Heartbreak High season two: Popular Netflix series returns with heightened stakes

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
7 Min Read
The second season of Heartbreak High is streaming now on Netflix.
The second season of Heartbreak High is streaming now on Netflix. Credit: Johan Platt/Netflix

At a red brick campus in Sydney’s eastern beaches, is the real high school which serves as the filming location for now one of the most famous fictional ones, Heartbreak High.

The Netflix production shoots during the school term, working alongside actual students attending classes, eating lunch and going about their daily teenage lives. It was a relatively undramatic relationship in the first season, but when the series blew up after its 2022 premiere, it presented a new layer of challenges for season two.

The Heartbreak High stars were now famous, and the real students would ask for autographs, or yell out their character names while they were filming. Everyone wanted a piece.

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“We’d be shooting in the playground and you could see in the classrooms these kids trying to shoot the scene on their phones,” Heartbreak High creator Hannah Carroll Chapman tells The Nightly. “It made me realise the scope of what we’d created here. In one way, it’s quite terrifying, but in another, it’s extraordinary.”

There was even a mysterious student who was posting on Reddit “scoops” they’d observed, such as which characters were in scenes together.

Heartbreak High S2. (L to R) Chloe Hayden as Quinni ,  Ayesha Madon as Amerie, James Majoos as Darren in Heartbreak High S2. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix  2024
The first season reached Netflix’s top 10 list in 46 countries. Credit: Johan Platt /Netflix/Courtesy of Netflix

The global success of Heartbreak High was both surprising and unsurprising. Whenever a piece of Australian culture “makes it” on an international level, our inferiority complex kicks right in, excited and gratified we’ve been noticed.

But then, when you consider the series’ ensemble of dynamic characters, the playful language and vernacular (Google searches for “eshay” went up 400 per cent in the three weeks following its release) and its confident depiction of teen experiences, of course it was going to be big.

The cast went from relative unknowns to being recognised and stopped in the street.

Chloe Hayden, who plays the neuro-divergent Quinni, was in an airport in a Middle Eastern country when a 50-year-old woman approached her. “She came up to me, going, ‘Ohmigod, I love your show’ and that was shocking to me. The fact that it can reach a whole different culture in a place that I would never have expected.”

Thomas Weatherall, who plays Malakai and won a best supporting actor award at the AACTAs, has had similar experiences, but one interaction stood out to him: “I had a great one at the Guggenheim in New York, and they’re like, ‘You look just like Malakai from Heartbreak High, only uglier’. I just went, ‘Oh, is that a good show?’ and they went, ‘Yeah, we love it”. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s nice’ and just bounced.”

James Majoos, who plays Darren, was stopped in a museum in Milan by someone who started speaking Italian to him (“I forget the show is dubbed in different languages,” Majoos said) while Asher Yazbincek who played Harper, got a message from someone on Instagram who was already on Yazbincek’s “mood board” for Harper’s bleached, shaved head look. “She was like, ‘Everyone’s been telling me I look like you’,” Yazbincek recalled, with a conspiratorial grin.

Heartbreak High S2. (L to R) Brodie Townsend as Ant, Gemma Chua-Tran as Sasha, James Majoos as Darren,  Ayesha Madon as Amerie, Sam Rechner as Rowan, Kartanya Maynard as Zoe, Chloe Hayden as Quinni , Brodie Townsend as Ant, Asher Yasbincek as Harper, Bryn Chapman Parish as Spider, Thomas Weatherall as Malakai, Sherry-Lee Watson as Missy in Heartbreak High S2. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix  2024
The Heartbreak High cast are close-knit. Credit: Klint Collier/Netflix/Courtesy of Netflix

Even Chapman has received messages from fans. “As a writer, I’ve never experienced this before,” she says. “I’ve never written something where people actually realise we wrote it and I was getting DMs from random people in Brazil or Paris, ‘If you break Darren and Cash up, I’m going to find you and kill you’.”

The death threat wasn’t serious but the pressure was.

“We definitely talked about it in the [writers] room and we tried to come at it with a deep respect and love for the fans of the show. But in the same breath, realising that you can’t make everyone happy.”

Chapman says there were online fan communities who were really rooting for an Amerie and Spider hook-up but, “that wasn’t a relationship that we thought was healthy or wanted to explore”.

Which is not to say it couldn’t happen in the future. Chris Carter waited six years before he finally fulfilled fans’ deep yearning for Mulder and Scully to be together. “Exactly! And that’s why people keep watching,” Chapman exclaims.

