Heartbreak High

Heartbreak High
Heartbreak High
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The Heartbreak High reboot’s second season commences with Carrie-like visions of a school formal on fire, hinting that this year will be bigger, louder, and sexier than before. And maybe more salacious: the protagonist from Hartley High School (Ayesha Madon) has had sex at school within the first half-hour.

Less polite moments in Michael Jenkins’ original creation had some bite to them as well: the show overall lost quality through its 200+ episodes but it always remained as much kitchen sink drama as soap opera with an edgy street vibe that was unforgiving and slightly dangerous -like smoking your first cigarette.

While Heartbreak High Netflix’s series is very different; it’s slick, peppy and performative. For example, there are such moments when you think “Really? Would anyone actually do this?” One of these happens in episode one when Brodie Townsend, playing a student character, lets his marijuana-laced gummies fall on the ground and instead of picking them up he simply eats them all off. Clearly this is done for scripting reasons – triggering insane stoner comedy ending with him saying he is going to chop off his own dick.

Like other scenes, this one isn’t exactly a drama or comedy; you don’t laugh at it nor find it serious. On the other hand, some others like Harper (Asher Yasbincek) hallucinating about seeing an old man along her way to school are meant to make an emotional impact. However they seem drowned out in all the rush and noise. It’s hyper-realism bordering on cartoonishness. The show wants audiences to see how hard everyone tries their hardest; there’s so much posturing involved. Even the principal “Woodsy”(Rachel House) has one – everybody has a shtick.

Some of those returning from season one include Amerie’s sometimes boyfriend Malakai (Thomas Weatherall), her mates Darren (James Majoos) and Quinni (Chloe Hayden), who is autistic. There are also new students joining the school, these include country boy “Rowan from Dubbo” (Sam Rechner). At the same time, a new teacher has been hired: Angus Sampson as Timothy Voss, the macho head of PE – possibly inspired by Tony Martin’s rugby coach from the 90s series who provided a conservative balance to an otherwise liberal staff.

That said, Sampson’s performance is too noisy to be taken seriously or even laughed at. In general, the young cast is alright but there are moments when they just go through the motions dictated by the script and direction.

At times it becomes cringeworthy during a campy noir spoof that sees our protagonist being tormented by some sort of prankster; now shown in monochrome in a 4:3 format. She does many things that might be deemed amoral but we will not be asked to think of her as simply…evil. “I’m really trying to be a better person,” she says at one point; it rings hollow.

This contrasts with Bump which despite its central character’s inconsistency and immaturity manages to make us sense something fundamentally good about her. Or for example Why Are You Like This?, an underrated Australian show that emphasizes mean millennials exploiting ever-shifting social mores.

This is a very dynamic episode, with cast and direction that are surreal, while content wise it rakes into the mud. Gemma Chua-Tran’s Sasha, whose character is one of the students in the school playground, screams about veganism and pronouns on one hand. While on the other side of the cultural divide guys take to Voss’ new “Cum Lords” group where they are taught how to “man up” by eating animal carcasses and embracing toxic masculinity. For instance this (what I’ve watched so far) first five episodes don’t take sides – clowns to left of us jokers to right inferring that common sense is some place else.

That perspective didn’t sit right with me though; it offers no room for social dialogue because it mocks. The original show did a terrific job turning Hartley High into society within a society; a boiling pot where emotions run high. However, despite having more bright colors ,bling and sensationalism than ever before, this new series feels cooler.

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