So thanks in part to an incredible on-campus performance of “Heathers” my boyfriend and I went to recently, my love for this musical has been rekindled. And just in time for terrible, horrible tragedy to strike – of course. A “Heathers” remake.
Oh god. Here we go.
I don’t think it’s particularly controversial to say that this remake looks tacky and awful. I think anyone with eyes could see that. But it’s how much it undercuts the original themes and ideas of “Heathers” (and is so legitimately offensive) that really makes me angry.
But hey, let’s talk about it.
Pt. 1: It’s Not Even “Heathers”
I think the biggest and most obvious criticism of the new “Heathers” is that it’s modern. I’m starting with this one, because it’s simultaneously the simplest and also least grating criticism.
A lot of the appeal of the original “Heathers”, as well as the musical, is the 80s nostalgia. The plot of “Heathers” is unabashedly 80s, and really didn’t need an update. Sure, some of its humor didn’t age well, but that’s more of a relic of the era it’s set in and the plot almost… doesn’t work without it. The fact that the musical is set in the 80s sets in motion the darkly comedic plot, and allows it to be funny outside of the context of present values and ideals.
I also think the themes of its story are still relevant today and that’s probably the biggest reason it didn’t need to be plopped into a modern setting.
But on a worse, more critical note, just going on the trailer alone, I don’t think this adaptation will stay true to the original’s feeling at all. I can cite a lot of parts of the trailer – from the depiction of the Heathers themselves to how the relationships seem to be portrayed to the characters’ personalities themselves. You know what, let’s break them all down.
First of all, the depiction of the Heathers themselves. One of the most iconic images from the original “Heathers” are the Heathers themselves, three skinny, beautiful high school girls in trim jackets with shoulder pads, plaid skirts, and knee socks. They’re always depicted in this clean, polished, cohesive way. It makes them more a force of nature than a group of popular students, and that’s thematically relevant to the story of “Heathers”. They’re meant to be exaggerations, not actual characters, and the plot of the story sets about making them into actual characters.
In the new “Heathers”, on the other hand, the Heathers aren’t cohesive at all. Heather Chandler’s outfits are wild and crazy, probably only fashionable in the avant garde section of fashion. The other two Heathers, on the other hand, wear pretty standard high school clothes. And this… doesn’t make sense. Heather Chandler isn’t supposed to stick out from the other Heathers like that. She’s not meant to be some sort of counter culture art queen, she’s supposed to be the epitome of everything that’s mainstream and popular. Clothes like that… aren’t. In fact, I think Veronica is a better depiction of what Heather Chandler really should look like. There’s a reason, I suspect, for this choice, but I’ll get to that in part 2.
But the point is, the most iconic image of “Heathers” isn’t even going to work in this version. If you’re wondering if you’re doing your adaptation of a cult classic well, the fact that you can’t even mimic the most iconic images from it is probably a good sign you’re on the wrong track.
But how about the relationships? Let’s talk about what we see of JD and Veronica’s relationship first.
I will say that it’s very possible that what we see in the trailer isn’t the entirety of what we’ll see in the show. But I feel like, from what we see, the focus is less on how JD could possibly pass as an appealing counter to the culture of the high school and more on how he’s a ***crazy edgelord***.
He’s probably closer to his depiction in the movie (I’m guessing from what I’ve heard about the movie, since I’ve never seen it), but I much prefer the musical version of JD, where the audience is initially led to believe that he’s a tortured soul who could possibly be reformed. (You know, like what Veronica herself thinks.) I think that works better in making him a fascinating character, since the audience gets to worry about the possibility of his reformation and will be emotionally invested when Veronica ultimately fails.
But even more, let’s talk about what we see of Heather Chandler and Veronica’s relationship. And the implication that Heather Chandler is jealous of Veronica! Over JD! Ha! Hahahaha! Ha! HA! (Oh my god, why is this a thing.)
Listen, Heather Chandler is not interested in JD. That’s vital to making both of their characters work, and vital to making Veronica’s initial conflict in the musical work. Chandler and JD are from different worlds, worlds Veronica is struggling to pick between. They want nothing to do with each other. It just doesn’t work! It doesn’t! Did you even see the movie/musical?