The second series dials up the shenanigans. There’s the mystery of the “Bird Psycho”, an anonymous troll tormenting one of the characters with dead birds and threatening notes, a group of chastity kids, a new boy in town, a men’s rights activist teacher (Angus Sampson in top form), an unlikely couple and the drama of a school captain election.

Heartbreak High S2. (L to R) Thomas Weatherall as Malakai, Sam Rechner as Rowan in Heartbreak High S2. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix  2024
Thomas Weatherall with newcomer Sam Rechner. Credit: Netflix

Chapman was overseas and arrived back in Sydney just as the second season was about to go live. Some of the cast and directors were over at her house on Thursday night to watch the first three episodes together, but by 11pm, the jetlag had well and truly kicked in. “I was like, ‘get out of my house’,” she says, laughing.

But before that, the close-knit crew were cheering each other on as their characters had their big moments.

“When we first started the show, I was really worried that they’d become mean to each other or there would be weird competition, but they so adore each other and it’s lovely to watch,” she says.

Going into the second series, Weatherall would notice that their characters started to take on shades of the people playing them.

“Suddenly you see little things where I’m like, ‘That’s not Darren, that’s James,” he explains. “There are little lines or moments that feel less like the character and it’s just the kind of joke that that actor would make.”

Chapman says, “We definitely felt like we tried to write to their strengths and their quirks and little character traits. And they’re all so comedically gifted as well. That’s what we realised in season two, that we can go there.

“For example, Brodie [Townsend] who plays Ant is so funny in real life, so we really amped up the comedy stuff for him and very much emulated how he is in real life. Bryn [Chapman-Parish] speaks French in real life, so we threw in some French stuff for [Spider].

“It’s something we tried to play in the writers room, of looking of how these actors had stepped into these characters in season one and just went, ‘Let’s absolutely go there’ with some stuff that we thought we maybe couldn’t get away with [previously].”

Heartbreak High S2. (L to R) Gemma Chua-Tran as Sasha, Bryn Chapman Parish as Spider,  Ayesha Madon as Amerie in Heartbreak High S2. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix  2024
Gemma Chua-Tran as Sasha, Bryn Chapman Parish as Spider and Ayesha Madon as Amerie. Credit: Netflix

Despite the increased attention – Will McDonald, who plays Cash, says he definitely felt as if more eyes on were them this time around – Chapman is adamant the cast’s egos didn’t grow in parallel with their Instagram followers.

“I was expecting them to become monsters in season two, like, ‘Oh god, strap in’, but it was the opposite. They were all so grateful to have this and to share this experience and they came back to season two and were so much more professional, so much more part of the ecosystem that is a set. They understood more the relationship between a crew and a shoot and what you have to get done.”

Thanks to the jetlag, Chapman woke up at 4am on Friday morning, nine hours after the whole second season dropped on Netflix. It takes just under seven hours to binge all eight episodes.

“I went onto TikTok and I was so amazed to see how many people had already finished the show. There were already videos of the ending and how upset they were or how much they were crying. I was blown away by that,” she says.

“But also stoked because that’s what we want. We want people to binge the show and that’s what we’re trying to balance in the writers’ room, making sure we’re paying off these characters, really delving into them in a really, really deep way and creating something that makes people go, ‘next episode, next episode’.”

To all the parents and teachers who will today have to contend with teenagers who have had two hours of sleep because they spent all night bingeing Heartbreak High, Chapman is sorry.

Heartbreak High S2. (L to R) Asher Yasbincek as Harper,  Ayesha Madon as Amerie, James Majoos as Darren, Chloe Hayden as Quinni  in Heartbreak High S2. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix  2024
The mystery of the ‘Bird Psycho’ runs through the season. Credit: Netflix

But there’s no doubt it’s a show that means a lot to its audience — and to its cast.

Weatherall, who just wrapped filming on the historical drama The Narrow Road to the Deep North alongside Jacob Elordi, Heartbreak High has opened so many doors.

“Professionally, it’s changed everything,” he says. “I probably wouldn’t have done the shows and projects I’ve been doing since the show if I hadn’t had this role. And you’re in conversations you probably weren’t in before, on radars that weren’t even a blip on. That’s a massive thing and it’s very flattering and humbling, but it’s an exciting thing and it really does come back to this show and what it’s done for us.”

For Hayden, who already had a profile on social media as an advocate for neurodivergent people before the series, says Heartbreak High has been a game-changer in her life, “It’s not even a new chapter, it’s a whole different book”.

Heartbreak High is streaming now on Netflix

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