Heartbreak High is a bright new TV room

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Heartbreak High eschews clichés and shows its teenage heroes as messy, complicated people audiences can lean on — even when they make mistakes, writes Alex Henderson of University of Canberra in this article republished from The Conversation.

Few settings invite drama, messy emotions, and chaos like a high school.

The original 1990s Heartbreak High ran for seven seasons and aired in over 70 countries, including the UK, US, Germany, Argentina, Mexico, India and Indonesia. . The show followed a cast of students at a multicultural high school in Sydney and became an icon of Australian television. It stood out as an honest and realistic depiction of teenage life, especially compared to the “simply clean” views of other dramas of the time.

Now, a new reboot under showrunner Hannah Carroll Chapman revisits the fictional Hartley High in 2022, dealing with issues and themes relevant to a contemporary audience.

Heartbreak High will sit alongside series like Netflix’s Sex Education and HBO’s Euphoria exploring the often grimy realities of modern adolescence with style and humor.

But here we have a uniquely Australian take on the current wave of teen drama.

A new class

Amerie (Ayesha Madon) and Harper (Asher Yasbincek) have been best friends since childhood. Their biggest project is a map of all the hookups and romantic entanglements at Hartley High, drawn in a secret, off-limits stairwell.

When the map is discovered, Amerie is blamed and an unlikely group of students get stuck in “sex literacy tutorials.”

As if that weren’t enough, Harper shows up at school with a shaved head and a mysterious vendetta against Amerie.

With her social life turned upside down, Amerie meets class misfits Darren (James Majoos) and Quinni (Chloe Hayden). From there, she must repair her reputation, figure out what’s wrong with Harper, and navigate the rocky terrain of romance, sexuality, and heartbreak.

After losing her best friend, Amerie meets class misfits Darren and Quinni. netflix

The series is an echo of contemporary teenage culture. Pop culture references and slang like “unlive” and “flop era” will date the episodes, but for now Heartbreak High is an effective mirror of modern life.

Just as the original series gave us a diverse cast of characters, this series is a refreshing reflection of the diversity of today’s high schools.

Our heroine Amerie and her two loves, longtime crush Dusty (Josh Heuston) and sweet new boy from Malakai Town (Thomas Weatherall), are all characters of color.

Darren is non-binary, outgoing and proud, but dealing with parents who complain about Darren’s gender identity and singular they/them pronouns is “too confusing.”

Quinni is queer and autistic, with an episode sympathetically exploring her struggles with dating and trying to mask and appear “normal.”

These teenagers all face their own set of issues, but also find themselves dealing with universal ups and downs that every viewer can relate to.

Let’s talk about sex

As Hartley High’s login card would imply, teenage sexuality is at the heart of the story.

Heartbreak High uses this plot device not just for love triangles and drama, but as a chance to interrogate the way we talk to teens about sex.

The Sex Literacy Tutorials – or “SLTs”, which students say ironically sound like “sluts” – provide wonderfully awkward scenes.

The school’s sex ed curriculum is filled with outdated language and knowledge gaps, leaving staff sadly (but amusingly) ill-prepared for nuanced discussions about sex with their students.

Long-suffering teacher Jojo (Chika Ikogwe) tries to mix up the curriculum by injecting sex positivity, inclusive language, and a nuanced discussion of consent — with mixed results.

A group of teenagers entering a party, dressed in sparkly clothes.
Heartbreak High gives us a nuanced discussion of consent.

As the hot pink dildo stuck to the school’s basketball court proves, sex is very present and unavoidable in high school, whether the outraged school board likes it or not.

The question is how to approach the subject in a nuanced way that keeps these vulnerable students safe.

The writing of Heartbreak High follows Jojo’s lead. When sex is depicted between characters, the dialogue emphasizes the importance (and joy) of consent. The framing makes the scenes intimate without sexualizing the teens themselves.

The candid portrayal of female sexuality and queer sexuality is also refreshing, whether it’s comedic scenes of Amerie getting too excited to focus or a pragmatic discussion of average lip size.

Complicated and messy lives

This reboot is a brilliant new piece of Australian television, running on an engaging mix of comedy and drama.

He does not hesitate to tackle serious subjects such as drug use, juvenile delinquency or discrimination. But it also delivers plenty of moments of levity, letting its characters joke about everything from astrology to erections to bad haircuts.

Heartbreak High eschews clichés and shows its teenage heroes as messy, complicated people that audiences can lean on — even when they make mistakes.

Heartbreak High is streaming on Netflix from September 14.

Alex Henderson, PhD Candidate in Literary Studies and Creative Writing, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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