This review of Netflix’s Heartbreak High (2022) Season 1 is spoiler-free.
READ: 5 Reasons to Watch Heartbreak High.
READ: Everything We Know About Heartbreak High.
Let’s get the obvious comparisons out of the way. Yes, the Netflix reboot in 2022 heartbreak high is a bit like euphoria and much like sex education. Bottom line, probably no comparison is bad – these are two highly regarded and well-watched shows, after all – but both sell what’s really been achieved here. Yes, while any show set in a high school that is primarily about sex and identity will draw comparisons to the most well-known high school shows about sex and identity, don’t let that put you off. heartbreak high is not a cheap imitation. In fact, it could be the new gold standard for the genre. In a few years I might open another review about a show that feels suspicious heartbreak high.
You can forget the original. Twenty years later but right on time, this version of Hartley High is a defiantly progressive and unmistakably Australian coming-of-age tale about bumbling teenagers caught up in a sexy scandal. It’s rude and at times explicit, far more than the soapy shenanigans you imagine when you think of the original, which ran for seven seasons in the ’90s and along with Neighbors and home and away, was part of Australia’s pre-streaming megahit triumvirate. At least everyone still dresses like they did in the ’90s, but fashion trends have always been a snake eating its own tail. Eventually cool will pass and then cooler than ever.
heartbreak high has a pretty fluid definition of what is cool. Her students vary greatly in appearance, ethnicity, sexuality, and socioeconomic status. There are archetypes, but virtually all are quickly subverted, and the dynamic built up over eight episodes often defies genre expectations. No one is quite who they appear to be, which ties closely to the series’ catalysing incident – the discovery of an “incest card” in a locked stairwell, tangled up in all the relationships, connections and rumors that the New Year 11s became.
The Incest card is the work of best friends Amerie (Ayesha Madon) and Harper (Asher Yasbincek), though they’re no longer best friends by the start of the season for reasons that quickly become something of an overarching mystery. Amerie is confused when Harper arrives at school with his head shaved and uninterested in speaking to her. The last time they saw each other was at a festival, but Amerie can’t remember what happened there. Whatever it was, it caused Harper to radically reinvent himself and distance himself completely from Amerie.
But if this is the macroplot, the microplot focuses much more on a new sex ed class set up for the benefit of all named on the incest chart. This includes Amerie and Harper, as well as the fringe characters who become their friends, lovers and rivals as the season progresses – popular heartthrob Dusty (Josh Heuston), struggling best friends Darren (James Majoos) and Quinni (Chloe Hayden). Bad Boy Ca$h (Will McDonald), New Kid Malakai (Thomas Weatherall) and a few others. The class is taught by Jojo (Chika Ikogwe), a hip, insightful new teacher who constantly clashes with the old-fashioned principal, Woodsy, who prefers to pretend none of this happened.
The breakdown of a friendship is treated here much like how a breakdown in a relationship might be – Amerie claims to have been “thrown off” numerous times – and given the seriousness it deserves for turning multiple lives upside down. Urged to move into new masses, reinvent themselves, and ultimately solve their personal problems, Amerie and Harper are our reluctant guides through a social hierarchy of which even they are unsure. They once thought the map they put together might keep everything in order, but we soon learn that drugs, alcohol, consent, identity, sexuality, and class are intertwined in ways so intricate and unexpected that no bare wall ever contained the spider web of the episode theater.
This helps heartbreak high is so diverse. Most shows these days are natural, but usually in a pompous, symbolic way so they can uphold the same values without being easily criticized for it. Not only does this show have a non-binary character, but one written for a non-binary actor. So is Quinni’s autism, which is portrayed aptly and sensitively. These people don’t boil down to their “thing”; They’re more than they’ve always been, and it’s a refreshing show that emphasizes the importance of empathy without also instilling pity.
And the young newcomers are all up to the challenge of bringing these characters to life – I have no doubt that many careers are made on the basis of this show. Madon, who has only one previous credit, is as capable a lead as any I’ve seen in recent times and Majoos, who according to IMDb has never been in anything before, is an absolute delight. But everyone is fine here; Everyone feels they fit, even if their entire character arc is about not fitting at all.
If any show deserves the kind of widespread mainstream attention that Netflix can facilitate, this is it.
You can stream Heartbreak High (2022) Season 1 exclusively on Netflix.