Heathers reboot faces delays and controversy leading up to its release
A psychotic bad-boy villain, a toxic-yet-passionate relationship, a build-up of teenage popularity angst, a sudden wave of supposed teenage suicides, mysterious actor Christian Slater, and the quirky young rising star, Winona Ryder. These and many more qualities meshed together to make up the 1988 satirical cult classic Heathers. Made with the aim to create a satirical commentary of popular coming-of-age films that were flooding movie theaters, such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Sixteen Candles, Heathers was about more than just two teens committing murder or promoting awareness of teenage suicide. It captured the essence of how teenagers at the time were viewed and provided a satire that was supposed to be both shocking and thought-provoking to audiences. Now, 30 years after its initial release, Heathers has upheld its cult classic status. The movie remained popular enough that in 2016, it was announced that Paramount Network would be making a reboot of the classic film. With the amount of praise Heathers saw in the 80s, the negative response and controversy that arose with news of a reboot was shocking to both fans and producers.
Heathers, the show, has faced controversy since its early stages. Originally planned to be released in March 2018 to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the movie’s release, the show’s premiere was postponed due to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that had occurred the month before it was supposed to air. “Paramount Network’s original series Heathers is a satirical comedy that takes creative risks in dealing with many of society’s most challenging subjects ,ranging from personal identity, to race and socioeconomic status, to gun violence,” said a Paramount representative in a statement announcing the delay. “While we stand firmly behind the show, in light of the recent tragic events in Florida and out of respect for the victims, their families, and loved ones, we feel the right thing to do is delay the premiere until later this year.”
Shortly after this delay, Paramount announced that the show would be released in early July. However, this date was also moved back when Viacom, Paramount’s parent company, dropped the show completely in concern for the content that it displayed. In recent months, production teams have been working to revise the final cuts in hopes of shaping the narrative to treat delicate subjects with more sensitivity. It was announced in early October that the Heathers nine-part television series would now premiere on Oct. 25 and play over the course of five nights leading up to Halloween.
However, Oct. 22 started the sudden string of pipe bombs that were sent to high-status Democratic politicians. It became a worry for Paramount that airing the show would again be controversial due to the ending of the Heathers’ plot. Also occurring within the week before the supposed release was a massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 Jewish people killed and others wounded, making it the largest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. Heathers was once again was pulled from the TV schedule, leaving fans and critics alike to question whether there is ever a good time to air the show.
When Heathers, the movie, was originally released in the late 1980s, it served to be a commentary on how society viewed teenagers and high school life, which is why it addressed issues of suicide, toxic relationships, and popularity in an almost-horror-movie type setting. This “dark comedy” style fulfilled its satirical purpose for the time it was released and can still be looked back upon as commentary of the times it was made for. However, bringing this satirical narrative into 2018 is a difficult task when attempting to uphold the film’s original purpose. Making a movie that was meant to capture society in a specific time fit into the narrative of a society 30 years later is not an easy thing to accomplish.
The pilot episode of the Heathers show was released on iTunes a week before the show was postponed the first time in March. Reactions to the show were mostly negative, with critiques of what the producers chose to leave the same compared to what they decided to change. For example, the three Heathers characters, who serve as the archetypical white, skinny, popular mean girls were changed to minority characters: one genderqueer, one fat, and one black lesbian. Veronica, who was originally played by Ryder, was left as skinny, white and straight.
“The point of the original Heathers group was that they were a very homogeneous group,” said second-year Miranda Harries. “It would be great to fit more diverse actors into the Heathers storyline and create new plotline that addresses minorities, but putting these varying people into the Heathers popular group loses the commentary that the original movie was trying to convey.” The plot also was mostly the same, with the exception that Heather Chandler is not dead, which writers of the show explained as a way to add more depth to her character. This also contradicts the original commentary of the uniform and replaceable roles the Heathers represented. Plot points that could have been changed to address the current political and social climate seemed to have been left alone while they changed seemingly unnecessary details that either should have been left alone or developed more.
However, it is difficult to judge the show entirely without it having been released. Daniel Walters, the writer of the original Heathers movie, has openly discussed his opinion on the show, the delay, and current teen culture. “Having seen the first five episodes, the pilot was really the only problematic one,” he said to Newsweek. “That was what I feared the whole show would be [. . .] People are misconstruing the idea that ‘the unpopular kids are now the popular kids, blah, blah, blah,’ as some sort of thesis statement of the show. If you get to the later episodes, you see it’s something more than that.”
Walters, having had no say or part in the production of the Heathers show, also discussed his opinion on whether the show should have been made in the context of today’s society. “People always come up to me and say, ‘Heathers couldn’t be made today.’ Well, no one wanted it to be made in the late ‘80s, either. And, believe me, at the time, Heathers wasn’t beloved by everyone the way it suddenly seems to be now. It was very divisive. There’s never a good time,” he said. “I’m really disappointed they pushed back the show. When I heard, I thought, ‘Oh, you’re going to wait for the week when there isn’t a mass shooting? Good luck with that.’ I think it’s better to get it out there, and the ensuing arguments will be creative, interesting, and helpful.”
Fans were led to question the intention of Paramount TV in making the reboot in the first place. When tackling the remaking of something so satirical and controversial, delaying the release out of being cautious almost defeats the purpose of making a show that is supposed to open conversation and make you question.
Asst. Arts & Entertainment Editor