I’ll be straight up: I am unfamiliar with Australian TV. Apart from breaking out the “naur” when things don’t go my way, I have little to no knowledge about those from Down Under. But one thing’s for certain: Australians can make a damn good show.
Netflix’s “Heartbreak High” is a reboot of an Aussie teen series of the same name that was popular in the ’90s. Reboots are often a hit-or-miss situation, but if done right, they can open the door for a fresh take on a classic, with new and interesting stories and characters. Having never seen the original, I don’t have much of an opinion on the success of the show as a reboot, but on its own, “Heartbreak High” stole my heart.
Our main character, Amerie (Ayesha Madon, “The Moth Effect”) returns to Hartley High to find her world turned upside down. Her longtime best friend Harper (Asher Yasbincek, “The Heights”) wants absolutely nothing to do with her anymore. The reason for Harper’s ire is a mysterious trauma from a summer music festival — one that Amerie can’t seem to remember. To make matters worse, all of Amerie’s popular friends take Harper’s side, and, the icing on the cake, the entire school finds out about her and Harper’s secret “sex map.” That’s right. The two besties have secretly documented every sexual escapade between any two (or more) students at Hartley High, drawn as an elaborate map with colorful lines and an extremely in-depth legend. Amerie quickly goes from it-girl to outcast after her map breaks up couples and outs people, and everyone takes to calling her “Map Bitch” (no points for creativity there). Her map lands a handful of students, endearingly called “sluts,” in a mandatory sex education class. Now, Amerie must navigate her new social status, the confusion and anger surrounding her situation with Harper and the unexpected attention of certain boys at school.
“Heartbreak High” performs an incredible balancing act between genuine humor and heavier topics. This is one of the first shows with “Gen-Z” humor that actually made me laugh. When Amerie is crying in a bathroom stall after the sex map exposé, Quinni (Chloé Hayden, “Jeremy the Dud”) peeks over the neighboring stall to promptly ask, “Is this your 13th reason?” When some of the characters are getting ready for a party, Darren (James Majoos, debut) asks Malakai (Thomas Weatherall, “RFDS”) if he wants something *limp wrist* “gay to wear.” I apologize to my roommates for cackling at 3 a.m. The show also brings in nonbinary actor James Majoos and Australia’s first mainstream autistic actress Chloé Hayden to play a nonbinary character and autistic character, respectively. “Heartbreak High” realistically explores the struggles these characters must face, dedicating episodes to Darren’s tough relationship with their dad and to Quinni navigating her complicated romance with Sasha (Gemma Chua-Tran, “Diary of an Uber Driver”).
I would describe this show as “Euphoria” meets “Sex Education,” meaning there are a lot of complicated feelings, messy flings and broken hearts. Despite all of this, “Heartbreak High” features the strong platonic relationship between Amerie and Harper as its primary love story, sending the message that at the end of the day, manipulative boys, sex and drama don’t matter nearly as much as your chosen family. Madon and Yasbincek acted their hearts out in these eight episodes. The girls’ initial pettiness was entertaining to watch at first, but as the storyline grew deeper and the show began to unpack exactly what went down between the two, my heart ached for their friendship and I was nearly brought to tears once I finally heard the whole story.
I never thought that eight episodes could make me feel so much. Our main characters, especially Amerie and Harper, are charismatic, somewhat mysterious and, above all, extremely messy. Many questionable decisions were made between the two, but then again, what is high school without questionable decisions? Behind every destructive choice the two girls make to hurt each other — intentionally or otherwise — is a desperate desire to get their best friend back. It’s this particular brand of pain that “Heartbreak High” depicts extremely well, and one that plenty of teenage girls are familiar with.
I’m clearly not the only one raving about this show — “Heartbreak High” currently has an 89% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Those Australians may be chewing on their vowels, but they sure know how to make us laugh and self-reflect while doing it.
Daily Arts Writer Swara Ramaswamy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.