TL;DR – Heartbreak High crafted an interesting narrative with compelling characters in a setting that does not get the coverage that it should
Disclosure – I paid for the Netflix service that viewed this series.
Warning – Contains scenes that may cause distress
Heartbreak High Review –
Ever since Sex Education blasted onto the scene, there has been a big push by networks to jump back into the world of teen coming-of-age series, but written with a level of maturity. While there have been a lot of pretenders, I have yet to see anything come close to capturing that level of honesty in a show, well, that is until today. Today we are looking at a show that feels like a breath of fresh air while also being a call back to an Australian classic set at Hartley High School in Sydney, Australia.
So to set the scene, Amerie (Ayesha Madon) and Harper (Asher Yasbincek) are besties who spend their lives inseparable and then fighting hard. But after a music festival, Harper ghosted Amerie and completely changed her appearance. Amerie is trying to find out why all hell breaks loose when they get into a fistfight. Because all last year, Amerie and Harper spent their time in the abandoned stairwell making a map of all the different sexual encounters their grade had engaged in. So on the day that Amerie losses her best friend, the map is discovered, and Amerie goes from being Amerie to becoming ‘Map Bitch’ before being sequestered away in a sexual literacy tutorial with everyone else on the map, including Darren (James Majoos), Quinni (Chloe Hayden), Malakai (Thomas Weatherall), Ca$h (Will McDonald), Dusty (Joshua Heuston), Sasha (Gemma Chua-Tran), Spider (Bryn Chapman-Parish), Missy (Sherry-Lee Watson), and Ant (Brodie Townsend). Now from here, we will be looking at the season as a whole, so there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead.
Now, I want to start the review to clarify some things. While I am not from the location, the film is set in. I did grow up in a similar socio-economic area back in the day. So this is a show that does feel familiar, even if it is about 30 years removed from my experiences. There was a concern before diving in that the show would lose its Australian vibe now that it had jumped to a global streaming service. But as a private-school student calls out ‘nice car Centrelink’ in the first five minutes, I was relieved that it would be very grounded in the Australian experience, for better and worse. The important thing is that every character is treated with respect and agency, even those that would usually just be one-dimensional villains in other shows.
The show excels in its characters, who are all interesting as they come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. When you see a cast labelled as diverse, there is always a concern that they are only there to tick off a checklist rather than having the substance needed. However, you can feel the depth of the characters and their stories before you get to the credits and see the extensive consultants the series employed. It also avoids the fate of many of these shows where you have this odd dissonance of a very modern show, feeling like it was set when the writers were young.
It does feel like the show captured a snapshot of life as a teenager with all its complexities and troubles as each of them tries to find their place in the world. Of the characters, I liked their effort to integrate Quinni’s experiences into the narrative and how she thrives even when performative allyship can be traumatising. Or how people don’t understand the damage the interaction with the police did to Malakai and why he didn’t want to footage shared. Then the added trauma when people turned it into a meme and shared it across the internet. At every turn, the narrative feels authentic, with the good and the bad.
Of the cast, I am not sure there is a weak link, as everyone is stepping up to the plate, no matter if they are a protagonist or an antagonist. All the young actors nail their parts and create an engaging ride from start to finish. Also, much like similar shows such as Skins, they have cast notable actors in the parent roles to help support the cast. The first is the fabulous Rachel House, who makes everything she is in better. But also Maggie Dence as Ca$h’s Nan makes every moment she is in better for her being there with an impact you expect of someone who has been working since before The Sullivans. The show also links back to the original series with Scott Major playing Darren’s father.
The main thrusts of the narrative are Amerie trying to find her place in the school after being called out for the map and losing her best friend. Then there is the question of what happened to Harper, which shows in flashbacks through the season as Amerie puts together what happened that night. On this front, I think you would have worked out a lot of what happened to Harper before the story reveals it just from the context clues. The overall narrative is helped by the focusing point of the SLTs classes, where the conflict comes into focus while giving some good advice. This is where we get the delight of the teachers, Jojo (Chika Ikogwe) and Woodsy (Rachel House) try to provide sound advice given the restrictions placed upon them.
In the end, do we recommend Heartbreak High? Well, to be fair, this is a very mature show, dealing with mature themes that will probably put some people off. However, I think they crafted an interesting narrative with compelling characters in a setting that does not get the coverage that it should.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Heartbreak High
Directed by – Gracie Otto, Neil Sharma, Adam Murfet & Jessie Oldfield
Written by – Hannah Carroll Chapman, Matthew Whitte, Marieke Hardy, Meyne Wyatt, Thomas Wilson-White, Natesha Somasundaram & Megan Palinkas
Created by – Hannah Carroll Chapman
Based On – Heartbreak High by
Production/Distribution Companies – Fremantle Australia, NewBe & Netflix
Starring – Ayesha Madon, James Majoos, Chloe Hayden, Asher Yasbincek, Thomas Weatherall, Will McDonald, Joshua Heuston, Gemma Chua-Tran, Bryn Chapman-Parish, Sherry-Lee Watson, Brodie Townsend, Chika Ikogwe, Scott Major & Rachel House with Isabella Mistry, Ben Oxenbould, Justin Smith, Sandy Sharma, Tom Wilson, Kye McMaster, Ari McCarthy, Maggie Dence, Stephen Hunter, Kobie Dee & Jeremy Lindsay Taylor
Episodes Covered – Map Bitch, Renaissance Titties, Eetsway, Rack Off, Bin Chicken, Angeline, The Sheriff & Three of Swords