Chloe Hayden, Ayesha Madon and James Majoos in Heartbreak High

Photo: Netflix

Heartbreak High Season 2 has helped heal wounds I never even knew were there

"There's a scene... that made my heart ache as a disabled person, all about the unseen mental gymnastics and emotional labour people in our community have to do just to function as a ‘normal teenager’."

It’s the eve of the worldwide premiere of the second season of Netflix’s global phenomenon series Heartbreak High, and the mood is celebratory. 

In spite of the fact that in just over 24 hours, their DM’s will once again be flooded with adoring fans, deeply emotive reactions to their characters' behaviour and the occasional thirst trap, the cast is pretty calm. 

Chloé Hayden, who plays the iconic and trailblazing Quinni – a character representing a global first for the representation of autism on television – says that the “show actually coming out has crept up on her this time around,” and that she’s mainly “just excited for people to see the places Quinni gets to explore this season because there are a lot of different sides to her we haven’t seen before and a lot of different sides I never expected to see, moving from Season 1 into Season 2.”

As one of the chosen few, who were lucky enough to get early access to Season 2, I wholeheartedly agree. On the one hand, there’s a scene set against the backdrop of Taronga Zoo and Sydney Harbour that made my heart ache as a disabled person, all about the unseen mental gymnastics and emotional labour people in our community have to do just to function as a ‘normal teenager’ and even get close to fitting in. It’s going to mean a lot to SO many people. On the other hand, there’s a moment in a leather outfit that made my jaw drop. 

It’s in the spectrum between moments like these that the writers, spearheaded by genius creator Hannah Carroll-Chapman, thrive in, largely because the room is built on so many different types of lived experience. Together, they expertly deliver on teenage-hood across the gamut from the aftermath of sexual assault and its legal process, to conversations about asexuality and relationship boundaries while high on shrooms.

Everything is deftly painted in equal shades of relatable humour and high-stakes drama, even if as James Majoos (Darren) points out, “it only feels high-stakes in the moment because when you’re 17 and that’s your whole world, everything matters.” 

Be that as it may, this season is actually darker and grittier than the first, as our favourite teenagers navigate a new term in all its diverse, messy, horny and straight-shooting glory. 

The cast of Heartbreak High Season 2

The cast of Heartbreak High Season 2. Photo: Netflix

There are new players in town including purity-obsessed student Zoe, played by devilish relish by Kartanya Maynard, brooding heartthrob and film lover, Rowan (Sam Rechnner) and Coach Voss (Angus Sampson), the PE teacher I’d describe as a mix of several types of problematic uncle, who seems hellbent on pushing impressionable young men down an Andrew Tate-style rabbit hole.

Add them to the already boiling mix of hormones, trauma and grudges so impressive they could win Olympic medals, and you’re left with eight episodes that in my opinion are ahem absolute fire. Give it 30 seconds into the first episode and you’ll see what I mean, promise. For anyone worried about a sophomore season slump, don’t be. These guys nail the landing. 

But how does the cast describe it? “A spicy bird mystery” laugh Bryn Chapman-Parrish (Spider) and Sherry-Lee Watson (Missy), both of whom have incredibly meaty character arcs this season and as a result, give extremely compelling performances. That rabbit hole I was talking about earlier? Spider’s at the centre of it, his actions and emotions a tangle of die-hard patriarchy that borders on incel behaviour and a boy who wants to do better but doesn’t really know how, pushed into a corner by being the subject of righteous but quick-fire female anger. 

It’s a pointed and poignant commentary on the state of gender dynamics in 2024. It feels like the kind of thing every young person needs to see not just for the way the toxicity is handled, but also for the alternative and potentially equally problematic position adopted by some of the girls as a defence mechanism (think the kind of point Greta Gerwig was trying to make with Barbie).

Walking this tightrope and trying to figure out how everyone can be brought to the table in a way that doesn’t make them feel small or put them on the attack is something our team has been thinking a lot about recently, as so many of us working in this space seem to come to the same conclusion; we won’t get anywhere without men beside us and with us and lending their weight. It won’t work no matter how hard we try or how powerful we aim to be.

That’s why when I ask what the cast hopes the audience learns from this season, Sherry-Lee is so quick to say, “That you have to give people room to grow and change. To admit they were wrong and then if they do that, you to meet their want to do better with genuine support instead of derision. They have to be able to make mistakes and have space to learn from them. Try as much as you can not to write anyone off, within reason.”

These are wise words, drawn straight from the playbook of her character Missy, who is always so staunchly aware of her idea of right and wrong. The moral code she has, built in part by the teachings of elders and the observations of how First Nations people are typically treated, blazes strong even if by the end of the season, it exists in a slightly different place. 

And then there’s the steamy sex scenes which put the spotlight squarely on female pleasure, a rarity in itself, let alone seeing the recipient as a bold, brilliant Indigenous woman. But that’s the super power of Heartbreak High – representation is so wildly varied and normalised, everything you never saw for yourself suddenly becomes possible. And not just possible but celebrated. 

For everyone involved in the show (who spoiler alert are older than the teenagers they play), I get the sense that part of why they love making it so much — and why all they’re thinking about is fans enjoying it — whether they're on camera, making charm bracelets or wolfing down burgers, is because they know how special it is to get to revisit that time. To get to go back and paper over some of the cracks in their own experiences with these characters.

William McDonald (Cash) puts it best when he says, “If I could go back and give my 16-year-old self anything from Cash, it would be his bravery. He is always so brave, often in the face of sometimes very dangerous people (seriously every second Tom Wilson is onscreen as Chook is absolutely terrifying and that’s coming from me who calls Tom a friend and one of the best men I know) and he just leads with his heart.” 

You will laugh and cry, watching this show, sometimes barely even five minutes apart. But by the end of it, you might just find some of its magic has rubbed off on you too and healed wounds you never even knew were there. So, get yourselves to class. We’ve got learning to do.

All episodes of Heartbreak High Season 2 premiere on Netflix on Thursday, April 11 at 5pm AEST.