Reviews of movies and TV focused on women

Heartbreak High, uncompromising drama in this Aussie series

Several members of the Heartbreak High cast sit on a bench in a gym

Heartbreak High, an 8 part teen drama series from Australia, takes on an array of powerful topics all organized around a sex education class dubbed SLT – or, inevitably, sluts.

Heartbreak High begins with two best friends, Amerie (Ayesha Madon) and Harper (Asher Yasbincek). They are painting a “map” of all the sexual connections and activities among the students at their school on an unused hallway wall. Of course, the chart map gets found and a scandal results.

The school principal, Woodsy (Rachel House) decides it’s time to reintroduce the sex ed curriculum to the school. Jojo Obah (Chika Ikogwe), the English teacher, will teach it. She has some good ideas for how to teach the information the kids need, but she gets caught in the crossfire of student drama.

It’s a big ensemble cast with many outstanding and well developed characters. Ayesha Madon and Asher Yasbincek as the two characters at the center of it all are just terrific. The entire cast does an outstanding job.

There are so many things to like about this series, I feel like I should make a list. Well, okay. I will make a list.

  • These kids are dealing with some serious stuff and there’s no trying to pretty it up. Drugs, sex, sexuality, gender identity, mental health, sexual assault, racism, violence, STDs, and high school relationship issues. Whew.
  • Even so, it’s got plenty of humor.
  • There are straight couples, gay couples, lesbian couples, and a nonbinary character who blows an airhorn in the kitchen when their father can’t get their pronouns right. The LGBTQ+ characters get as much airtime as the straight ones.
  • There’s an autistic character played by an autistic actor, Quinn (Chloe Hayden).
  • The cast includes white, black, Indigenous people, East Asians, South Asians, and probably others. Diverse as real Australia.
Ayesha Madon in Heartbreak High
Amerie

Amerie and Harper have been best friends since forever. But something happens at a music festival they attend. Harper comes back from it, shaves off all her hair, and distances herself from Amerie without explaining why. The drama of healing this broken friendship goes on for all 8 episodes.

Asher Yasbincek and Thomas Weatherall in Heartbreak High
Harper with Malakai

Part of the reason the rift in the friendship was slow to heal was because the two girls kept switching around the boys. There was sweet Malakai (Thomas Weatherall), the sexy Dusty (Josh Heuston), the arrogant Spider (Bryn Chapman Parish), and a big batch of semi creepy boys.

There was a outside gang of dangerous boys who used Ca$h (Will McDonald) as the school drug dealer. Ca$h was a teen who could have been a secondary character without much development, but he was complex and interesting.

Ayesha Madon, James Majoos, and Chloe Hayden in Heartbreak High
Nonbinary Darren, Quinn, and Amerie were good pals

Darren (James Majors) liked Ca$h, but Ca$h had issues. Several boys hung around Darren, who often appeared in a skirt, but Darren was most interested in hanging around Ca$h.

Gemma Chua-Tran and Chloe Hayden in Heartbreak High

Quinn’s girlfriend Sasha (Gemma Chue-Tran) did her best to cope with Quinn’s autism, but she wasn’t perfect at it. Quinn had lots of coping mechanisms and did pretty well most of the time. She does have one huge meltdown late in the series that I found particularly moving and real. I’m glad she got to do a scene like that. It may be the most significant scene in the entire series in terms of representation.

This Netflix series was not lighthearted fluff. The issues and problems faced in the series felt weighted. The characters were well written. The TV series was created by Hannah Carroll Chapman. The women who directed 6 of the 8 episodes were Gracie Otto and Jessie Oldfield.

Sometimes it feels like there’s nothing new out there that isn’t about high school. I long for stories about grownups. However, Heartbreak High gives value to its stories and is definitely about mature topics. I consider it a cut above most high school dramas. Here’s the trailer.

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