REVIEW: ‘High School’ Gives Viewers a Tender Glimpse Into Queer Canadian Adolescence

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“High School treats its characters with grace and understanding, even in their most vulnerable moments.

High School is a coming-of-age series about the real-life pop duo Tegan and Sara which successfully explores the discomfort of queer adolescence, not just for its two teenage protagonists but also for those raising them. Through dynamic storytelling, sincere performances, and a killer soundtrack, director Clea Duvall and the cast of High School provide viewers an authentic glimpse of life for Tegan Quin (Railey Gilliland) and Sara Quin (Seazynn Gilliland), two fifteen year-olds struggling to find their identity in the bleak suburbs of Calgary, Alberta. 

The series is based on Tegan and Sara’s memoir of the same name, and it looks back at the Quin twins’ adolescent years. We’re transported to 1995, where the Quin girls are finding their footing at a brand new high school and coming to terms with the fact that they are starting to grow apart from each other. The show flips between perspectives of different characters, allowing us to understand key moments from each point-of-view. 

Image courtesy of Michelle Faye/Amazon Freevee

Sara is entangled in a secret relationship with her best friend, Phoebe (Olivia Rouyre), which becomes complicated when Phoebe’s mother catches them cuddling during a sleepover. Tegan, feeling left on the outskirts of Sara’s social life, finds solace in a new friend, the edgy, flannel-clad Maya (Amanda Fix), but Maya finds herself jealous of the twins’ bond. Along with their new friends, Tegan and Sara are introduced to the Calgary rave scene, which becomes an escape from the dreariness of suburban life. 

The show also explores the perspective of the twins’ mother, Simone (Cobie Smulders), who is frustrated with her stagnant relationship with her partner, while trying to balance young motherhood and her daunting thesis project for her master’s degree. Her partner, Patrick (Kyle Bornheimer), is trying to rekindle their romance and find his place as a father figure to the girls. 

Image courtesy of Michelle Faye/Amazon Freevee

It’s not a surprise that the show has a distinctly Canadian feel to it, being that it follows two Canadians growing up in Alberta, is populated with Canadian actors, and even involves a scene where characters are lined up outside of a Sears, a Canadian department store that went out of business a few years ago but was a staple of suburban Canadian life for decades. The Gilliland twins are new to the craft–and it shows–but their sincere performances contribute to the slice-of-life authenticity of the series. The wardrobe exists in the sweet spot where 90s style, Canadian fashion, and lesbian culture meet, which is to say that it’s composed of a healthy amount of flannel and denim. 

Though neither Tegan nor Sara pick up a guitar until the fifth episode, music plays an essential role throughout the show. The soundtrack is jam-packed with 90s alt-rock classics from the likes of The Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, and Bruce Springsteen. Tegan and Sara both use music to understand the world around them, and when they eventually find their stepfather’s acoustic guitar hidden away in the basement, they begin to use writing and playing music as a way to connect with each other. 

Image courtesy of Michelle Faye/Amazon Freevee

High School treats its characters with grace and understanding, even in their most vulnerable moments. The first episode covers a nasty fight between the sisters that results in an unmistakable purple shiner on Tegan’s cheek. It’s a moment that feels all too familiar to those with siblings around their age, who may have found themselves on the receiving end of misguided hormonal aggression at one point. This sets the tone for the season, and highlights the biggest strength of the series: Its authentic, well-crafted interpersonal relationships. These relationships are best represented in the final few episodes, which is packed with both tense and tender moments between characters. 

Stories about queer teenage life have largely saturated the TV landscape for the past few years with series like Riverdale and Euphoria, but the beauty of High School is that it strips the genre down to its core elements and allows its viewers to sit in the painful and familiar discomfort of adolescence. 

Creator: Clea DuVall 

Director: Clea Duvall

Producer: Leslie Cowan

Cast: Railey Gilliland, Seazynn Gilliland, Esther McGregor, Olivia Rouyre, Amanda Fix, Brianne Tju, Geena Meszaros, Cobie Smulders, Kyle Bornheimer, Jayne Eastwood, Nikki Rae Hallow, Nate Corddry

Release Date: October 14, 2022

Available on: Amazon Freevee

Trailer here