We live in an age of rebooting and reimagining our favorite works of fiction for a new generation. The latest major title that is slated to be reworked is the 1989 teen-comedy starring Christian Slater and Winona Ryder; Heathers. The new 2018 television remake, Heathers, appears to follow in the footsteps of the original plot.
In this story, we follow Veronica Sawyer, your average teenage girl who finds herself mingling with the three most popular girls in her high school, all of whom are named Heather. The three Heathers are popular, snooty, entitled, and condescending towards the social peasants that are below them, and Veronica hates them. Eventually, the Heathers and Veronica, while conducting a lunchtime survey around the school, come across an odd, yet intriguing boy named J.D. Veronica and J.D. soon begin to bond over their disconnect from the nonsensical social customs that are so prevalent in their school and society. Veronica quickly learns however, after a prank leads to the death of one of the Heathers, that J.D. is a sociopath who fakes other people’s suicides as a hobby.
On January 18, 2018, a trailer was released by Paramount Network for the upcoming television version of Heathers. The trailer, which opens with a croquet mallet in a nod to the original, introduces us to the new Veronica Sawyer, who is still your average, slender, white, teen girl. The three Heathers on the other hand, drop the identities given in the original film, and are now a diverse group consisting of a plus sized Heather, a black Heather, and a genderqueer Heather. It is made evidently clear that these characters are meant to be bold and progressive.
As of February 15th, 2018, the official YouTube trailer has a less than optimal reception, a 9,000 likes to 33,000 dislikes ratio, which is less than optimal. The comments section is not much better, with the current top comment, in a not-so-transparent way, calling it bargain bin material, effectively summarizing most of the top comments. In fact, I had to scroll quite a ways to find a comment that was remotely neutral, and about the best I could find is “i never been more bored watching a trailer in my life." So why has Heathers (2018) been panned by everyone across the board? Well, it certainly isn’t just for the reason of it getting a reboot, so I’m going to take a look and analyze this trailer from the perspective of a writer.
Within eight seconds of the trailer starting, we are met with the faces of the Heathers and of Veronica. The impression given by her character in this initial encounter with the Heathers is her sheepish, flustered, and easily embarrassed personality. Throughout the rest of the trailer, she seems bewildered by the world around her (especially in her interactions with J.D.), instead of being satirical and bewildered by the dumb social customs of society like she is in the original, which gave us a driving comedic force while also bringing to light some of the main themes of the story. Almost immediately, the trailer gets one of the main characters wrong.
As for J.D., his character speaks very little dialogue in the trailer (and when he does, he’s monotone). His introduction is a description by other characters as a “rebel”, “domestic terrorist”, and “teenage Charles Manson”. I’m going to stop it right there. In writing, the phrase “show, don’t tell” should absolutely be applied if you are looking to write a quality story. Even worse is the complete lack of subtly found in his introduction, as the footage shown involves knives, car wrecks, and sex (nothing graphic, but it conveys the idea). His introduction is a massive, multi-way train wreck. The subtly is what made the original J.D. such an interesting character, the line between witty, laid-back rebel and sociopath was meant to be blurred. Here, he’s made out as a mysterious, sexy sociopath with zero personality. His character is a literal rebel without a cause.
Now we approach the elephant in the room, the group of Heathers. Their personalities have taken a complete 180 from the topics explored in the original film, as both the issues of being plus sized and queer were shown as being put-downs by the popular kids. Now, they are the popular kids. One of the biggest criticisms these characters brought was the fact that Veronica and J.D. are still straight white kids, and they are slaughtering the diverse cast of Heathers. In defense of the show, yes, these characters could realistically be complete socially entitled brats, anybody could. The problem is the fact that these characters are trying to cover as much progressive territory as possible, completely overlooking any of the subtleties of being black or genderqueer or plus sized, and instead are just trying to be diverse for the sake of being diverse. The purpose of the original Heathers being such homogeneous characters was because their personalities tied into the concept of “having an ideal image”. Fundamentally, a group of diverse friends who promote and ooze individuality, while at the same time being at the top of the social hierarchy and openly treating others as being below them, contradicts itself (also, it’s a mouthful to say). The Heathers being diverse is just a coat of paint that crumbles the structure of their characters and the plot, there is no reason for them to be diverse other than to pander to an audience. For what seems like half of the trailer, it even openly overlooks the plot to address how amazing it is that there is a “diverse” cast, even though it fails to deliver a truly diverse cast, and consequently, fails to deliver a story.