Where to begin? The new “Heathers” has a simple message: People from marginalized groups do not deserve to have confidence and should be stopped at all costs. That’s it. Roll credits. I had my suspicions that this would more or less be the central message undercutting the “Heathers” reboot, but I decided to watch it for myself before I crucified it.
It’s crucifying time.
Just in case everyone else forgot (like the showrunners clearly did), the pitch-black humor of the 1987 “Heathers” solely worked because the victims of the murders themselves were horrendous people. They were hyper-privileged, conventionally attractive, evil embodiments of the conformist, white suburban culture the movie set out to skewer. The three Heathers and their comrades having enormous privilege is a non-negotiable factor in constructing the humor of the movie, which is why the universe took a collective side-eye when it was announced that the new eponymous clique would be re-cast with actors who all come from a different marginalized group.
Blonde-haired, blue-eyed, statuesque Heather Chandler has been reimagined as plus-sized and androgynous, yet her cold persona remains. However, rather than her evil energies being directed at nerds and losers, it is being directed at a popular jock for wearing a culturally insensitive shirt. And we’re supposed to hate her. The new Heathers are rounded out by Heather McNamara (Jasmine Matthews, “Sweetbitter”), now a lesbian of color, and a genderqueer Heather Duke (Brenden Scannell, “Bonding”). As aforementioned, the choice to “diversify” the Heathers was eyebrow-raising, a decision that felt like a case of good-intentioned tone-deafness at best. The episode quickly contradicted this perception.
It is very clear that we are supposed to hate the Heathers for supposedly using their “differences” to guilt people into making them popular. Icky. This pilot represents a stark misunderstanding of what marginalized groups mean in terms of better representation and inclusion in media. It also proves to be a missed opportunity for quality content. The new “Heathers” could have easily been a satire on disingenuous allyship that exposed the vapidness that so often lingers beneath the surface. Instead, “Heathers” is an unfunny mess where our villains are minorities who dare enough to not take anyone’s shit, and our “sympathetic” protagonist, Veronica, (Grace Victoria Cox, “Twin Peaks”) is a self-important white woman. Go figure.
In addition to the weak foundation the show is built upon, it also fails to take a solid stance on anything. It attempts to mimic Ryan Murphy’s acerbic wit found in the first seasons of “Glee” and “Scream Queens,” but fails miserably — primarily because from scene to scene it is unclear what they are arguing for or against. Veronica calling Heather Chandler “fatty” is supposed to be lauded, and J.D. (James Scully, “Quantico”), who for some reason is in possession of serious Nazi paraphernalia, is still treated as the unquestionable, smoldering hottie.
For a show that so desperately wants to distinguish itself from its movie predecessor, it still allows the 1987 film to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to characterization. Viewers who have no prior knowledge of the movie would be deeply confused by many elements of the pilot episode. Character relationships, personalities and motivations are murky and hastily thrown at the audience. For example, in the movie, Veronica latches onto J.D. after he pulls a gun on bullies Kurt and Ram; in the show, J.D. just randomly approaches Veronica, a member of a top clique. Based on the politics of Woodcrest High School that the show itself presented to us, this feels unrealistic. In addition to J.D. and Veronica’s torrid relationship feeling rushed and contrived, Veronica’s urge to kill Heather Chandler comes across as baseless. A movie should not feel as though it has better pacing than a show that has nine episodes to lay everything out.
Hopefully, the havoc “Heathers” is wreaking on television will be limited to the nine episodes already released. Not only is the show irresponsible in many of its “daring” social stances, but also the show has nowhere else to go. “Heathers” is a narrative best told with a clear ending in sight, and with the pointless plotlines the show is opening up, I fear what else is next.