I haven’t addressed this before (mostly because it just recently became true), but Heathers is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s a film dripping with black comedy, all to deliver social commentary on the average American high school. Over the years, it’s become a cult classic. This isn’t just because it’s funny and smart— it’s because it’s just as relevant today as it was in 1989. Sure, technology and changing attitudes have created a very different world to the one in which the original Heathers took place, but the social hierarchies and interpersonal relationships have stayed the same. Thus, the messages and themes of the original Heathers are still just as applicable to today’s youth.
In comes the 2018 television adaptation, promising the same biting commentary and clever comedy for a technologically-driven world. Instead, it offers nothing but barely incomprehensible one-liners and criticism that seemingly doesn’t know at whom or what it is directed. But how does a show that’s main goal is to bring a nearly thirty-year-old movie into the modern age fail so bad?
According to the many exposés and essays that came before mine, this is due to a lot of reasons. Some say it’s the writing, others the acting. Yet more claim it’s due to the confused casting. But I think I can boil it all down to one basic issue: target audience.
The original Heathers had a very particular target audience in mind throughout every step of its production, from conception to promotion. That audience? The very sort of teens portrayed in this movie. It wants to speak to not only the downtrodden, but the popular. In order to criticize such a particular pool of people (high school students), it needs to talk to the people who live in that world.
The television show, on the other hand, seemingly has no target audience. It would be a lot easier to discuss and think critically about the changes made if they did. However, there is nothing about this show that the two most conceivable target audiences could latch onto: young conservatives and social justice warriors. The cast is remarkably diverse and actively discusses social issues. However, the most diverse characters are the Heathers (i.e. the bullies), while our “heroes” Veronica and J.D. are thin, straight, white, conventionally attractive teens. And, if you know anything about the plot of Heathers, you know at least one Heather ends up dead at their hands.
Thus, the concept is rejected by both sides. The showrunner and writers have an impressive lack of understanding about today’s youth, culminating in a show with no one to watch it. It would be tragic if it seemed like any research whatsoever had gone into any of this. The show doesn’t even give off the vibe that anyone involved even watched the original Heathers, opting instead to read the plot summary on Wikipedia. The 2018 Heathers reboot was ultimately doomed to fail, as long as it was helmed by writers and production managers with no concept of nuance or who this story was even for.
Could a 2018 Heathers reboot have worked, even with such extreme changes as these? Sure. It wouldn’t be what fans of the original Heathers wanted, but it would be something. The problem is there’s no concrete reasoning behind any of these changes because a new story isn’t being told because no one at this show knows who they’re telling it for. Unfortunately, we got this. But at least we live in 2018, a year in which we can just open up Netflix and stream the original, vastly superior 1989 film.
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