Freevee's High School Is Intimate, Grungy, and Much More Than a Tegan and Sara Biopic

TV Reviews High School
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Freevee's <i>High School</i> Is Intimate, Grungy, and Much More Than a Tegan and Sara Biopic

If you are a sapphic woman (or a frequent viewer of Greys Anatomy), then you have more than likely heard Tegan and Sara’s music. The band, comprised of twin sisters Tegan and Sara Quin, are known for being trailblazers for LGBTQ artists within the music industry and the alternative genre. Before that, though, they were a pair of young, queer sisters just trying to survive their teenage years, which is the story being brought to the screen in Freevee’s High School.

Based on their bestselling memoir of the same name, High School follows Canadian musicians Tegan and Sara (who act as Executive Producers on the project) as they navigate sexuality, sisterhood, and music, telling the story that came before the Platinum albums and sold-out tours. Unlike most biopics, which oftentimes forgo the humble origins to speed straight into the musicians’ success story, High School has an unabashedly limited scope, lingering on the subtle emotions and overwhelming loneliness that colored Tegan and Sara’s real high school experiences. But it’s not just High School: The Tegan and Sara Story, it’s much more than that.

Helmed by co-showrunners Laura Kittrell and Clea DuVall—the latter of whom also steps in to direct 6 out of 8 episodes, all of which were available for review—High School stars TikTok creators and TV newcomers Railey and Seazynn Gilliland as Tegan and Sara, respectively. If you hear the words “TikTok actor” and shudder, you’re not alone, and while the Gillilands’ performances aren’t groundbreaking by any means, they still manage to hold their own against heavy hitters like co-star Cobie Smulders, who plays their mother Simone. In the first few episodes, it’s clear that the twins are still getting accustomed to working in front of this kind of camera, but as the series progresses, their performances improve as they relax into the characters. DuVall’s forgiving direction and intimate approach allows that discomfort to even read as just teenage angst, casting a wide safety net of support for its leading newcomers.

Intimacy is where this show shines, as it allows for extremely introspective looks at these characters, showcased across what almost act as 15-minute vignettes within the series’ half-hour episodes, which are split into two different points of view. Following in the footsteps of their memoir, which featured alternating chapters written by Tegan and Sara, the series does the same, while also roping in other perspectives like that of their mother or their friends. These other perspectives, especially Simone’s subplot, fill out the series, creating a tangible world around the twins.

In the same way that Tegan and Sara’s music has felt personal and grungy since their debut in 1999, the series’ embrace of quiet introspection laced with plucking acoustics or loud punky riffs allows these characters to feel wholly realized in their stylized world. There’s a brilliant shot in the first episode (titled “I Bet It Stung”—all episodes are named after Tegan and Sara songs), where both sisters have resolved to eating their lunches outside at their new school, following both Tegan and Sara in their halves of the episode as they sit against a wall. During Sara’s point of view, there’s a smash cut to the two of them being right around the corner, completely unaware of the other’s presence. This scene alone highlights the show’s central focus on bridging that canyon between these two sisters.

While it is the unique story of this musical duo, High School still feels universal, especially acting as a story about family, queerness, and belonging. Even though ‘90s nostalgia has picked back up recently, this show forgoes idealization to show the decade in its worst light, especially through the characters’ dealings with their own queer identities. While High School is a touching and heartfelt portrayal of this iconic band, it’s also a show that can exist beyond them. It’s simultaneously perfect for longtime Tegan and Sara fans, while remaining extremely approachable for those who have never heard a single one of their songs.

During a year that has seen many sapphic shows ripped from the hands of LGBTQ viewers, High School feels like another shining addition to what remains of queer representation on television. The show will surely be a wonderful (and accessible!) way for young queer teens to see themselves on screen, in a similar fashion to the representation Tegan and Sara have provided with their music throughout their decades-long career. More than anything, High School goes a long way to put merit behind Tegan and Sara’s words when they sing, “hey, I’m just like you.”

High School airs its first four episodes Friday, October 14th on Amazon Freevee, with subsequent episodes airing weekly.

Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.

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