Heathers: The Television Hero We Deserve?

Jocelyn Padilla, Journalist

Heathers, the 1989 film starring Winona Ryder as Veronica Sawyer, the protagonist and accomplice to Christian Slater as JD, resident bad boy with an urge to kill, became the poster for dark comedies at the time, a cult classic in the making. The filming lasted 33 days in total on a budget of three million in total. The tone of the movie was dark, and surrounded the intricacies of high school and its’ issues, as well as topics such as bullying and murder. In 2014, the movie was turned into a hit Broadway musical by the same title, which garnered more attention for the movie as a whole. So, in hearing that Paramount Network was developing and releasing a series based on Heathers with the iconic characters we know and love, though many people were skeptical, many people were excited at the prospect of a cult classic revival adapted to modern day. That was until the trailer was released.
Paramount’s Heathers trailer received 31,000 overall dislikes since the show’s announcement, comparing to only 11,000 likes as of early October. The top comment written by IconicKiddo reads, “thanks, I hate it.” with nearly 4,000 likes. Websites that also heavily consist of content from “Heathers,” the musical and Heathers the movie like Tumblr have had an overwhelming increase of anti-Paramount Heather’s content decorating the homepage. With such posts saying: “The only acceptable forms of Heathers”, citing the movie and musical, and in all caps “Happy pride month *******! Peathers has been cancelled!” This post accumulated over 46,000 likes on the site, posted shortly following the show’s cancellation in late February / early June, following the Parkland shooting. The Heathers community has even dubbed the reboot, “Peathers”, combining the word with Paramount to make it easy to differentiate.
Now, Heathers has always been one of my favorite movies for several reasons: Winona Ryder’s impeccable acting at only 15 (wow!), the fact that the movie is still relevant in the issues it faces, and how the overall struggle and conflict is focused around power positions and elitism – the movies’ message and meaning ascending past the dark humor of teenagers killing one another. All of that being said, adding the plotting of a main character to blow up the school, I consider Heathers to be a movie that ages well with time, seeing as if the same plot was pitched today, it would be rejected for being far too offensive to air anywhere. So when the reboot was announced, I anticipated its release to see how Paramount would tackle Heathers, and how much of the major plot points would be changed to fit a more modern audience.
When I watched the trailer, I was immediately struck with doubt and disappointment. You see, the Heathers in both the musical and the movie are presented as the ideal girls that everyone either wants to be friends with or wants to be with. They were the easy antagonists – the people who were easy to hate on a surface level because of their mean girl stature and attitudes, and because of the popularity and boys they attracted with ease. However, in Peathers, Heather Chandler, who is the queen bee so to speak, presents as an overweight girl. Heather Duke is genderqueer. Heather McNamara is biracial, and a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Veronica Sawyer, the protagonist, is white with blonde hair and blue eyes and an attitude to kill. JD, her love interest and other surface level antagonist is also white with blue eyes. Now, I’m not suggesting that the Heathers be presented as straight white skinny girls, or that this version of the Heathers can’t be popular, but when the minorities in your TV are virtually only your “villains”, that’s an issue for a lot of people.
Westerburg, the school that the teens attend, represents society as a whole – a place that rejects the socially awkward and unacceptable, and promotes the pretty, skinny, and generally white people. Having the Heathers in the reboot both be minorities and popular simultaneously undermines the idea of what Westerburg High School is, and what Heathers is trying to say about people in power positions, seeing as your overweight biracial genderqueer peoples are still not generally accepted in society, even though we are approaching a point where that may shift. So, strike number one for Peathers straight off the bat for presenting the minorities in the show as the surface villains in the popular crowd in small town Ohio.
After watching this trailer, I decided that I had to watch this show – that it was my civic duty to sit and endure what I knew would be a trainwreck. And, that’s exactly what I did. I sat down and embarked on my journey into the unknown and finished all ten episodes. Episode ten in particular caught my attention and gained slot as my personal favorite, though episode ten, the seasons’ finale, was deemed “too controversial” for US audiences and was never aired. However, I was able to find the episode available online and watched it after feeling left unsatisfied by the US finale, episode nine. Episode ten was a perfect introspective critique of society, titled, “Are We Going to Prom or Hell?”
The Peathers finale was written adhering more so to the original ending to the 1989 Heathers, an ending which was deemed too upsetting and controversial for the studio to make, though everyone working on the movie was on board. The ending to the movie had Veronica give a speech in the front of the school with a bomb strapped to her chest, the shot fading to black as she says the word, “boom”. This scene is followed by a prom in heaven. Peathers almost exactly replicates this ending in their final episode.
The episode starts off with everyone getting dressed and attending the school’s prom, which fitting had the theme of “Still Standing,” to “honor” the fallen students at Westerberg High. JD had plans to blow up the school, in which he tries to explain to Veronica is necessary – that “violence is just who we are [as Americans].” He talks of how things won’t get better after high school, to which Veronica agrees after her final encounter with Heather Chandler, who tells her that she’s nothing, and how even after high school everyone will remember Heather. However, after JD hears of a shooting that took place minutes before his bomb is planned to go off at another high school, he immediately wants to call it off, because JD himself is too concerned with his image and with what others think. After this, the couple shoots one another, and Veronica sets the timer for the bomb. Bystander Dylan Lutz sees this and tries to warn his fellow classmates and teachers who are preoccupied with measuring the length of Heather’s dress than listening to him. Then, the bomb goes off.
Heather is left the lone survivor of the massacre, in which she tries to take advantage of the situation and promote her personal brand rather than be upset or at all traumatized about her peers dying. This turns south, however, when she realizes that she will only ever be remembered as the now infamous Veronica Sawyer’s friend. In the parking lot, the teachers talk amongst themselves, one asking, “Do you think that maybe we could’ve paid more attention to all of these kids?” to which another teacher replies, “Well I guess we’ll never know now.” After this, we cut to prom in white, with all of the students who died dancing in Heaven. Veronica and JD wander the dance floor looking for one another, until they are shut out of the prom in the dark, the blinds shutting behind them. The ending is strikingly dark, but makes quite the statement about society and elitism.
“Are We Going to Prom or Hell?” as an episode makes the previous concerns about Peathers seem miniscule, this episode being one that is deeply reminiscent of modern day society and how teenagers are treated, and how we treat others in the wake of tragedies we face everyday. Peathers isn’t about two kids who kill their classmates, it’s about society and how high school can shape us for better or for worse – about a culture that values image over what’s right. We can laugh at Peathers, and we can learn from it.
“Okay, I decided to have an open mind and watch the reboot. I actually like its take on high school right now. I will always love the movie and musical more, but this isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Yes, they got things wrong, but this is a reimagining of the original Heathers story, not a perfect rewrite. Yes, it’s not perfect, but is it worth hating on when you’ve only seen the trailer?”