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Review: Heartbreak High (2022)

In the first few weeks of September, the reboot of the 1994 Aussie show Heartbreak High was dropped on Netflix, and since then it has captured international attention and adoration. The reboot is set at Hartley High School and focuses on the lives of a group of teenagers attempting to navigate love, sex and friendship. The show is primarily viewed through the lens of Amerie, a young girl who is confronted by an abrupt rejection from her best friend Harper, for reasons unknown to both her and the audience, and from there we are taken on a wild journey as she grapples with love and loss.

Before we jump into things, it’s important that I highlight that this show is not all sunshine and rainbows, but rather discusses many distressing, but important topics. From domestic abuse to police brutality to homophobia to addiction, the show definitely packs a punch, so I urge the audience to search up trigger warnings before they start indulging.

Now that that’s been said, I’ll start to explore all the reasons why I think this has to be one of the most comforting shows I’ve ever watched.

First and foremost, the show is painfully Aussie, but in the best way possible. While the random choice to have the students at Hartley High wear casual clothing may slightly (or majorly, in my case) put you off, many viewers will find that the show is highly relatable in a bunch of different ways. Some people may relate to the dramas experienced by the teens in the show, or to the awkward family dynamics represented, while others may relate to the diversity depicted. All of us will definitely be able to relate to the overwhelming Aussie attitude which dominates the show. Imagine that! A teen show us Aussies can actually relate to.

The number one reason why this show is so important and beloved to not only me, but to an international audience, is the realistic portrayal of natural diversity. The loveable main character, Amerie, is of South Asian descent, which is a fact that plays no part in her narrative progression. I know many people would prefer to see race verbally mentioned in a positive way, but I personally feel as though not making her racial identity a factor in her life as a young teen was a refreshing choice. As many fellow Asians will know, we typically aren’t portrayed well in any forms of media, regardless of whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. To see a young Asian girl live her life with no negative repercussions on the basis of her race is incredibly comforting.

The creators of the show, however, take a slightly different approach with her (potential) love interest, Malakai, a young Indigenous Australian teen. While watching the overt discrimination, and eventual brutalisation, Malakai endures, simply for being Indigenous, is not comforting in any sense of the word, it is incredibly important that international audiences come to understand the attitudes still held today towards our Indigenous community. Aside from Malakai, there are two other characters who are explicitly pointed out as Indigenous, Missy and her brother, Jai. Jai has a very brief but important role when he comes across Malakai, in that he provides the support and solidarity that Malakai so desperately needs and deserves after experiencing a troubling confrontation with police officers. I really love that we are finally seeing increased positive representations of our Indigenous peoples in mainstream media and am beyond excited to see where Missy and Malakai end up in (hopefully) future seasons.

Aside from race, we get a unique exploration of sexuality and gender throughout the show, with Darren forming the head of this endeavour. From the very beginning, Darren is unapologetic and confident in their expression of sexuality and gender as a queer, non-binary teen. Now, I know that many teen shows over the last two decades have attempted to represent the LGBTQ+ community many a time but I feel that most of these attempts have been very blatant in their attempts to appeal to audiences through shallow, ‘woke’ representations of sexuality. With Darren, we do not get a traumatic coming out scene or depictions of brutalisations based on the character’s gender nor sexuality, instead, we get a character who is fiercely proud of who they are. That isn’t to say that Darren doesn’t face hardships, as we see through their discriminative stepfather, but all in all, the creators show us through this depiction that being queer is not always a death sentence, something I think young audiences today desperately need to see. Darren’s narrative becomes even more interesting when it clashes with the local eshays (yes, that’s right, ESHAY!). As funny as many of us will find eshays, the show allows us, through Ca$h, to get a glimpse into the life of those who are caught in difficult circumstances. Ca$h does a lot of things that are questionable, but the more you learn about him, the more you love him. His eventual confrontation with the realities of his sexuality, specifically with asexuality, is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. While your heart breaks for the pain he’s going through, you cannot help but want to give him a massive hug and let him know that life is a lot more than simply who you love.

Moving onto someone who could quite possibly be the most comforting character in of the entire show, Quinni! We’re initially introduced to Quinni alongside Darren (cutest BFFs ever? Yeah.) and quickly after that she becomes the apple of the show’s eye. Through Quinni we not only get a character who is unconditionally loving and supportive of all her friends, but a poignant exploration of what autism can look like in a young female teen. From the get-go Quinni is open about her autism whenever it becomes relevant (e.g. with her first relationship) and never fails to stand up for herself when others (cough, cough, S****) refuse to understand how being autistic can completely change the way you experience the world. Now, I’m no expert on the autism spectrum, so I won’t delve too deep into it, but as someone who has consumed a variety of media poorly attempting to portray autistic characters, I can say Heartbreak High is somewhat of a pleasant change.

I’d also like to give an honourable mention to some of the side characters who personally gave me a lot of comfort throughout the show… the parents! While it may not be the most realistic portrayal of the parents of today’s generation, for the most part, the parents in Heartbreak High were fucking ace, particularly Quinni and Amerie’s parental figures. These guardians did not fail to scold their kids when they crossed the line, but for the most part let their kids make the mistakes they needed to make, feel the hurt they needed to feel and generally navigate their lives as they feel fit without making things overly dramatic. 5/5 stars for the parents of Heartbreak High!

As I mentioned above, I don’t want to pass off this show as if it has no faults or any scenes which are difficult to consume, it definitely does, but I do feel like I need to emphasise just how important it is. The creators of the show have done an outstanding job of balancing the more difficult to watch parts of the show with all the wholesome, funny and cute parts of it and that’s exactly why I found it as comforting as I did. After 20-odd-years of consuming shows and films which don’t even come close to representing the inner workings of young teens (especially Aussie teens!), Heartbreak High has given me a welcome reprieve! Please consider giving it a watch.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10


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