“Heathers” is hardly the first 30-year-old movie to receive a modern reboot, but it’s hard to think of a more misguided re-conception, one that has updated the premise – in a clumsy attempt to be provocative – in wholly muddled and off-putting ways.
The off-screen story of “Heathers,” at this point, is far more interesting than the show, which the Paramount Network will essentially burn off, airing back-to-back episodes over successive nights.
Originally scheduled for last March, the cable network delayed the premiere in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. Paramount subsequently announced that it would seek another buyer, clearly came up empty, and finally opted to play it, albeit without much fanfare.
As with the original “Heathers,” which starred Winona Ryder, the show features Veronica (Grace Victoria Cox), a high school student who has her misgivings about fitting in with the popular kids, not being 100 percent on board with their judgmental cruelty. And again, she becomes involving with a mysterious boy, JD (James Scully), who has a dark and violent streak.
“I hate all my friends. That doesn’t mean I want them all dead,” Veronica tells him.
The tone, however, veers away from the movie’s dark satire into something closer to lesser Ryan Murphy shows, making “Scream Queens” look like a relative winner.
While the original Heathers were classic prom-queen-type mean girls (and Shannen Doherty appears, as a link to that past), here the tyrannical trio represent groups that once would have been the object of their scorn, including a plus-sized girl (Melanie Field), a woman of color (Jasmine Mathews) and a gay boy (Brendan Scannell).
The idea of turning traditionally victimized groups into the privileged victimizers, however, feels too cute at best, and tone-deaf at worst. Although the idea of high-school caste systems remains viable enough, the same mostly goes for the show’s attempts to bring the concept into the 21st century by weaving in references to Twitter followers and the like, or delivering such cutting insults as “You’re Panera.”
Frankly, the idea of redoing “Heathers” sounded thorny from the get-go – there’s never really a good time for mixing teens and murder, played for laughs – and at a minimum required a deft touch that’s almost completely missing. Instead, the producers have managed to take the more problematic aspects of the concept and somehow make them ickier.
If Paramount’s decision to pull the project was probably the right one at the time, the choice to go ahead and air it simply feels like a means of trying to recoup some of that squandered investment. While Veronica and her pals certainly don’t deserve the cruel fate that awaits some of them, hanging out with them isn’t much fun, in a high-school-set series that flunks even the most basic tests.
“Heathers” premieres Oct. 25 at 10 p.m. on Paramount Network.