TV review: Heathers (2018) – Premiere

Adam Lowe

Adam Lowe

Adam Lowe is an award-winning author, editor and publisher from Leeds, now based in Manchester. He runs Dog Horn Publishing and is Director and Writing Coordinator for Young Enigma, a writer development programme for LGBT young people.
Adam Lowe

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Sigh. Oh, Heathers. Heathers, Heathers, Heathers! Fuck me gently with a chainsaw – you’re awful.

As Heather Chandler asks (rather painfully), when JD and Veronica storm in, ‘What the queef is this?’

I can’t even. The depths of noxious hatred and Trumpian glee exhibited by this brain-dead, shambling resurrection are repulsive in themselves, but when attached to the carcass of what was a classic film, they become something even more grotesque.

It’s not the murder that’s questionable in itself – although we’ll get to the issues behind the murder shortly. I can handle blood and guts.

It’s not even the repugnant behaviour of the characters – which was frankly expected.

No, it’s the message that the show seems to bask in: kill the weirdos and take back power for the ‘normal’ kids. Or put another way: make our high schools great again!

I should point out that nobody actually dies in this opening episode (that’s a red herring which is quickly tossed aside), but the whole 40-odd minute run is a sequence of murder fantasies by white America of its marginalised youth.

Where the movie had a relatively realistic world, shot through with dark surrealism, nothing in this episode feels particularly real. We can’t recognise these characters. As such, the show feels unable (or unwilling) to take on the big issues it needs to.

In Heathers (the good one), it’s the jocks, queen bees and bullies who die. Those who wield and abuse their power are targeted by the toxic effects of their own insipid, hierarchical and divided culture.

In the original, JD is the typical profile of your American high-school mass-murderer: a strange white boy with access to guns. He’s the young American Psycho.

Veronica, meanwhile, is a weapon of the Heathers’ own creation – a mean girl with one foot out the door and a persecution complex. She sees the callousness at the heart of the popular kids (the people in charge who lack empathy for others), but recognises it in herself too. Like all of us, she’s part of the system that oppresses so many.

In the end, Veronica gives up the vapid, mean-spirited lifestyle of the Heathers and joins her old childhood friend, Martha ‘Dump Truck’ (a reference to the working class as well as fuller figured, perhaps?). Oh, and she shoots JD, though non-fatally, and forces him to reconsider his plans for massacre. Instead, he blows himself up while Veronica lights a cigarette on the blast.

The outcasts triumph. Veronica has obtained a new kind of power – one that recognises her fellow humans as equals. It’s not that everyone gets along, but they do begin to empathise a little more.

This ending replaced an alternate one that would have seen the school razed and all the various cliques finally getting along in Heaven. But it was changed to give a more upbeat ending. And rightly so.

In Heathers 2.0, the outcasts run the roost and the poor, oppressed, cis white kids get to kill those evil queers, fatties and blacks!

By swapping the power dynamics to a frankly delusional set-up where the queers and POCs rule with an iron fist of bullying political correctness, the whole thing feels like an alt-right circle jerk.

It’s so utterly offensive because it presumes the most oppressed group is the white, all-American, able-bodied, well-off, cis, straight man. When a jock is ridiculed for wearing a sports jersey, it’s clear in that moment that we’re supposed to feel empathy with him, not the gay, trans or black kids who bully him.

The adults are stupid as always. That part stays the same. But as they trot out their ignorant claptrap, it becomes clear there isn’t much of a contrast between them and the kids. Really, everyone’s thinking the same thing: different is cool, and the minorities rule.

Maybe it’s just executed badly. Maybe the LGBT people involved in the show were writing a kind of wish-fulfilment where we have all the power and get to stick it to those who’ve tormented us in the past. If so, they’ve failed to make us empathise with this clique.

Unlike Mean Girls, where our villains are actually pretty funny (we get to laugh with them as well as at them), the Heathers are vacuous try-hards.

Veronica lacks the moody charm of Winona Ryder, although actress Grace Victoria Cox mimics her in places, even echoing her voice while she stands over Heather Chandler’s body. She comes across as petulant and privileged.

The Heathers, meanwhile, are plastic, shiny caricatures of what the tabloids think ‘snowflake’ youngsters are like these days

This is Heathers as rewritten by Milo Yawn-opoulos, where the right is an oppressed minority and ‘regular’ kids are kept in check by shrill social justice warriors.

Except, I doubt the alt-right crowd would really watch this either. The brazen characters and tokenism will likely put them off. In short, it’s a complete misfire, sure to alienate everybody.

There are familiar moments in the show, but where the original was darkly surreal, the new series is merely strange. Where the original film used colours to create a visceral feel, the new version is too neon and polished for its own good.

Heathers worked so brilliantly because it was a high-school movie that really revelled in its grim satire and still managed to be funny. Heathers 2.0 can’t quite manage the same dark humour. It tries, but often feels posturing and ‘edgy’.

I guess what it all comes down to are the jokes. And Heathers just isn’t very funny. Its best moments are those where it apes its cinematic predecessor – but those moments hold no real surprises for anyone who’s seen the film before.

Heathers should be more topical than ever. In fact the rest of the series has been delayed (understandably so) because it has so many overlaps with real events. But instead of the incisive, political, funny series we really needed, the premiere offers something thin, gaudy and cringe-worthy instead.

I want Heathers to work. We need a smart show about young people and their pain. I only hope that when Heathers returns, the opening episode is proved to be a false-start on a much cleverer, sassier journey than we’ve had so far.

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