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Entertainment Weekly

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Heathers remake showrunner explains that bold bully makeover

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Paramount Network’s remake of the 1988 cult classic film Heathers made some major creative changes to the story that has some fans of the original upset now that the first full trailer is online (see the NSFW trailer above).

While the movie’s trio of bullies were well-to-do white women, the remake’s “Heathers” are drawn from traditionally marginalized groups: There’s a “body positive” plus-sized leader (Melanie Field), a genderqueer (Brendan Scannell), and an African American (Jasmine Mathews). The story’s protagonist Veronica (Grace Victoria Cox), however, remains a straight white female. The show is clearly aware of what it’s doing here, with an older high school administrator marveling in the trailer, “Fat kids can be popular?”

But inverting traditional high school popularity demographics that have been portrayed in countless Hollywood films is angering some online (though some other titles, such as film version of 21 Jump Street, have played with the same idea before). Before we talk to the showrunner, here are a sample of some of the reactions:

Except, as fans also know, the story’s eventual villain isn’t the Heathers at all, but rather J.D. (James Scully), the rebellious romantic lead turned murderous sociopathic domestic terrorist.

“The main thing to really take away is I don’t view the Heathers as the villains,” showrunner Jason Micallef told EW. “The three Heathers are incredibly powerful and ruling the school; they’re the people you would want to be. In the original film, the Heathers were the ones I always loved, and it’s the same with the series. The Heathers are the aspirational characters. [That the Heathers are the villains is] the underlying thesis of the small segment of people that have an issue with it. The villain is J.D. — and that’s the same in the movie and same in our show.”

Continues Micallef: “The reason I changed the Heathers surface identities is I think today [the characterization] rings true. Today, all different types of people are more aspirational. People that wouldn’t have necessarily been considered the most popular kids in school in 1988 could very well be — and probably most likely are — the more popular kids today. And also because it’s a TV show, we have so much more time to explore their characters and get behind it. Of course, no one’s seen the show yet. Once they see it, I think they’ll get what we’re talking about.”

The original Heathers and Veronica:

New World

Or as Scannell, who plays one of the Heathers, noted at the Television Critics Association’s press tour last week: “One of the themes that we talk about on the show is like how power corrupts, and everyone at their core is kind of an a–hole and concerned with themselves. So in the movie, we have these like three beautiful white women who you wouldn’t expect to be wreaking havoc on a school, and that was sort of new and hadn’t been seen before. So our modern retelling of it, we’ve got traditionally marginalized communities. We’ve got a black Heather, a plus-sized Heather, a queer Heather. These communities still face discrimination. But our show is turning that on its head and using the power of the internet and the power of like pure self-confidence to trash everybody around them.”

Overall, Micallef says he hopes the series will have a similar impact as the original, which at the time was viewed as a rather shocking pitch-black comedy. Original Heathers cast member Shannen Doherty will also guest star as “a pivotal character” in several episodes along with Selma Blair and Casey Wilson.

“I just watched all the episodes with the series regulars and what most excites me is just how bold and dark and at the same funny it is,” Micallef says. “People aren’t really prepared for where we go in the series — which I think is a good thing. Even the cast who read the script and were obviously there were shocked by the finale.”

While the show will be on a basic cable network — the newly launched Paramount Network (formerly Spike TV) — the showrunner adds he wasn’t limited by what they could show in terms of adult content. “We can pretty much do anything, there’s nothing we’ll have to censor for air for the show except the f-word — it’s bleeped but it’s still in there.”

Heathers premieres March 7 at 10 p.m. on Paramount.

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