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Dear ‘Heathers’ reboot: What’s your damage?

| Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Cristina Interiano | The Observer

There’s a lot to say about the overwhelming wave of reboots in Hollywood. Much like most of the think pieces about them, these reboots are repetitive, overdone, cash-grabbing and rarely add enough to the original to make them worth the effort.

Being too similar to the original is not the problem most critics have had since the trailer for the upcoming reboot of “Heathers” dropped Jan. 18.

The main problem? The mean-girl Heathers of 1988 were a trio of privileged white girls who treated their classmates cruelly. In 2018, though, the Heathers are a trio of marginalized students, including a fat Heather Chandler (Melanie Field), a black Heather McNamara (Jasmine Mathews) and a genderqueer Heather Duke (Brendan Scannell). Veronica Sawyer (Grace Victoria Cox) remains straight, white and conventionally attractive, as does J.D. (James Scully). The new film’s idea is that power corrupts everyone, and anyone can be a bad person. That’s not a sentiment many people would disagree with, but whether that point should be made in such a way that perpetuates and reinforces harmful ideas about minorities is a major concern, and rightfully so.

The show looks like it’s going to jump the gun in its “representation” of marginalized people, making fun of and satirizing a power dynamic that doesn’t actually exist.

Twitter critics have a lot to say about showrunner Jason Micallef — namely, demanding to know what his damage is. His “damage” seems to be that he has a different understanding of the original movie than most people. In an interview with “Entertainment Weekly,” he said the Heathers are the “aspirational characters” and “victims in their own right.”

“I don’t view the Heathers as the villains,” he said. “ … The villain is J.D. — and that’s the same in the movie and same in our show.”

If you need a spoiler warning for the original “Heathers,” this probably isn’t the article for you, but in the film, J.D. “tricks” Veronica into helping him kill off the popular kids and frame the murders as suicides. Eventually, he tries to blow up the school. The new Heather Chandler really sums J.D. up best in the trailer, calling him Veronica’s “domestic terrorist boyfriend.” Heather Duke adds that he’s a “teenaged Charles Manson.”

Perhaps because the old Veronica — played by Winona Ryder — is unquestionably the protagonist, it feels like we’re supposed to sympathize and even identify with her and J.D. (Christian Slater) as they slash their way through the social hierarchy; it kind of works when they’re killing a football player we see date-raping a girl or a mean girl who manipulates the emotions of near-perfect strangers with cruel pranks. But then are we also supposed to sympathize with the new Veronica and J.D. as they start killing off minorities, many of whom are at a statistically greater risk of violence in real life?

If that’s the premise, people should be upset. At its absolute best, it’s distasteful, which should not be mistakenly attributed to dark comedy — a genre which should be provocative and gritty — but have substance to back up what would otherwise be pure shock factor.

My hopes for “Heathers” are not high, but I do have a vision for what I want the show to be and, as I’ve yet to see anything directly contradict that desire, I’m going to hold on to it for a little while longer. For this show to not be a raging garbage fire, Micallef needs to be making a very specific commentary, but given his understanding of the original, such a retelling doesn’t seem to be entirely out of the question. Clearly, he sees J.D. as the sole villain.

Under that premise, I ask: Isn’t the idea of a couple of privileged white teenagers murdering minorities because they think think they’re the “real” victims, while the marginalized students are the “real” oppressors a bit compelling? Topical, even? The rhetoric of a “post-PC world” has become increasingly prevalent, and if Micallef is using this social environment to satirize those who think that being confronted with their own privilege is the “new oppression,” then he might be on to something.

I’m not entirely — or remotely, really — convinced that’s what will happen, but I’m sure I’ll find out when the show premiers on Paramount Network on March 7.

The original J.D. claims “the extreme always seems to make an impression.” Let’s just hope, if by some chance “Heathers” is actually making a worthwhile commentary, the astoundingly negative first impression it’s made doesn’t get in its way of doing so.

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About Megan Valley

Megan Valley was Assistant Managing Editor for The Observer. She majored in English and the Program of Liberal Studies and hailed from Flushing, Michigan.

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