TV Show Review

TV Review: HEATHERS: Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot [Paramount Network]

Grace Victoria Cox Melanie Field Brendan Scannell Jasmine Mathews Heathers Pilot

Heathers Pilot Review

Paramount Network‘s Heathers: Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot is the beginning of comedy series with a sharp, Armando Iannucci-grade wit that defies reality, in some areas, when it serves the narrative of a scene or the overarching story-line of the series. Like any comedy, Heathers has a main character, Veronica Sawyer (Grace Victoria Cox), but she is not is the most interesting figure on the show. That crown belongs to mean girl Heather Chandler (Melanie Field). When Chandler is on-screen, because of what she says, her entourage, and her appearance (it’s as though she has her own Hunger Games Prep Team), force of will is the only means by which the viewer can take their eyes off of her.

Chandler is not the typical Hollywood popular girl, which is the character’s primary strength, besides her attire, and the way she carries herself. Unlike the other characters on Heathers, Chandler is not a waif but she uses that fact as part of her positive, differentiating uniqueness.

Though she dominates the social scene in Westerburgh High by using social media as a weapon, Chandler is not the queen outside of her kingdom. Example – the artist’s reaction to Chandler at the art exhibit, a dis, and Chandler’s quick, comical recovery as if nothing had just happened.

In Pilot, the Heathers form a powerful collective but only Chandler retains that power when separated from her two counterparts. The other two Heathers, Heather Duke (Brendan Scannell) and Heather McNamara (Jasmine Mathews), are like small moons, drawn to orbit around Chandler because of her raw magnetism, confidence, and sense of style. Outside of that exclusive clique, the potency of Duke and McNamara’s high school, societal influence is extremely diminished (though Duke displays how he identifies and his power over girls when he says to one girl entering the girl’s bathroom he’s standing in “Hay. No girls in the girls restroom.”, verbally forcing the new entry to exit).

Heathers has many similarities to Riverdale: both are colorful, deal with adult issues in high school, and have comedic moments. That is where the similarities end. One should not watch Heathers thinking that they are going to get some version of Riverdale or 90210. Heathers is first and foremost a comedy. Everything in the show serves that primary purpose.

This conclusion is what the viewer forces themselves to realize at the end of Pilot even-though Heathers can be so much more than a mere comedy. There is enough narrative and character meat on the bone for Heathers to be a high-end drama TV series.  All of the raw materials are present yet the show settles on being a well-executed, high-end comedy. This may or may not have been a wise decision but it makes it difficult to take the dramatic moments in the show seriously.

Though primarily comical, the tone of Pilot is uneven at times. It tries to be multiple things coterminous: stark drama, biting satire, and a hi-jinks comedy.

All of that works together in Pilot expect at specific points where it grinds against the flexible reality that it establishes, snapping the elastic in two. First example: Veronica Sawyer has a brief conversation at a art exhibition then the person she is talking to is performing oral sex on her in a car (it is absurdly random). Quick hook-ups happen in life but after thirty seconds of chit-chat? The viewer doesn’t know what the writer of the scene is going for – comedy, the irrelevance of youthful sex, or both? The scene adds more texture to Sawyer, she isn’t a stereotypical goody-good protagonist, but it also calls into question her judgement and self-esteem. Perhaps that is its purpose, to show that no character on Heathers is morally black or white. If that, and analogous scenes, are their purpose, they succeed. Second example: Veronica Sawyer and J.D. (James Scully) break into Heather Chandler’s home, Chandler discovers them after waking from sleep, and within seconds its okay that they’ve broken in and were watching Chandler sleep (supposition since Chandler doesn’t scream, call the police, or ask them to leave). Third example: Heather Chandler sends a ‘runner’ to go and find Veronica Sawyer when school is in session. Why didn’t Chandler just text Sawyer that she wanted to see Sawyer immediately and that she was in the cafeteria?

Nonsensical scenes like this keep creeping up in Pilot but so do scenes of joyous humor.

The teachers’ lounge scene stands out as one of the funnier scenes in Pilot. Hearing the raw thoughts of adult teachers about their teenage students is hysterical. It is reminiscent of the principal, administrative assistant scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as truths in Pilot normally kept confidential or not spoken about at all are thrown around the lounge’s large table like coffee and donuts.

What I can’t understand during this scene is when the teachers become aware of the possible suicide of Heather Chandler, why do none of them try to contact her parents? Why do none of the teachers contact the police to see if the suicide is in fact true? Why do none of the teachers swing by Chandler’s house to see if everything is okay? It makes no sense but since Heathers is a comedy series and not a serious drama, this lapse can be grudgingly forgiven. The bottom line is, this logic oversight never should have made it all the way through to the shooting script.

The Chandler’s reaction to Heather’s apparent suicide and finding her in her room inert is goofy. They read on social media their daughter has committed suicide. They find her face gown, surrounded by glass, and their reaction is jokey? It is so strange (even for a comedy). It’s like there are no real stakes in Heathers.

And then there are the follow-up questions: Why did neither of the two other Heathers go over to Chandler’s house to see if it is true, to see if their leader (and friend) is truly dead? Like I said, strange.

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About the author

Rollo Tomasi

A Political Science and MBA grad who started FilmBook during an eCommerce B-School course in 2008. Cinema and TV addict. Former writer at Empire Movies, Blogcritics, and Alternative Film Guide. In addition to writing for FilmBook, he also edits the copy published on the website, manages its writing staff, manages the back-end operations, site finances, its social network accounts, and works with publicists, actors, and companies on press coverage and promotions. He has also created ProMovieBlogger.com and Trending Awards.com.

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