Mercado on TV: Heartbreak High is best reboot of Aussie classic since Wentworth

Heartbreak High

Farewelling the most savage satire on Australian TV – Mad as Hell

If Heartbreak High (Netflix) can maintain the quality of its first two episodes, this new drama will be on track to become the best reboot of an Aussie TV classic since Wentworth (Binge) re-invented Prisoner.

The original Heartbreak High (1994, 10 and then ABC) is still described as “gritty”, even though it was made for a G-rated timeslot. What was brave back then was its multicultural cast, with lots of Greeks and Italians, as well as Yugoslavian, Chinese, Lebanese, Salvadoran and Vietnamese characters.

Heartbreak High

Heartbreak High

No major characters were Indigenous, but there were brief appearances from teacher Vic (Ernie Dingo) and African American teacher Ronnie (Deni Gordon). Queer characters were just as rare, and episodes that featured them were deemed “inappropriate” and moved to a PG timeslot, or not screened at all. Outrageous.

Thankfully, there will be no such censorship now that Hartley High is streaming. More “gritty” than before, the cast is still multicultural, but there is now an Indigenous student Malakai (Thomas Weathrall), and biracial queer Darren (James Majoos) is the son of a heritage character who was once racist and homophobic.

Heartbreak High’s Ayesha Madon

Doing this to Rivers (Scott Major) is a masterstroke, especially given the actor is also working behind the scenes. Going back to Maroubra High School is also a smart move, given the original ended up on the Northern Beaches. Having a more working-class look works for this show, so bravo to everyone who has re-tooled it so brilliantly. Five stars.

Jon Bernthal in American Gigolo

Thanks to another familiar and self-explanatory title, American Gigolo (Stan) is also back. The 1980 movie is now an 8-part series, and while Richard Gere and writer-director Paul Schrader are no longer attached (although they once were), it’ still looking good.

Close your eyes and Jon Bernthal sounds just like Richard Gere. Open your eyes and he’s yet to get his gear off like Gere did. However, the new backstory to high class escort Julian Kaye is fascinating, thanks to a shocking childhood trauma. Thumbs up.

Farewell Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell…you will be missed

Finally, a huge shout-out to everyone at Shaun Micaleff’s Mad as Hell (Wednesday on ABC) which is about to air its final episode. Still on fire with the most savage satire on Australian TV, it will be sorely missed. Thank you.

Next week, Bali 2002 (Stan) and Star Hotel Riot (Fox Docos).

Read other Mercado on TV columns here.

Mercado on TV

Mercado & Manning weekly TV podcast

Listen now on your favourite podcast platform for 30 minutes of reviews and recommendations every week from Andrew Mercado and James Manning. This week Andrew and James discuss Heartbreak High (Netflix) plus Serpent Queen and American Gigolo (both on Stan).

Listen online here, on the LiSTNR app or your favourite podcast platform.

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