Even more worrying, though, is how some of personalities seemed to be skewed. Namely, I want to talk about Veronica.
So, um, where is she? You’re not seriously expecting me to believe that this picture-perfect waifish blonde girl is my Veronica Sawyer? That Veronica Sawyer would stand over Heather Chandler’s dead body and casually tell JD that “they’re gonna be late to school”?
Veronica is not initially complicit in the murders. In fact, she never is fully complicit enough to casually consider anything about Heather Chandler’s death and her role in it. Chandler’s death is the first in the story, and in that scene Veronica is supposed to believe it’s an accident. But this trailer seems to make it look like it was pre-planned by both JD and Veronica.
So, basically, any conflict at all in Veronica’s journey is gone, if that’s true. If she’s fully complicit in the murders from the get-go, then what is the point of the story at all?
Oh, wait, I think I know.
Pt. 2: “The Alt-Right’s ‘Glee'”
So, this show strongly resembles Alt-Right and Neo-Nazi propaganda.
I say that knowing full well that this was not the intention of the creators, but the reality is that intention ultimately means a whole lot less than actual results. The creators aren’t going to be able to stand behind every viewer of this god awful tv show and tell them “We didn’t mean it like that”, so intention doesn’t matter at all.
If this show had only opted to make the Heathers the only diverse characters in the story, that would be problem enough, although not enough to call it Alt-Right or Neo-Nazi propaganda. But no, it’s how the show seems to frame this diversity that is the huge, huge horrible problem, and how it misses the mark of the original story so terribly.
In the original “Heathers”, the Heathers are the most popular girls in school? Why? Because they’re rich, they’re conventionally beautiful, and (in most depictions), they’re white. (In the movie at least, they’re white. In the musical they are occasionally depicted by non-white actresses, but at least in the world of the musical, their race is never called into question). That being said, they’re exactly what popular culture in the 80s would say is the “ideal”. White, rich, beautiful. Oh, and straight and cisgender. That’s also pretty important for this conversation. Because of this, the story of “Heathers” is one of struggling against the powers that be, against societal ideas of what the ideal person is like.
But when you make the Heathers into marginalized groups, the story changes drastically.
From the trailer, the new “Heathers” buys into the frighteningly false notion that modern movements of acceptance give too much power to marginalized groups. No high school is ruled by groups of fat, genderqueer, and non-white kids. That’s not the norm at all. The reality is that these acceptance movements are working harder to make these groups of people equal to conventionally skinny, straight, cisgender, white kids, and that these movements still haven’t succeeded completely. Marginalized groups of people are still being discriminated against, especially in high school environments.
But because of this choice, no longer is the audience rooting for Veronica as an underdog, now they’re rooting for her as taking back the status quo. The fact that this group of fat, genderqueer, and black people is able to rule the school is seen as a horrible, negative thing, and the conventionally-beautiful, white, cishet Veronica and JD are the heroes who are taking back their school.
Even worse is the idea that this story heavily involves conspiring to murder the Heathers, and the storyline of the new “Heathers” becomes even closer to Nazi ideology.
So not only does this new adaptation completely flop on adapting the source material, it flops so bad it literally becomes alt-right/neo-nazi propaganda.
I’m a proponent of adding diversity to stories that don’t originally have it. But when we’re only adding diversity in service of playing out a fantasy of destroying a so-called invisible conspiracy of marginalized groups having tyrannical power, then… obviously it’s setting us all back. And I’m disgusted and horrified that one of my favorite stories, one of struggling against the societal powers that be, is being twisted in this way.
Anyway, all that being said, don’t support this project. I almost considered not posting this blog post, because the clamor surrounding this TV show is already disgusting. I finally decided that I wanted to at least inform people about why it’s such a horrible thing, but I want to say that bad publicity doesn’t exist, so please do your best not to publicize this TV show. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t talk about it on social media, don’t watch the trailer more than once (I had to do this, unfortunately.)
Let this TV show fail. Please. For me. I don’t want one of my favorite stories to be remembered for this.