"Heathers'" diverse casting wasn't enough to make it viable for the modern political climate. (Illustration by Kayla Rader, Northwest Vista College)

Why Was the ‘Heathers’ Reboot Cancelled, but ‘13 Reasons Why’ Re-signed?

Both deal with high school violence, but the shows have three critical differences.

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Both deal with high school violence, but the shows have three critical differences.

From the get-go, the announcement of a “Heathers” television series was controversial.

The show was to be based off of the 1988 movie of the same name, which is widely regarded as a cult classic. The trailers for the show looked drastically different from the original movie and confirmed to the original’s loyal following that the story did not need a modern reboot, especially in today’s day and age.

After the most recent school shootings in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas, the show’s satirical portrayal of teenagers killing each other and blowing up their schools looked insensitive and hopelessly outdated. With the current stigma surrounding high school violence in the country, the Paramount Network promptly cancelled the “Heathers” spin-off.

Meanwhile, Netflix released the second season of its popular, yet controversial show “13 Reasons Why” just one day before the shooting in Santa Fe. The premiere party for the series was cancelled, but the show itself was picked up for a third season.

Renewing the show was somewhat surprising, given that both seasons so far have generated controversy about their depictions of mental health, suicide and violence within schools. Still, “13 Reasons Why” and its stars remain popular among many teens, and Netflix wants to continue catering to that audience.

So, if both shows handle similar themes and taboo topics, why was “Heathers” cancelled before it even premiered, while “13 Reasons Why” is still going strong? There are three main reasons.

1. The Tone

“Heathers” is, at the end of the day, a comedy — albeit a very dark one. The movie was a satire that critiqued high school popularity and teen conceptions of mortality, but it does so through some endlessly quotable zingers. The trailer for the television series even pulled one of the original’s most memorable lines, with protagonist Veronica Sawyer (Grace Victoria Cox) deadpanning, “Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw.”

Back in the late ‘80s, the film managed to walk the line between morbid and comical, and it benefitted from a release date that was well before school shootings became tragically common in the United States. 2018 probably isn’t the time to make jokes about teens with guns.

“13 Reasons Why,” on the other hand, takes a very earnest approach toward its demons. The creators of the show take pride in portraying issues, such as sexual assault and suicide, in very real ways — too real, according to some.

Still, whether or not you think that the show handles the issues well, the creators are still trying to facilitate serious conversations that need to be had, rather than making light of violence or death. The serious tone of the show ensures that the social issues take center stage, rather than being overshadowed by edgy humor.

This is the biggest difference I see between the two shows. There are serious conversations taking place across the country about how to protect children from violence within their schools, making “Heathers,” which makes light of violence, an easy target.

The creators of the failed show say that they still stand behind their concept and hope to air it on another network, but it seems likely that only those who follow in the footsteps of “13 Reasons Why,” which takes a serious tack, will be able to engage with the topic of school shootings in the current political climate.

2. The Hype

Both television shows are based off beloved source material, with “Heathers” being a remake of the ‘80s movie and the first season of “13 Reasons Why” being an adaptation of Jay Asher’s novel.

In adapting “13 Reasons Why” to television, the show’s creators stuck closely to the plot and characters from the book, creating buzz with fans of the novel who were excited to see the story come to life on-screen. While the show was criticized by some mental health experts and the second season got mixed reviews, both seasons brought a lot of eyes for Netflix. The idea of a faithful adaptation of a popular and mature young adult novel has clearly struck a chord with viewers.

“Heathers” chose not to pay homage to the cult classic and seems, based on the trailer, to deviate greatly from its source material. In the 1988 movie, the titular Heathers are a group of three conventionally beautiful and popular girls, all named Heather, who rule their school. The television show’s casting of the Heathers is significantly different, with the trio being composed of a body-positive girl, a gender-queer male and a biracial lesbian, rather than three skinny white girls.

While the diversity in media representation is vital, having the Heathers be portrayed by people who wouldn’t be typically seen as the “queen bees” takes away from the movie’s commentary on popularity in high school.

However, the show’s creators may have brought this on themselves by quoting directly from the original movie in the trailer, which immediately invited comparisons about who delivered the lines better, with most leaning in favor of the original.

While the casting of the new “Heathers” show was meant to be inclusive, the Heathers trio may be a jarring difference from the original. (Image via YouTube)

Also, this is the first time “13 Reasons Why” has been adapted, making the hype around it even greater. “Heathers,” on the other hand, was adapted into an off-Broadway musical a mere four years ago. The musical was mostly faithful to the film and attained a cult-classic status among theater fans, similar to that of its source material.

With such a strong adaptation already being released just a few years ago, there was little clamoring for a television show, especially one that seemed to veer drastically away from the movie. The lack of enthusiasm for a “Heathers” series probably made the decision to nix the project a little easier.

3. The Network

Not only do the two shows handle their subjects and respective source material differently, but the platforms that carry them are in completely different situations. “Heathers” was meant to air on the Paramount Network, which is owned by the media conglomerate Viacom. Viacom made a very clear statement showing their horror over the Parkland shooting by turning all of their channels dark for 17 minutes, to honor the 17 dead in Parkland.

To release a show that takes a glib approach to school shootings after this would be more than a little hypocritical. In order to preserve its integrity and honor the victims of school shootings, the network had to cancel “Heathers.”

“13 Reasons Why” is a Netflix original production and the streaming service is significantly more autonomous when it comes to choosing its programming, primarily because Netflix does not rely on advertisers like many networks.

So, even though the second season of “13 Reasons Why” was more criticized for its handling of sensitive issues, Netflix does not need to worry about advertisers pulling their support. In other words, Netflix can afford to take risks with controversial material. Perhaps “Heathers” will eventually find a new home with another streaming service?

Writer Profile

Carly Ristaino

Union College
English and Political Science

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