How Heartbreak High Fills That Sex Education-Shaped Hole in Our Hearts

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How Heartbreak High Fills That Sex Education-Shaped Hole in Our Hearts

When Sex Education ended last year and Moordale closed its gates for good, it truly was the end of an era. Faves like Otis, Maeve, and Eric have since moved on, but we still haven’t. Where else will we learn the ins and outs of sex with such warmth and horny abandon? Where else will we simultaneously cringe and relate to every depraved teen shenanigan that takes place on screen? It seems that the answer might lie down under…

Back when Netflix’s reboot of Australia’s Heartbreak High first arrived in 2022, comparisons between it and Sex Education were rife. Understandably so, to be honest. Set in another sex-obsessed school filled with good-looking yet awkward misfits, Heartbreak High veered dangerously close to plagiarizing Sex Education at points, especially when a sex scandal became the focal point of Season 1. Don’t get us started on the “incest map” and those mandatory sex ed classes (yep!) that followed,

Now that Season 2 is upon us, it’s clear that the new episodes of Heartbreak High continue to echo Moordale in varying degrees. Harper’s trauma from the first season is somewhat reminiscent of Aimee’s journey, especially when she “sees” her attacker in a public transport setting. A new toxic teacher is also introduced, hoping to shake things up in different yet still damaging ways than Jemima Kirke’s arrival did in Sex Ed Season 3. And yep, new students bring new trouble to both shows each year, reinvigorating the drama by adding extra corners to the various love triangles that wreak havoc with the student body’s emotions and hormones alike. 

In the wake of Sex Education’s demise, Heartbreak High is the closest thing we have to another show that tackles everything from consent and drugs to pleasure and queerness with a similar, much-needed frankness. Yet despite all those ongoing similarities, Heartbreak High does still stand on its own merit, even if the reboot may have copied more than just a few notes from its British cousin. And that’s because both seasons of Heartbreak High explore parallel teen journeys through an unmistakably Australian lens.

As the gang continue to work on their issues in Season 2, including Ca$h’s asexuality, Malakai’s emerging bisexuality, and Amerie’s general overriding f—kery, problems specific to life in Aussie regularly crop up as well. Quinni is bitten by a snake at one point following a mushroom-fuelled trip to the forest, a problem that would never plague the British students at Moordale Secondary, but it’s not just the wildlife that’s different down under.

Like Sex Education, Heartbreak High has always been admirably inclusive in terms of both casting and storytelling. That’s true when it comes to universal experiences like bisexuality and neurodivergency, but also more specific Australian themes too, such as Indigenous representation and oppression as well. 

That’s clearest in Season 2, when an Indigenous character named Missy is confronted by casual racism in the home of Spencer “Spider” White. But for once, it’s not him being a flaming galah. It’s actually Spider’s mother, an alcoholic who starts spouting Indigenous stereotypes without even realizing after she’s had a few too many wines at dinner. Missy would have been well within her rights to tell this white woman to rack off, but the situation is a bit more complicated than that, and just like in life, the show doesn’t offer easy answers. 

That’s also true when it comes to classism and economic deprivation, another issue Heartbreak High tackles in a very different way to Sex Education. That’s mostly filtered through the story of Ca$h, an asexual eshay who struggles to be himself as part of an urban youth subculture that prioritizes hypermasculinity above all else. To be queer in any space can be challenging, and that’s especially true when harmful stereotypical demands are forced on you before you even know you’re queer yourself. That’s not to say Sex Education shies away from concepts like this, but to be considered an eshay is specifically Australian in nature, and it’s vital to see such experiences understood through particular cultural instances that can speak more powerfully to those who are directly impacted by these same issues in life.   

Where Heartbreak High excels is in how it makes these uniquely Aussie viewpoints universal enough to appeal globally, both despite and because of their specificity. Season 2 might be even more Australian than the first season was, but coming of age and growing up through hardship is not just limited to one particular country, and neither are the cornerstones of sex and friendship this show is based on either. 

With all that in mind, it bears repeating that Heartbreak High is so much more than just an Australian remake of Sex Education. But for those who miss Moordale as much as we do, the spirit of that show does absolutely live on down under. Let’s just hope it continues to do so in a potential third season and beyond, because there’s no way Heartbreak High can casually close its gates for good so easily after that Season 2 cliffhanger.

David Opie is a freelance entertainment journalist. To hear his ramblings on queer film and TV, you can follow him @DavidOpie.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists, and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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