wrong reasons.

A reimagining of the High School hierarchy in a reality where PC culture has completely taken over, it’s now the white, straight, normal kids who find themselves marginalised and bullied by a gang of genderqueer, plus size girls who use activism as social currency.

Outside Westerburg High School, the home of the Heathers, a school sign reads “just be yourself. Be who you want to be. – Khloe Kardashian.”

Originally set to debut on March 7th, Paramount Network announced that the show’s release would be delayed indefinitely, out of respect for the Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting, as the show featured violence in a school setting.

On June 1, 2018, Paramount Network’s parent company Viacom dropped Heathers entirely, due to its controversial content. Despite the premiere’s cancellation in the United States, the series had already been sold in international markets like Australia where it went on to debut as previously scheduled.

However, it did eventually premiere in the US on October 25, over the course of five nights. But, following the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, they pulled two of the controversial episodes off the air.

Not exactly an auspicious start.

“We’re young, we’re free; let’s snort Adderall, make out and get slushies.”

Seventeen year old Veronica Chandler (Grace Victoria Cox) is friends with the three most popular girls at Westerburg High, who are all called Heather. In this reboot, the students and teachers of Westerburg are all shown to be obsessed with political correctness, identity politics, and social media followings.

But Veronica is different — in her first monologue, she discusses the identities of groups within the school, the “jocks”, the “gay nerds,” the “sluts”, and how weird it is that they all know what they are, and that they all need to be something.

Veronica is, apparently above that. The only identifier she picks for herself is “a good person” and “normal”, skipping over white, straight, and cis.

The new Heathers are different too, and introduced in a montage of pink fur, red lipstick and black leather. The skinny white girls with matching shoulder pads and big hair who ruled in 1988 are gone, replaced by genderqueer Heather Duke (Brendan Scannell), biracial lesbian Heather McNamara (Jasmine Mathews), and plus-size Alpha Heather Chandler (Melanie Field).

Armed with tens of thousands of followers, the Heathers use tone policing, and the threat of being called out and shamed in public or on social media to bully others and entrench their own social status.

Rebellious new kid Jason “JD” Dean (James Scully) makes his appearance (we know he is a rebel because Victoria says “I like your whole ‘rebel’ thing”) and after one short and awkwardly scripted exchange, he and Veronica start dating and begin to establish themselves as rebels against the identity politics used by the alternative Heathers.

When Veronica calls Heather C a “fattie” in a fit of anger, J.D is the one who comes up with a plan to save Veronica from the social media hate mob Heather C has sworn to send after her. It’s at this point that fans of the original film fully grasp short-sightedness of this reimagining, because there is nothing revolutionary about two white, wealthy, slim, heterosexual kids picking off marginalised characters.

“Dear diary, I know murdering someone is totally rude, but isn’t hating on someone for being a murderer equally as rude?”

As the viewer’s access point into the story, you don’t need to compare compare Cox to the original Veronica, Winona Ryder, to see the problem with this version.

Veronica Chandler seems determined to make Bella Swan seem spicy. Her love of ‘normality’ aside, there is so little about her that stands out. She is beyond vanilla. She is past boiled rice. This girl is unflavoured, and Cox’s performance doesn’t offer much relief from the monotony. There is no spark between her and co-star Scully, and when J.D starts to refer to Veronica as “my dear” it’s cringeworthy.

The most disappointing thing about Heathers (and there are many) is that a nuanced, sensitive take on Millennial and Gen Z “call-out culture” and identity had the potential to be both hilarious and insightful. Instead, we are left with shallow, cynical caricatures, too far removed from the generation they portray to be anything but irritating at best and offensive at worst.

For the length of Heathers episode one, any measure of inclusion or activism taken by any of the characters is revealed to be motivated entirely by selfishness or spite, even if the reason was pretty damn solid. They’re all Machiavellian, with none of the determined naivety that makes young people so adept at rebellion.

Lazy caricatures have no impact.

If you want to create satire out of a generation’s beliefs and try to sell it back to them, you should at least check the details. And if you do plan on satirising identity labels, you should at least know what they are: jokes about the LGBTIQA+ acronym fall flat when characters that are supposed to be lingo-savvy are dropping outdated and offensive words like “hermaphrodite” and forgetting that bisexual women exist.

They use a lot of slang and buzzwords that sound like they could almost be queer, but not quite, and some that are not even close: “Suck my third nipple”? “Oh my clit”? No. Not today, Satan.

There are genuine problems with discourse in marginalised spaces. Activists are guilty of falling into a pattern of shaming and judging each other for every mistake, and for tearing people down without giving them an opportunity to learn why people are upset. Particularly, there are issues with tone policing.

But callout culture was developed as a way for marginalised people to hold those with more power to account, to seek changes in behaviour, to raise awareness and tackle ignorance, and above all, to improve things for the community involved. Refusing to even consider a non-selfish, if misguided motivation from any of the characters in Heathers, it seems Micallef failed or forgot to consider why the behaviours he is mocking exist in the first place.

“Well fuck me gently with a chainsaw.”

The original Heathers was a black-comedy examination of teenage groupthink, taking the merciless social hierarchies of high school to reality-shattering extremes.

Heathers was a movie that showed high school not for what it is, but for what it feels like: navigating a minefield of bullying, eating disorders, and uncomfortable sex, all the while knowing you’re only one misstep away from social ruin.

This reboot isn’t about what high school feels like to Gen Z, but about how it looks to older people, where ‘PC culture’ has flipped the status quo and queers reign over with a sparkling fist.
The antagonists of Micallef’s Heathers could have been plucked directly from the nightmares of conservatives, from worlds where queer people aren’t at higher risk of suicide, fatphobia is dead, teenagers are all selfish snowflakes and racism doesn’t exist.

Save your time. Watch the movie instead.

Ruby Susan Mountford is a Melbourne based writer, queer advocate and co-hosts the community radio show and podcast Triple Bi-Pass on JoyFM. They have all the feelings, often simultaneously,and tweets at @RubySusan29.