Reboots really shouldn’t be as good as the new Netflix release heartbreak high.
It’s the best Australian YA show in years and deserves to carry the brand that resonated around the world in the 1990s.
Some shows work because of the script, direction, or cast, but there’s a synergy here that burns on screen to take the show to the next level.
Once again set at Hartley High (and filmed at a Maroubra high school as in the original), this melting pot of defiant working-class kids ricochets in all sorts of anarchic, omnisexual ways.
The center of the universe is no longer Nick (as famously played by Alex Dimitriades), but Amerie (Ayesha Madon), a brash, loud teenager who has fallen out with her best friend Harper (Asher Yasbincek).
Both are behind an “Incest Map” mural depicting who has been dating who (shades of The L word right there), spilling everyone’s secrets like a dirty one Bridgeton gossip sheet. It’s a scandal to rival Knox Grammar, with a veritable stick of dynamite being lit beneath the school’s social fabric.
Amerie has managed to piss off most of her classmates in one fell swoop, and her chance to land class heartthrob Dusty (Josh Heuston) is fading away.
“This card is a real dog, man. I just think you need to do some work on yourself away from us,” says teenage lesbian Sasha (Gemma Chua-Tran).
If anyone stands in their corner, it’s smart non-binary teenager Darren (James Majoos) whose single parent wants them to spend more time with their father (original actor Scott Major returns). Darren also has secret sex with Ca$h (Will McDonald) and struggles with his identity.
Also, proud Bundjalung boy Malakai (Thomas Weatherall) is attracted to Amerie as she copes with humiliation at school, rejection from Harper and little attention from Dusty.
Not forgetting school principal Woodsy (a scene-stealing Rachel House) who hugs her little pooch as she issues orders to keep the kids engaged, the school-funded and cool teachers like English teacher “Jojo” (Chika Ikogwe) for the Academic Curriculum.
There are also other parents and guardians to be found, such as one played by Ben Oxenbould and an attitude grandmother played by the fantastic veteran Maggie Dence.
This ensemble is on fire and they make this series sing.
Ayesha Madon is sassy, funny and a loveable geek in Amerie who handles scenes of vulnerability and resilience with ease. James Majoos is an absolute find as Darren Who, like joy‘s Kurt Hummel manages to rise above the pedestrian beige of the world around her with a scathing joke or a glimpse beyond her years.
“We are beautiful exquisite jellyfish. Of course they saw us…” they purr.
Thomas Weatherall is also solid as the quiet, handsome Malakai, who you know Amerie needs to bond with.
The beauty of this set-up is that there is still a wealth of storylines yet to emerge from the talented ensemble, including autistic teenager Quinni (Chloe Hayden) chasing Sasha, or Ca$h adjusting with alpha males opposed to the breaking the law.
Creator Hannah Carroll Chapman and writers Megan Palinkas, Matthew Whittet, Marieke Hardy, Meyne Wyatt, Thomas Wilson White and Natesha Somasundaram pushed the envelope on this reboot. They address sexuality, approval, peer pressure, self-esteem, inclusion, rejection, family and more.
It jumps along with the energy of directors Gracie Otto and Neil Sharma, sizzles with a cool soundtrack, and drips with color from its production design and costume.
Capturing the language of Gen Z kids, it never loses the outspoken Aussie flavor that made the original so famous.
Sure, it’s no longer the untold romance between the teacher and the student of the original (how could we ever consider that romantic?), but this heartbreak high deserves to be seen by fans Sex education, heart stopper, euphoria and the missing ones puberty blues.
Everything just clicks. Please an inspired restart that warrants an early renewal.
heartbreak high is now streaming on Netflix.