Coming-of-age cinema has been reworked and rebooted a hundred times over. But with the rise of streaming services, audiences’ insatiable appetite for content, and more honest and open dialogue than ever before (thanks to Gen Z), the characters, narratives, and messaging of these stories are beginning to shift.
As evidenced by the success of shows like Euphoria, Normal People, and Sex Education, diverse and nuanced coming-of-age stories and characters are resonating, quite often in a way that large-scale film productions and A-list casts can’t replicate— a fundamental reason why Netflix’s Heartbreak High is slated to be the show that connects with the new generation in Australia and beyond.
While not all reboots are created equal, the Heartbreak High of 2022, reimagined from the wildly successful 90s version of the show, maintains the integrity of the original. “The original in my opinion is untouchable,” James Majoos, who plays Darren, tells Centennial Beauty at the Sydney red carpet premiere. “It’s part of Australian entertainment DNA. But this new iteration or reimagining…we’re honouring the original in the sense that we’re doing our own thing. I think that’s what Heartbreak High is about and I think that’s what Australian teendom is about.”
“It’s the exact same message as the original show,” says James. “I think it’s being unapologetic for who you are. I think that’s what the original had, was its rawness and that really translates into this new iteration. I think that’s really special, and that’s what we do so well here in Australia.”
The 2022 series follows Amerie (Ayesha Madon), who alongside best friend Harper (Asher Yasbincek), has secretly put together a map of the spider web of sexual activities connecting students at Hartley High. When the map is discovered— outing students’ sexual orientation, breaking up couples, and revealing relationships in the process— Amerie takes the fall. She quickly becomes known as the outcast ‘map bitch’, losing her ride-or-die Harper, too. Throughout the first season’s eight episodes, Amerie is brought into the fold by fellow outsiders Darren (James Majoos) and Quinni (Chloé Hayden), who begin the process of rebuilding her reputation, while navigating high school, heartbreak, and the newly introduced Sexual Literacy Tutorials (SLTs – known as ‘sluts’ by the students forced into attendance).
While it’s hard to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the coming-of-age genre, the exploration of heartbreak, sex, friendship, and identity in Heartbreak High feels authentic and raw. Where Australian teens in the past have been forced to revisit Skins UK or Gossip Girl (both extreme representations of the teen experience), Heartbreak High feels like the first genuine exploration of the Australian high school experience for Gen Z. And the show does this while delving into conversations about topics like queerness, neurodivergence, and race in ways that don’t necessarily assume to have all the answers.
When asked which parts they expect will resonate the most with audiences, James explains: “It’s going to be the little things…the classroom stuff and the banter…even just down to the tiny details and nuances of the show. I think that’s what Australians and the world will appreciate, I mean hopefully.”
“What we really suffer from in Australia is cringe culture. I think this show really leans into that and embraces that and I think that’s what’s going to make it special,” they explain. The ability to lean into cringe is part of the charm of Heartbreak High. As we watch main character Amerie interact with heartthrob Dusty on screen, there’s something unique about being able to whole-heartedly relate to the awkwardness of the experience — not the Hollywood version of it we have been taught to expect.
Where comparisons have been made with Euphoria or Normal People, Brodie Townsend, who plays Ant, tells Centennial Beauty, “I think we’re a lot lighter, a lot more fun, there is definitely something for everyone.” As the cast members will likely enter the Netflix-to-viral-star pipeline, each Australian teen can seek to find parts of themselves in the students at Hartley High…all while the rest of the world will be taking to TikTok to frantically discuss the validity of the term “eshay” or the meaning of “chat”.
Heartbreak High is available to stream now on Netflix.