'Heathers' is delayed because of Parkland, but it's problematic at any time

Melanie Field, Brendan Scannell and Jasmine Mathews in Paramount's TV reboot of Heathers.  Photo via Paramount.
Melanie Field, Brendan Scannell and Jasmine Mathews in Paramount's TV reboot of Heathers. Photo via Paramount.
Published March 2, 2018

By Chelsea Tatham

What's your damage, Paramount?

The rebranded network's television reboot of the 1988 black comedy Heathers is another attempt to solidify the network as a landing spot for prestige, award-worthy television.

But a week before its intended premiere, Paramount announced it was delaying the show until later this year, citing the recent mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school and "creative risks" the satirical series takes with its storylines.

The new series has garnered considerable backlash as of late for re-imagining its villainous clique as marginalized people, but with other non-marginalized characters still seeking to kill them. It's Heathers in the age of gender fluidity, political correctness, emojis and Instagram, but with problematic and offensive results.

The series is not the only one to be delayed, altered or hit with heavy backlash in light of real-world events. USA's Shooter, based on the 2007 Mark Wahlberg movie, was pushed back several times in 2016 after the deadly shooting of five officers in Dallas. Netflix's 13 Reasons Why, based on the Jay Asher young adult novel, took a lot of heat after its 2017 debut for prompting an uptick in suicide searches online.

The new Heathers isn't a love letter to the original, nor is it as progressive as it claims. The post-millennial twist on the cynical cult classic takes that pitch black comedic element to the point where it becomes a ruthless exploration of teenage villainy.

But instead of a comical destruction of the high school cliches, the Heathers reboot reads like a revenge fantasy of restoring the thin, white and heterosexual to their proper place. Though clearly being marketed to a younger generation who probably don't remember the original Heathers, the new one feels like it's written for people who get angry about people's preferred pronouns or when faced with the reality of a gender spectrum.

How very.

The Daily Beast called the new Heathers a "Trumpian, LGBT-bashing nightmare." The Hollywood Reporter's Daniel Fienberg questioned whether the reality in this new Heathers is something its creators should have mined humor from. And popular culture blog Black Girl Nerds said many of the show's jokes fall flat because they cross over into being blatantly offensive, citing a scene where Heather Chandler (Melanie Field) gets upset at her parents for not adopting a black friend of hers. "You never buy me anything," she says.

This new Heathers wants to, and tries to, be more woke than it actually is.

The titular Heathers are the complete opposites of those played by Shannen Doherty (who plays JD's mom in the series), Kim Walker and Lisanne Falk. Heather Chandler (Field) is the glamorous, plus-sized diva who sees herself as the shepherd among many lost lame lambs. Heather Duke (Brendan Scannell) is non-binary with a keen eye for outlandish fashion and venomous one-liners. Heather McNamara (Jasmine Mathews) is young, black and a lesbian and possibly the only likeable person in the entire series.

The first episode closely mirrors the original movie , with blonde "nobody" Veronica Sawyer (Grace Victoria Cox) falling for the "teenage Charles Manson" J.D. (James Scully) and plotting to kill her best friends.

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But then Heathers sharply veers from the original's storyline, bringing out in every character their more brutal fantasies. After four episodes sent to critics, it's still unclear where creator Jason Micallef is taking the Heathers next.

The series shines solely is in its utter absurdity and venomous one-liners that are tailor-made for the meme generation.

Hearing Cox's Veronica snap a twisted version of "Lick it up, baby, lick it up" to Heather Chandler isn't quite the same as when Ryder did it. And neither is hearing her say " Well, f--- me gently with a chainsaw." Veronica still has her "Dear Diary" narration, and there are plenty of times characters quip "How very" and "Isn't it just?" When Heather Chandler is roasting Veronica's plainness, she says, "you're nothing; you're Panera, your's Sbarro, you're Cheesecake Factory."

Even the teachers get salty. "I'm just here for the drama," the theater teacher says. "And once again you straight people have disappointed me."

But this isn't 1988 Heathers. It isn't just about cafeteria pranks and overthrowing the high school hierarchy anymore. It's about brutal social shaming on the internet, which can often be a permanent mark on someone's reputation.

Heathers often toes the line between parodying the culture of political correctness and blatantly suggesting that those who differ from the "norm" (i.e. non-straight and people of color) should be "taken down" by those who fit more traditional gender and body standards.

It often crosses that line with cringeworthy results. With culture-changing shifts in American life like the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter and the group of teens from Marjory Stoneman Douglas who survived a mass shooting on Valentine's Day and are now forcefully advocating for gun reform, there may never be a good time to air a show like Heathers.

No new release date has yet to be announced.

Contact Chelsea Tatham at Follow @chelseatatham.