What’s Your Damage?
“Heathers” on Paramount Network
“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 socio-economic status to gun violence. 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.”—Paramount Network Press Release.
A week before the premiere of “Heathers”—a TV spinoff of the 1988 cult comedy by director Michael Lehmann and writer Daniel Waters—the freshly minted Paramount Network pulled the show from its lineup, issuing the above explanation. On the surface it’s not all that surprising. Mainstream media has been extremely gun shy (so to speak) lately. Erring on the side of caution in turbulent times isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But it seems an odd decision to make—particularly in connection with this property.
The original Heathers was intentionally controversial from the get-go. The story—involving suicide, depression and murder in high school—was considered a morbid piece of black comedy back in 1988. The film barely scraped together a million dollars at the box office and didn’t become an oft-quoted cult sensation until it hit the home video market. Most fans know the film’s original ending had conflicted teenager Veronica (Winona Ryder) strapping a bomb to her chest and blowing up her school—at which point all the students are harmoniously reunited at a prom in Heaven, exactly as her rebellious but psychotic boyfriend J.D. (Christian Slater) presaged. The studio (New World Pictures) vetoed that ending, and we wound up with the somewhat tamer conclusion of J.D. blowing himself up while speculating (“Say I blew up the school. Say I blew up all the schools.”) Even with the toned-down ending, Heathers is remembered for its no-holds-barred humor and its surprisingly weighty dialogue. (“When teenagers complain that they want to be treated like human beings, it's usually because they are being treated like human beings.”)
So it’s not like Paramount Network didn’t know what it was getting itself into with this remake. Although advertised as an “anthology” series “inspired” by the 1988 film, the series appears to have borrowed most of its plot and dialogue from the original. The twist is that it flips the stereotypes, turning the bullying, über-popular “Heathers” into a wildly diverse clique including a plus-size bad girl, a gender queer kid and a biracial lesbian. Rebelling against their politically correct authority is conventional blonde gal Veronica and straight kid JD.
Commenting on the as-yet-unaired series, Hollywood Reporter called it “a one note disappointment,” while slashfilm.com dubbed it “a rotten, misguided riff on the original movie.” So is Paramount hiding the show from critiques or critics? Either way, it seems misguided. The point of Heathers was to confront hard-hitting teen issues in a direct, non-condescending manner. If the aftermath of teen killings is not the time to talk about teen killings, then when is the appropriate time? Ten weeks later? Six months? Immediately before the next school shooting? Guess we’ll find out when Paramount settles on a new date for “Heathers.”