Heathers Season 1 Episode 1 – TV Review
Yes, we saw the pilot come out several months ago, and I, too, watched it at that time.
I was waiting for the series to start in earnest, but that sadly never came to be. Because of, you know, horrible reality.
However, thanks to the magic of the Internet and spotty international distribution deals, here we are. I’ll be doing the whole season.
Let the glorious disaster begin.
TL;DR This pilot has all the neon and glam of Riverdale, but none of the charm or consistency; the trying-so-hard-it-hurts edginess is kind of delicious, though; the movie plot is already sufficiently subverted to make this incarnation its own thing; as a former r/tumblrinaction lurker, the anti identity politics stance made me smile.
But I’m not proud of it. Like most things in my life.
So I’ll preface this by conceding I’ve only seen the movie Heathers once, and I thought it was okay. This pilot brings us pretty much through the first act of the movie, so at least its quick on its feet. The Heathers (surnames Chandler, Duke, and McNamara) are your archetypical mean girl posse, except this time there’s a twist: they’re all from marginalised groups, and they use their wokeness as weapons against their enemies. Our protagonist, however, is their inexplicable other friend, Veronica Sawyer (Melanie from Under the Dome), who seems like a milquetoast basic white girl by comparison. The plot kicks off as Veronica befriends new student and bad boy JD, and he convinces Veronica to play a nasty prank on Alpha Bitch Heather Chandler after Veronica gets fed up with her moral soapboxing. The prank results in her death, though, so JD hurriedly stages the scene as a suicide to cover it up, with Veronica accepting this solution weirdly easily. In a world obsessed with identity politics, though, Heather Chandler’s suicide results in a burst of online popularity, and a shifting power vacuum at school. But psych, wasn’t-in-the-movie twist: Heather Chandler didn’t actually die. And now she’s fucking famous.
I’d throw in a “suplots include” section in that synopsis, but there really aren’t any.
So as a millennial reimagining of the pitch black 80s Heathers, this pilot gets those comparisons out of the way with surprising efficiency. Scream the TV Series‘ constant struggle was being in the film series’ shadow, but Heathers is defiantly forging a new path away from its predecessor.
And while I’ll applaud its bravery, I can’t support the toxic, confusing soup of characterisations and tonal disconnect it is already drowning in. And keep in mind this is only the first episode.
Why I hate this episode:
My major issue with this first outing is the bizarre failure of characterisation that is Veronica Sawyer. She’s supposed to be our protagonist, and her first scene sees her (seemingly genuinely) describing herself as a good person. This is reinforced by her opposition to the Heathers’ bullying. But then for the remainder of the episode, she acts like a completely different person. The strangest moment would have to be, of course, her blasè acceptance of JD’s plan to break into Heather Chandler’s house, and then the ensuing plan to cover up her murder. She makes barely the token-est effort to be aghast before just letting him roll along with his scheming. And we hardly see any remorse in her after the fact.
But I’ll have to give extra bonus points to the utterly unnecessary and even more confusing moment at the art show, when she very aggressively takes a random boy out to his car to make him eat her out. And she seems mostly bored by it. I appreciate that Veronica Sawyer is no saint, but she’s supposed to be your sixteen/seventeen year-old nice(r) girl caught up between the tyrannical Heathers and the outright homicidal JD. And I’m not buying it.
Add on to this Veronica being happily up for JD’s suggestion of doing Adderall with slushees. Is Veronica a good girl or not? Should we be rooting for her?
The position of the Heathers in the school hierarchy is also poorly established. I think the show expects us to know enough about the movie to assume they’re in control and that’s that. But as soon as Heather Chandler’s gone, and despite her massive popularity due to the suicide, Veronica’s mousy childhood friend Betty somehow snatches Alpha Bitch spot from Veronica and the remaining Heathers. She even brings along her own girl posse to replace Heathers Duke and McNamara. In Mean Girls, when Regina loses her hot body, her remaining girl posse still stays at the top of the food chain. As do the girls of Jawbreaker after Liz dies. Did the Heathers even have any power beyond that one scene of Heather Chandler humiliating a jock who happened to be wearing the wrong kind of sports team t-shirt? Though, I’m always here for a sly Suey Park reference.
