The out-of-touch ‘Heathers’ remake was postponed, but most early reviewers would be happy if it never aired. Here are 7 fantastic shows to binge instead.
The Paramount Network said the Heathers remake, originally scheduled to premiere March 7, is being postponed until later in 2018 “in light of the recent tragic events in Florida and out of respect for the victims, their families and loved ones.” If you missed the Heathers pilot, which it must be said was released online after the Parkland shooting occurred, then don’t cry into your pillow. It’s unworthy of the cult classic source material, and it received well-deserved backlash. A plus-size female, genderqueer teen and Black lesbian (whose sexuality is questioned) are now the popular kids in school? They bully, shame and threaten to end classmates’ lives at will, with social media their weapon of choice. Viewers can only shake their heads at the misguided attempt to mock high school culture.
“It seems like the show doesn’t have a particularly strong grasp on the social dynamics it is attempting to satirize,” says Samantha Allen, who wrote a scathing Daily Beast review of the pilot. She notes, “The original Heathers exaggerated the recognizable power dynamics of the average American high school; the new Heathers seems to have invented a fictional status quo in which the marginalized are the new oppressors.” Fictional is key here. For example, in the real world in which we live trans people are bullied and targeted in hate crimes daily; therefore, portraying Heather Duke as an LGBT teen bully, even in satire, is not acceptable, says Jon Imparato, director of Cultural Arts and Education for the Los Angeles LGBT Center, adding that it’s socially irresponsible and exploitative. Heathers regurgitates stereotypes with Heather Duke, creating a caricature that breeds further negativity toward the LGBT community and perpetuates phobias instead of offering insight into lives that many may not understand, but could.
Then there’s the opening scene, with a jarring gun-induced suicide committed in front of a child. Given the current climate relating to gun violence, Jill Murphy, VP and editor in chief of Common Sense Media, says it “feels out of touch” and the series may be lacking in taste. The original Heathers film was violent and, for the time period, shocking. It features guns in school, eating disorders, murder, bullying, homophobia, suicide and suicide bombings. These are all part of reality for teens today, making satire difficult. The team behind the Heathers remake don’t appear up to the task.
The pilot episode does do something well, though. It makes you want to watch teen-oriented programming that’s actually good, with characters who don’t exist solely for shallow shock value. And there’s plenty to choose from over the past three generations. Here are seven favorites.
1. Freaks and Geeks
Demonstrating awkward teen life doesn’t get much better than in Freaks and Geeks. The characters are flawed, trying to find their way in the world, and make mistakes they must confront and reconcile. It’s refreshingly gimmick-free, just an honest take on what happens in high school, regardless of how trivial it may seem years after — for example, getting picked last in gym class. Even though stereotypes exist, there’s a character everyone can relate to. Whether you’re revisiting high school life or in the throes of it, Freaks and Geeks is bound to make an impact. And it’s hilarious, while delivering the important message that sometimes life isn’t.
In MTV’s animated Daria, the intelligent, sarcastic and cynical Daria Morgendorffer rejects the popular crowd, content in knowing that everyone around her is an idiot and she can’t be bothered to participate in their foolishness. Daria doesn’t know it all — she’s a teenager — and the creators of the show are well aware of that fact. Every person in her suburban high school isn’t to be loathed, and the series provides depth to characters who would normally be doomed to clichés. It still exaggerates personalities aplenty, but Daria is a successful satire. Characters grow and change. Maturity is embraced as a positive achievement, as is the melding of differing social circles.
3. Beverly Hills 90210
New kids in school never had such a culture shock as when Brandon and Brenda Walsh walked into West Beverly Hills High School. At the time of its premiere, Beverly Hills 90210 was a guilty pleasure. Over the course of its 10-year run, it would tackle some of the biggest social problems facing teens and adults, such as suicide, domestic violence, eating disorders, gun violence, teen pregnancy, abortion, homophobia, AIDS and date rape. The exploitation of rich-kid culture and the need to overdramatize its flawed world are always lurking in the background, but what Beverly Hills 90210 offers is still relevant today.
In 2010 TeenNick’s Degrassi made history by having a transgender teen character as a series regular. And the show’s creators did it right: Adam was multidimensional. GLAAD provided notes on episode scripts to ensure Adam accurately reflected transgender youth. The series showed that Adam was not solely defined by his transgender identity, and by seeing him deal with the same problems as anyone else, viewers were able to observe that transgender people are just like them. An important message to spread, then and now.
If you want to create drama, have a popular girl’s dad plan to marry her antithesis’ mother. That’s Popular on the surface. Dive a bit deeper and you’ll find a great representation of the ridiculousness of stereotypes that people use against one another. It also has plenty to say about sexual identity, hypocrisy in cliques, body shaming and social hierarchy. The characters — even the outsiders — may seem too glamified, but the message that people should not be judged based on appearances or assumptions shines brightly.
6. Dear White People
Revolving around Black students enrolled at a mostly white college, Dear White People could easily be pigeonholed as a satirical show about race relations. It’s much more. As Matt Zoller Seitz at Vulture wrote, “It’s more of a meditation on identity generally, one that takes into account all of the social and political forces that shape who we are, or think we are,” with musings on power dynamics mixed in. Its plotlines mirror events that have happened or are happening in society, and it just may force viewers to think about what we aren’t talking about — and how we should be.
7. 13 Reasons Why
Recommending 13 Reasons Why for teens is complicated. The far-from-satirical series revolves around Hannah Baker’s suicide. Because she’s taken her own life, the teens who bullied Hannah realize what they did was wrong. Their provided character arcs help us understand why they act the way they do, while not excusing the behavior — positive developments for anyone to witness. But 13 Reasons Why makes Hannah a glorified hero, refusing to judge her actions, and some teens may not be mature enough to see that suicide is never a solution, nor a means of bully payback. However, the show is great for parents or caregivers to watch with teens, as the issues presented can bring about important discussions, even if it’s a simple conversation about what Hannah missed out on when her life abruptly ended.