Writing by Brigitte Murphy
I decided to start Heartbreak High on a whim, I had been lying in bed most of the morning procrastinating a uni assignment and wanted something to fill the time… not good I know.
Three episodes deep and I realised I should probably get onto that assignment. A few hours and one completed assignment later, I watched the remainder of the show tucked up in bed, excited and fully enveloped by the show. Before I knew it, it was dark outside. I hadn’t eaten dinner and I was crying to Tame Impalas ‘Let it Happen’ as the show ended.
Immediately I knew this was something special, and everyone else knew it too. I was texting my friends to watch the show and chatting about it for hours. There have been many profound accounts since the show has been released and I doubt I will be able to provide any new insight but here are a few reasons why I bloody love this show!
Firstly, the characters. In the characters I saw my friends, my not-so-friends, the people I admire and the people I hate and, in some sense, I saw myself. I saw myself in their queerness, I saw myself in their fuck ups, their stupid crushes, their powerful and sometimes turbulent female friendships, their complicated parent relationships and of course, the hilarity that can be an Aussie classroom.
The show is casually and naturally Australian, no stupid kangaroo jokes or “shrimps on the barbie” (BTW, we don’t call them shrimps anyway, we call them prawns). It’s both hilarious and refreshing to hear things on screen that you actually hear around you. Some of my favourite one-liners came from the iconic Darren Rivers, (pssst spoilers ahead), their amazing and fabulous lines include but are not limited too, “I love when toxic bitches enter their flop era”, “what in the kid’s helpline?” and how could we forget “not the bayang, the bayang”.
Another reason I loved the show is because it feels rooted in reality (for example, we’re not in a high school full of thirty-year-old’s). There are times when you’ll probably hate every single character (except maybe Cashes Nan), and that feels more realistic and well rounded.
A moment that feels so real and has stuck with me since finishing the show, is when Quinnie, who has autism, experiences over stimulation and her best friend, Darren, knows exactly what to do. Subtly turning off disco lights and ensuring that no one touches her in their attempts to comfort as it would only make it worse. Not only is Darren a great friend here, but throughout the show, the representation of autism is realistic as we see Quinnie experience her day-to-day life. Chloe Hayden who plays Quinnie is also autistic and worked collaboratively with writers and producers to ensure her character was represented accurately for audiences (which we bloody love over here!!).
A main theme of the show is, of course, sex, and as much as we may hate to admit it, the whole ‘incest map’ thing… yeah that is kind of realistic as well. As a teenager in high school, you only know so many people thus, eventually, everyone sleeps with, crushes on, falls out with someone, and yes there are crossovers. Sex scenes throughout the show and people’s reactions to and about sex also feel realistic. Some people are very casual about sex, some are not, some people have sex regularly and some do not. When watching, I noticed how realistic the sex scenes felt, there are sometimes awkward discussions, other times it’s quick and silly and wonderfully there are representations of communication. Movies and TV shows for years have shown sex scenes with sexy background music and very little conversation, whilst some of this occurs in Heartbreak High, it is noticeable that when (spoilers!!) Amerie and Malakai have sex for the first time they communicate with each other. And although it seem like a small detail to include, it’s so amazing (and important) to watch on screen!
Another thing that stood out to me was the focus of female friendship and female rage. The biggest mainstay of the show is the relationship between Amerie and Harper, and the divisiveness of their relationship breakdown and ultimate rekindling. At times I hated them both for not communicating with each other, blaming each other, and letting things come between them, but I also appreciate it because it’s real. When you are a teenager navigating relationships, you fuck up, and we see that between our two female leads.
Finally, the last episode brought female rage to the forefront. Harper sits in art class learning about a painting that represents an example of female rage as well as female friendship. She takes on this metaphor for the final act of the season. Doing my best to avoid major spoilers here, but the power I felt as Amerie and Harper let their rage out and took their power back was something I hadn’t experienced before from a TV show aimed at teenagers.
So all I can say now is do yourself a favour and get binge watching!!!
This show magically balances humour and real life seriousness in a subtle and carefully curated way. It’s beyond marvellous (and about bloody time) to see more Indigenous representation on screen (in characters Malakai and Missy) and representation for so many other marginalised communities including those living with autism and the LGBTQIA+ community. Heartbreak High will give you a big cuddle whilst also kicking you in the feels in the very best (and sometimes the worst) kind of way.