Even within the Heathers + Veronica group, the power plays don’t make sense. Heather Chandler proudly proclaims she’s ruining Veronica forever by posting about her fat-shaming remark at the art gallery. And it’s said that she did post it. But Veronica faces no consequences.
Why is Veronica even friends with the Heathers? And on that same topic, why would Heather Chandler want to be friends with Veronica?
In a show that seems to be self-aware about wokeness, and you would think by extension the cultural reasons for one to want to appear woke, it’s a little uncomfortable that Heather McNamara, the only black character, is the most marginalised of the Heathers. Making fun of the PC crowd is nice, but running full speed in the other direction isn’t.
JD isn’t dark and moody enough.
Oh, and Shannen Doherty’s cameo as JD’s suicidal mother is confusing. It’s nice that they got one of the original cast for a cameo, but she also wears her hair in the famous red movie scrunchie. So is she an adult Heather Duke?
But it’s not all bad:
That scrunchie, tho. Timeless.
But you know what won’t be timeless? This show. Because it is extremely centered in the here and now of identity politics and Internet culture. And you know what? I’m loving it. Heather the TV Series will never be able to be accused of not having something to say. Because boy, does it.
There are two key scenes that help Heathers espouse its point of view on the topic. The first is Heather Chandler’s humiliation of Ram the jock in the cafeteria. This is our first introduction to the Heathers, and it gives us some (however limited) context of how they have been able to gain power by weaponising online outrage. She snaps a photo of him in the offensive shirt and threatens to post it unless he complies with her demands. The subtle (probably the only subtle thing in this episode) subtext of permissable male objectification with him removing his shirt is the cherry on top. This method of attack also returns after Veronica calls Heather Chandler a fatty, and I think commenting on the current culture of Internet outrage brigading is timely. If not timeless.
The other key scene is much more straight to the camera, and that is the principal and teachers meeting later on where they discuss Heather Chandler’s popularity and death. The female guidance counselor is a parody of well-meaning but belligerent feminism, while the principal (in my favourite performance of the pilot) spends most of the meeting utterly incredulous that a fat girl could be popular. Drew Droege hams it up as a sassy gay teacher, too.
One of the teachers at the meeting gets one of the episode’s best lines during a discussion about which marginalised groups are able to be the current hot thing: “Obviously the gays and the Jews are over.” Yeah, Glee. Take that.
What Heathers is also doing oh so right is just how painfully hard it is going in on trying to jazz up its dialogue. The genderqueer Heather Duke gets the best line of the episode with this prime cringer upon seeing the supposedly lesbian Heather McNamara making out with a male teacher: “Oh. My. Clit.” Now that’s what I call edgy.
Heather Chandler is close behind with this exclamation after waking up to JD and Veronica’s prank of putting a Nazi hat on her: “What the queef is this?” It’s way too much. And I’m here for it. The show isn’t trying to present reality, people.
The colourful set and costume designs are clearly trying to be Riverdale. And that’s not a bad thing.
JD has a worthwhile point about how this generation was raised to blindly love themselves. I’m not sure self-hatred really is good for the soul, bro, but if you blindly love yourself, you’ll never have any motivation to improve. Maybe being a fat bitch isn’t the best you can be, for example, Heather Chandler? Not that I’d know anything about that, of course.
Kurt, another football player, appears to be openly gay in this version. So I’m curious as to how the show will approach the murder of him and Ram.
There are multiple slo-mo power walks.
Oh, and I’d have to guess that Winona Ryder has that Stranger Things money, now, so doesn’t need to slum it over here. But I’d be down for a cameo. Or present day Christian Slater. Woof.