A series reboot rarely comes close to the original. At best, such a new version of an old hit is pleasantly familiar but not innovative. At worst, it’s a reheated leftover that relies mainly on the nostalgia sauce poured over it. Sauce that turns out to be a bit stale after a few bites.
It is therefore striking that Heartbreak High, the Netflix reboot of the 1990s Australian hit series of the same name, feels as fresh and contemporary as the original did nearly thirty years ago. Mainly because writer and showrunner Hannah Carroll Chapman — a big fan of the original — decided early on in the making that she didn’t want to make a reboot for the longtime fans. Instead, she wanted to give the current generation of teenagers what they had when they were their age: their own Heartbreak High.
So the idea of inviting a different actor from the original to guest star for each episode was scrapped, and we looked at what the teen series could be in the future. nineties so special to many viewers: an unusually diverse cast, a much more raw depiction of a high school than was the norm on television until then, lots of Australian subcultures and slang (the words ‘rack off’ came up several times in each episode) and a few attractive protagonists.
In terms of diversity it does Heartbreak High of 2022 not inferior to the original. The new series only feels a lot less raw, although this is mainly due to the glossy filter that now seems standard for Netflix series and makes the whole happy and light, no matter how serious the subjects are sometimes.
Sexuality and gender
Where the students of Hartley High in the 1990s mainly encountered class differences, in 2022 the focus will be more on sexuality and gender. A strikingly large proportion of the characters will describe themselves as queer, and several of the main characters are non-binary. Something that the youngsters do not find more than normal among themselves, only the parents now and then have some difficulty with the chosen pronouns.
Much of the drama in the first season revolves around the discovery of something the students have dubbed an “incest card,” a huge mural in an abandoned school stairwell detailing which students have engaged with each other and which sexual acts. they performed (these are shockingly many, all with the most bizarre names). The discovery of the map will force all students on the wall to attend the hastily-created “sexual literacy tutorials” twice a week — a class that the teens quickly turn to SLTs (pronounced ‘ sluts’) is renamed.
Because the focus is so clearly on sexual development, the new Heartbreak High cannot escape comparisons with other (teenage) series of the moment – especially the hit series Sex Education and Euphoria which indeed it resembles a lot (although it is not nearly as dark as that last title). That’s not a bad thing in this case. Heartbreak High bursting with characters you’ll instantly love, and storylines that keep you hooked episode after episode. Exactly what a good teen series should do.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of September 21, 2022