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A reboot of the original 1994 series, Heartbreak High is a fresh, provocative dramedy set in a failing public school in Sydney, Australia, where the students are suddenly required to take a sex ed class (“Sexual Literacy Tutorial”) after a mural detailing their many sexual adventures is discovered by teachers. The complexities of modern day teen relationships, identities, and friendships, and topics ranging from neurodivergence to racism, weave through the season’s story arcs.
Most of the actors are fresh faces (bound to become stars). However, Scott Major was in the original Heartbreak High and in Australia’s infamous soap opera, Neighbours, and Maggie Dence is well-known among Aussie audiences.
Heartbreak High takes the humor of Sex Education and fuses it with the fashion of Euphoria to create a uniquely Aussie dramedy that is relatable for global audiences. There is sex, high drama, comedy, and plots that can feel a bit over-the-top, but the stories are handled delicately and with degrees of realism.
Much of what makes the show work so well are the nuanced characters and often brilliant writing. Built around an ensemble cast, each one feels fleshed out, and the chemistry between them is palpable, which makes their relationships feel believable.
They also represent the diversity in high schools today, which we don’t often see in lead roles, including characters — and actors — who are neurodivergent, Indigenous or non-binary. But in Heartbreak High, it’s not their differences that make them interesting, it’s their personalities and their stories. They also come in shades of gray, as no one is an outright hero or villain. They make questionable decisions just as any teenager does, and they are forced to deal with the consequences.
Quinni (Chloe Hayden) is so darn adorable that you’ll instantly fall in love with her. The first neurodivergent character to be played by a neurodivergent actress on an Australian series, it’s clear that Hayden brought in some of her own experiences to the character. She experiences many things that others on the spectrum do, such as sensory overload and struggling to explain herself to her girlfriend, Sasha (Gemma Chua-Tran). Yet being queer and on the spectrum don’t define Quinni. She’s also a fan girl, loves to tease her friends, and adores her dads.
Darren (James Majoos) is Quinni’s bestie, a genuinely kind friend who is non-binary, but isn’t exploited the way other trans and non-binary characters tend to be. Darren has their own struggles: from their dad trying to relate to them (what teenager doesn’t groan around their parents?) to dating the morally ambiguous Ca$h, which is actually the series’ most endearing relationship.
Malakai (Thomas Weatherall) is Indigenous and becomes a victim of police brutality in a scene that could easily have happened in the states. The series delves into his trauma as well as the everyday racism he encounters, such as the school secretary mistaking him for another Indigenous student. The series treats racism as the horrible reality it is rather than turning it into an After School Special, and Malakai’s story stretches beyond these experiences. He’s also funny and a caring boyfriend, and he isn’t afraid to call people out.
Dusty (Josh Heuston) is a sensitive heartthrob who does some horrible things, but he goes to therapy and seems to genuinely want to understand why.
Luckily for us, Heartbreak High already has been renewed for a second season, so we will get to see if the students of Hartley can fully heal their broken hearts.
A clever and contemporary take on high school that isn’t afraid to shy away from the darker sides of Australian culture. Filled with delightful Aussie slang and quips, Heartbreak High is one of the few shows that properly portrays a range of Gen Z personalities and the problems that they face.
If you have older teenagers, you may want to watch Heartbreak High with them; there is plenty to discuss as a family. You may also want to watch it with that friend from your youth, or viewers who love YA novels and shows.
The series slang actually came from real Aussie kids. The writers spent a year speaking to high school students in Sydney’s western suburbs to get an idea of their slang and culture. They also watched numerous TikTok videos.