by CHARLIE PURCELL
Last week, TV Land announced that they were developing an anthology series based on Heathers, the 1988 teen comedy about murder, suicide, and slushies. This is the third such attempt at a TV adaptation, so who knows if this will make it past the pilot stage, but if it does, this could be a major disappointment to the Swatch-dogs and Diet Cokeheads that consider Heathers one of the greatest movies ever made.
Now, don’t get me wrong. A Heathers TV show could be amazing. Forget that this would be on TV Land, the station that brought you Hot in Cleveland, Soccer Moms, Happily Divorced, and The Wedding Artist, a station that you think so little about, you actually didn’t notice that two of those shows were made up. No, you shouldn’t judge a TV show based on what channel it’s on.
And in all honesty, the world could use a reinvented Heathers right about now. Despite having a huge cult following, it seems like a lot of younger viewers are unaware of its acidic charms, instead favoring more recent movies like Mean Girls. Mean Girls is a fun comedy, of course, but it really is a watered-down Heathers, replacing Winona Ryder with Lindsay Lohan and cups of toxic Draino with weight-gain bars. At the very least, a televised Heathers would bring more millennials to the original teen satire.
The real problems with this remake involve all the ways that TV Land has decided to “reinvent” the classic characters. According to multiple sources, the trio of Heathers will now be a black lesbian, a trans woman, and an obese teen. Presumably, they’ll still be mean as hell, and they’ll still get murdered (or almost-murdered) by our main character.
Of course, remakes should always update things to reflect modern times. And more diversity is awesome. However, this particular update seems to negate the whole message of the original, messing with everything that Heathers was trying to satirize.
In short, the original was about two outcasts striking back against the cool kids. The Heathers represented the bitchy, horrible high school establishment, so of course they were beautiful, rich, heteronormative, and white. Aside from Shannen Doherty’s lack of facial symmetry, they were pretty damn perfect. There was nothing diverse about them. That’s why they all had the same freaking name!
By updating the story to make the Heathers diverse and inclusive, what are the filmmakers trying to say exactly? Are they trying to say that the modern world is more diverse and inclusive than the late 80s? (That’s true, of course, but then why would we want to satirize it? Why would we make fun of something positive?) Are they saying that bullying can come from unlikely places? If so, that feels a lot like punching downward instead of mocking the establishment.
I mean, seriously, Heathers is about a group of interchangeable high school bitches who share everything right down to their own names. They are teenage cruelty and popularity personified. These updates completely go against that premise.
Heathers can and should be remade for a modern audience. But that remake needs to understand exactly what makes the original so sharp and awesome. Based on all the facts so far, it doesn’t seem like TV Land has a good grasp on the concept. Remember when Michael Bay announced his remake of Ninja Turtles, and there were rumors that the turtles would be aliens instead of mutants? People freaked out. They said it went against the core concept. And it did. But at least it didn’t go against the themes and ideas of the original. The turtles were still outsiders. They were still fighting the bad guys and figuring out their abilities.
The new Heathers sounds much worse than alien Ninja Turtles. It doesn’t just go against the original story; it goes against the themes and ideas that made the original so great. It would be like updating the Ninja Turtles to make them look like normal people who live in the suburbs instead of the sewers. It would be a completely different animal altogether.
Now, could this TV show possibly be good? Sure. Could it be biting and funny and dark? Yeah, of course. But it wouldn’t have the wicked thrill of “taking down the interchangeable popular girls.” It wouldn’t be satirizing the high school clique system. Without those themes, it wouldn’t be Heathers. And to that, I say… Corn Nuts!
Charlie Purcell is an American living and working on beautiful Zanzibar Island off the coast of Tanzania. When he’s not swimming or eating too much of the local food, he teaches English and drama at an international school. He’s a movie reviewer for Slickster Magazine, as well as the writer of several young adult adventure stories. For updates on his novels and short stories, visit ThisIsCharliePurcell.blogspot.com.