Over the years, there have been numerous TV series portraying teenage life, from British classics Skins and Waterloo Road to big hits like Euphoria and Sex Education. After so many shows focusing on the topic, it does beg the question: is this genre overdone?
The new kid on the block (kind of) is Heartbreak High: Netflix’s reboot of the 90s Australian classic that aired for seven seasons and has been praised for its gritty depiction of teen life in Sydney. This September, Hartley High made a comeback, but this time with increased diversity, social media, and a lot of new slang.
There’s no debate that high school TV shows are well-trodden ground, especially when this one, in particular, is a reboot of its 90s predecessor, but, at this point, does it even matter? Part of the appeal of teen series is that they are relatable for their watchers. Crushes, feeling like a social pariah, discovering a sense of self, arguments with friends, parties, and sex are almost all universal experiences for teenagers during their secondary and high school years. Therefore, the shows depicting them are arguably merely mirrors for young adults to watch their lives through.
With Euphoria-inspired makeup, a sex education class echoing the detention scene of The Breakfast Club, one would think that this would put Heartbreak High in the background of Netflix shows… but this isn’t the case. The series has garnered over 33 million hours of viewing time and 100% on Rotten Tomatoes so far. NME has even called it the “new gold standard for the genre” but if that hasn’t convinced you to watch it yet, then read on for more.
Despite the show approaching familiar territory, there is a freshness to Heartbreak High that goes beyond the soundtrack and the Australian Gen-Z slang. Most noticeable was the non-binary and autistic representation through the characters of Darren (James Majoos) and Quinni (Chloe Hayden). Majoos is openly non-binary and Hayden has a TikTok account documenting her experiences with autism which has a following of 500,000. Both actors, along with lead Ayesha Madon, were cast before the script was written and had a considerable amount of input into their characters.
Fans have also been praising the other main queer, people of colour, and first-nations characters starring in the show since Australian productions aren’t usually known for their diversity. Most importantly, however, as NME so aptly puts it: “The show lets each character breathe without burdening them only with identity plots”. This was also emphasised by the casting of lesser-known actors in the lead roles: Madon had had only one acting credit prior to Heartbreak High and Majoos had not had any. That being said, you certainly wouldn’t notice it from the acting performances delivered by both.
The directors did a commendable job of creating a realistic high school universe where “every sex act, however obscure, has a name, astrology is serious, and self-helpisms are real speech”. It didn’t feel like these things were shovelled in unnecessarily by writers from another generation, but rather that a lot of the dialogue could have come from actual teenage conversations.
It is also worth pointing out that the teenagers’ outfits were admirable as they were original and eye-catching but felt realistic enough that teenagers would actually wear them to high school. NME described the show as having a “vibrant world where even the extras dress with main-character flair” which was certainly the case.
So is Heartbreak High worth your time? Having a backdrop other than the U.K. or the U.S. was definitely refreshing, as were the characters and the representation. Overall, the plot is engaging, the show is fun, and it makes me want to relive my teen years (to some extent!). If you’re a fan of teen high-school series and are looking for some nostalgia of your secondary-school years, then you should definitely rack off and open Netflix right now.