Tegan and Sara’s origin-story drama ‘High School’ is a teenage dream
The Freevee series starring Railey and Seazynn Gilliland is more My So-Called Life than Euphoria.
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Tegan (Railey Gilliland) and Sara (Seazynn Gilliland) don’t pick up a guitar until episode 5 of High School. The teen twins — busted by their mom, Simone (Cobie Smulders), after sneaking out to go to a rave — have been grounded and sentenced to hard labor: cleaning the basement. Sara discovers the instrument hidden behind a wall full of storage boxes and gives it another try. She picks out the opening notes of the Smashing Pumpkins‘ “Today” as Tegan watches, transfixed.
This is a very simple indie-rock story, but it’s still a big part High school ”s appeal. The eight-episode series, based on Tegan and Sara Quin‘s 2019 memoir of the same name, is a moody and touching tale of queer adolescence told with artful simplicity and excellent ’90s alt-rock. Tegan and Sara have moved to Calgary’s suburbs. It’s 1995, and the 15-year-olds’ previously intertwined lives are beginning to peel apart. Sara is in a secret relationship to her BFF Phoebe, Olivia Rouyre. This leaves her sister feeling excluded. She doesn’t understand why she’s being excluded. Tegan is saved by the feisty, flannelle-clad Maya (Amanda fix) at school. The two form an intense friendship that is unique to teenage girls. Mom balances night shifts at a crisis helpline with her pursuit of a master’s degree, while quietly questioning whether she’s outgrown her relationship with Patrick (Kyle Bornheimer), her kind and dependable longtime boyfriend.
High School loosely follows the structure of the book, alternating between Tegan and Sara’s perspectives, but showrunner and director Clea DuVall (Happiest Season) broadens the narrative by weaving in key viewpoints from outside the twins’ bubble. Phoebe struggles with reconciling her love for Sara and the shame caused by her mother’s suspicions. Maya, who is more lonely than she admits, feels like Tegan’s “filler buddy” and forever second to Sara. Simone is eager to be able to put her needs first. There are house parties, drug trips, breakups, and angsty mope session in poster-covered bedrooms. Kurt Cobain is God; Pixies and Violent Femmes and Stone Roses are on the stereo. High school with its precise-guided needle drops and High School will be a hit with Gen Xers as well as Geriatric Millennials. In their first non-vertical screen appearance,
TikTok stars Seazynn Gilliland and Railey do a great job. The 21-year-old actresses bring an endearing awkwardness to Tegan and Sara, sisters whose twin dynamic can best be described as caretaker and risk-taker. After Sara drags Tegan to the rave, Tegan thinks “This is against a lot mom’s safety rules.” Smulders plays Simone as the exhausted, permanent skepticism that a mother must have to maintain two teenage daughters alive. Tegan and Sara play Patrick & Simone in their first song, a wistful ditty called Tegan Didn’t Go to School Today.” You can feel the cacophony behind Mom’s calm smile: surprise, wonder, and the heart-swelling joy at her often-bickering children working together to create something beautiful.
The eight-episode season only covers a portion of the Quin sisters’ story. We will not see DuVall’s version. Tegan and Sara will become multiplatinum indie icons, but in High school they are just two kids learning how to be themselves. Grade: B
The first four episodes of High School are streaming now on Freevee. New episodes premiere every Friday.
I have been writing professionally for over 20 years and have a deep understanding of the psychological and emotional elements that affect people. I’m an experienced ghostwriter and editor, as well as an award-winning author of five novels.