Paramount Network’s “Heathers” is technically an adaptation of the 1988 cult comedy starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, but series creator Jason Micallef said the show will still find ways to put a new spin on the story.
“It’s 2018, it’s not 1988,” Micallef told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour on Monday. “No one’s going to want to watch a girl for 10 episodes follow a guy around, murder people and then whine about it.”
So Micallef said he created some “very, very major character changes” for the lead character Veronica Sawyer, played by Ryder in the original movie and Grace Victoria Cox on the show.
Micallef was cagey about the details but said the original dynamics largely remain in place. Veronica is still the “good girl” who has to face down a vicious high school clique made up of Heather Chandler (Melanie Field), the “unconventional leader”; Heather Duke (Brendan Scannell), the No. 1 sidekick; and Heather McNamara (Jasmine Mathews), the nicest Heather with a dark secret.
“One of the things that we talk about on this show is that power corrupts. Everyone at their core is kind of an asshole and concerned with themselves,” Scannell said.
The show will also update the characters, who in the original film were “three beautiful white women you wouldn’t expect to be wreaking havoc on a school,” Scannell said. “That was sort of new and hadn’t been seen before.”
But the new Heathers include a plus-size girl, a nonwhite girl and a gay boy. “[In] our sort-of modern retelling we’ve got … these communities that still face discrimination,” he said. “But in our show [they] are turning that on its head and using the internet and using the power of pure self confidence to trash everybody around them.”
The series is planned as an anthology, with each season moving to a new high school and a new set of characters. But even with a closed-ended 10-episode run, Micallef said the show will delve much deeper into the characters’ inner lives.
“We have a lot more time to get into what makes these characters click,” he said. “I don’t view the Heathers — in the original movie or on our show — as the villains at all. I view them sort of as victims in their own right … We’re able to explore that because we’re doing a TV show.”
From the characters to the dialogue to even the sets, Micallef promised the show would be filled with “Easter eggs” for die-hard fans of the movie. One not-so-subtle callback is a three-episode arc for original star Shannen Doherty.
The actress, who played Heather C. in Michael Lehmann’s movie, was cast in the pilot in a “pivotal” role. No further details were shared beyond a photo on Doherty’s Instagram, and Micallef remains tight-lipped.
“She’s in it,” he said. “She’s in the very first scene of the very first episode. That’s all I got for you.”