26 Feb Paramount Network’s ‘Heathers’ Reboot Wants to be More Woke Than It Is
In the era of countless reboots, Heathers is another vessel of reminiscing about the past in order to comment on the present. This second generation of Heathers presents a more diverse type of popular girl in this year’s anthology series based on the 1988 film of the same name. However, the series is not without the flaws of adapting and updating a beloved classic.
Despite their social justice-oriented reign, Veronica Sawyer (Grace Victoria Cox) cannot stomach watching Heather Chandler (Melanie Field), Heather “Heath” Duke (Brendan Scannell), and Heather McNamara (Jasmine Matthews) take advantage of their authority over most of the school. Veronica looks to her new boyfriend, Jason “JD” Dean (James Scully) to end their rule in a violent way.
The show takes the skeleton of its beloved predecessor and creates new twists and turns that allow for it to stand on its own. In the film, the trigger for Veronica is Heather Chandler threatening to ruin her life after Veronica refused to sleep with a frat brother and got sick at a party. However, the updated series starts Veronica’s murderous thoughts after an argument with Heather C. for posting an image of a school athlete wearing a shirt with an offensive mascot. This first altercation illustrates the type of teenage drama the show wants to navigate. The time of bullying surrounding basic white and rich entitlement is replaced with seeking social karma. The show makes it clear that bullying, regardless of reason, is still looked down upon, but it provides a more nuanced and complicated power that Heather C. and company have on their classmates. Further into the series, we see the Heathers knocked off the top of the food chain, which ultimately causes more conservative values to become the popular trend. It is the intertwining of systemic issues that make the drama in the show more than just teenage angst.
With regard to the writing, the dark jokes still get laughs, like the original, but there are times that they fall flat because they border on being offensive. In one scene, Heather C. looks at her parents and asks them to adopt a black friend of hers. When they refuse, she precedes to say, “You guys never buy me anything.” Aspects like that cause the show to lose its self-awareness. A plus-size girl is offended by being called the word “fatty” and calling out racist behavior from other students yet lacks the understanding that she’s insinuating a black girl is potential property. The show stops short of being an honest commentary on the societal expectations of today’s teenagers by, occasionally, committing the crimes that it set to call out. The comedy still strikes like the original because it goes about it without shame, much like the characters; however, it could take a few notes from other modern teenage drama shows on how to play with diversity without tripping over it.
Along with the types of jokes used, the show still recycles some of the memorable quotes from the film that fans still quote to this day. The series is not saturated in them, but they become jarring at times. Different characters use them in different scenarios compared to who says them in the film. If you’re a fan of the movie, it becomes more prominent and forced than it may come off to newcomers of the show.
The quotes aren’t the only carry over from the original. The show does a service to film buffs by showing the color symbolism in each Heather, just like in its counterpart: Heather C. in red, Heather D. in green, Heather M. in yellow, and Veronica in blue. The colors take on definitions of their lives: Heather C. typically reacting to life with frustration and anger, Heather D. being envious of others being on top, Heather M. being seen as happy and having it all but, ironically, suffers the most emotionally, and Veronica being self-righteous in her interactions with the Heathers and other characters. It adds a non-verbal tone to the show that sometimes foreshadows or encapsulates what is happening on screen.
The complexity of this show doesn’t stop at the writing. The talent of the actors allows the show to become its own personality despite being a reboot of another form of entertainment. Brendan Scannell steals the show by balancing Heather Duke’s jealousy, navigating their sexuality, and showing vulnerability. Many of the characters get lost in their own experiences, but Duke has a heightened awareness of those around them, whether it is for vindictive or empathetic reasons. The rest of the cast sit in their characters with a familiarity as if they were in the original cast themselves. The performances allow for the viewer to be entranced by actions of the characters and the witty banter, which will be what gets them to come back for another season.
Heathers successfully executes the act of creating a remake by developing original storylines and motives through the beloved original. Through the use of a talented cast and clever writers, the show becomes a good example of what to do if a production company wants to dig up some nostalgia. Heathers has its damages, but it’s definitely worth a watch.
Watch the Heathers premiere starting Wednesday, March 7th at 10PM ET/PT on the Paramount Network.
Alisha Thompson is a freelance writer in a nomadic state between the Midwest and the East Coast. She is the co-founder of ARTivism Galleries, events dedicated to advocating the importance of art in social spaces. When she’s not writing her opinions about TV or books, she spends her time listening to podcasts and struggling at yoga. If you want to find her feminist rants, you can follow Alisha on Twitter and Instagram at @alishmariet.