Tragedy postpones TV’s Heathers for a third time

Courtesy of Paramount Network
The diversification of the cast of Heathers (2018) proves more problematic than progressive.

Griffin Sendek | Staff Writer

11/08/18

The 2018 TV reboot of Heathers recently had two episodes pulled from the air following the Squirrel Hill Synagogue shooting, marking the third time a mass shooting has interrupted the show from airing.

In the current age of constant remakes, reboots and reimaginings, there are some movies that should just be left alone and never touched again. Heathers is one of those movies; It should have been left on the shelf to simply be enjoyed as a piece of its time.

For those who are unaware, the story of the original Heathers follows characters Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) and her new boyfriend JD’s (Christian Slater) plot to kill all the cool and popular kids, among them none other than the three infamous Heathers;  Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty), Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk) and the leader of the pack, Heather Chandler (Kim Walker). Together, they are the most popular girls in school, but also the most vicious and feared.

Nonetheless, the Viacom-owned Paramount Network decided to remake the 1988 cult classic in a modern setting. After the initial trailer was released, it was met with immediate backlash for this new dark and edgy take. Fans commonly get up in arms over even the smallest changes in their beloved movies. After watching the first trailer, it was apparent that nearly every aspect of the original story had been forcibly shaped and bent to fit the new setting.

Watching the 1988 Heathers today leaves you wondering how this movie was ever made in the first place. It boggles my mind that someone thought to give a modern twist to a story about violently murdering high schoolers and covering them up as plea for help or suicides was in any way a good idea.

One of the most contentious decisions is the show’s use of representation. In this remake, Heather Chandler is plus-sized, Heather Duke is genderqueer and Heather McNamara is a biracial lesbian. At first glance, this choice is an interesting subversion and brings some much-needed diversity to the forefront on television.

However, its implementation and execution into a story such as Heathers is ultimately shallow and uninformed.

The idea was that times have changed and that in today’s day and age, anyone can be popular and anyone can be the bully. But inserting that ideal into this story that the victims of violence are now minorities does far more harm than good. This superficial attempt at progressiveness falls flat on its face. If the only on-screen representation these demographics are going to receive is demonization and promptly being killed off, they would be better off not being included. Just because Heathers (2018) is diverse does not mean it in any way provides good representation.

Getting Heathers (2018) on the air has been a hectic and controversial process to say the least. It was initially slated for a March 7, 2018 release, but the show was pushed back in the wake of the Parkland high school shooting.

In an official statement, a Viacom spokesperson said “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.”

If a mass shooting being fresh in the minds of audiences makes the entirety of a show too controversial to air, that should have been a glaring red flag that this show was not a good idea. The reality is that depicting the murder and suicides of high schoolers is not going to become any less controversial or problematic no matter how much time has passed since the latest mass shooting.

The July premiere date was bumped yet again after the events of the Santa Fe High School shooting, and it was announced in June that the show would not play on the Paramount Network.

If the first time a school shooting interrupted the premiere wasn’t evidence enough that this show should never make it past critic screenings, the second time a shooting interrupted Heathers (2018)’s airdate should have been the final straw.

After the initial cancellation, Paramount Network attempted to sell Heathers (2018) to other networks but to no avail, Netflix and Freeform being among those who refused the offer.

Paramount was not willing to give up on Heathers (2018) so quickly, for it would eventually be brought back in the network’s third attempt for a weeklong release in October. This time successfully making it onto the air, albeit not without a few caveats. After several cut scenes and extensive reshoots, the show was ready to be aired. One of the most extreme changes was the two-part series finale being compacted into a single episode, completely cutting the sequence in which the school is blown up by an explosive device, leaving the show with an unresolved and ambiguous cliffhanger.

The Tree of Life synagogue was attacked by an armed assailant on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, leaving 11 dead. This tragedy coincided with the weeklong release of Heathers (2018). Episodes seven and eight, scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 28, which featured an active shooter drill were pulled from the air but still made available to watch on the Paramount Network website.

This marks the third time in Heathers (2018)’s turbulent history that a shooting has caused episodes to be pulled, the third time the show was deemed too controversial too insensitive to be placed on live TV. The way I see it, three strikes and you’re out. Heathers (2018) should have never made it off the cutting room floor, let alone be broadcast on live television. By no means should this show be allowed to continue into future seasons.

 

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