Adults love reflecting on the high school experience, whether they were the most popular kid in school or depressed over their acne.
Thanks to all those iconic ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s films and TV shows we can’t stop re-quoting, we tend to assume that these four years of raging hormones are the most crucial part of our human development—even more so than our twenties and thirties when you tend to make the most impactful mistakes, have more meaningful romantic encounters, and experience changes in your mental health.
Our cultural obsession with high school is both understandable and sometimes weird. It’s nice to dwell on a time when you didn’t have crippling amounts of student debt, got chauffeured around by your parents, and covered your bedroom in boy band memorabilia. The way this fascination manifests in media can be a little hairy at times. Certain portrayals of teenage sexuality—and you know which ones I’m talking about—can veer into creepy, male gaze-y territory that often positions minors, typically girls, as miniature adults rather than children.
In general, I find that there’s not much to mine from the experience of being a teenager besides the fact that we were all horny and stupid—which is probably why the most popular high school show currently airing, Riverdale, has to take place in a different cinematic universe episode-to-episode, and its prestige counterpart Euphoria has no idea what it’s about.
This leads me into my recommendation of Lovestruck High, one of the most delightfully deranged pieces of reality television in recent years that both skewers and indulges in our weird high school fantasies.
The new U.K. dating series, on Prime Video today, puts a bunch of twenty-somethings in an American high school setting to find their “true loves”—or rather someone to take to prom by the end of the competition to potentially be crowned royalty and win $100,000. It’s an ideal setting for a genre of television that primarily documents immaturity and sheer delusion. Likewise, it has an overtly comedic tone and sensibility, bolstered by some hilariously biting narration from high school movie queen Lindsay Lohan, whose voiceover work deserves an Emmy and a Grammy.
The series can best be described as an updated version of The CW’s reality series Beauty and the Geek, which asked the very mid-2000s question: “What if beautiful women and nerdy men had things in common?” That program was more of a social experiment that occasionally yielded romantic results than a standard dating show. Lovestruck High similarly categorizes its cast as high school archetypes—the jocks, the artists, the beauty queens—and forces them to partake in decidedly non-academic “academic” challenges. For instance, when the students attend a P.E. class in one episode, they’re instructed by a swim coach to give each other mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (read: make out for five minutes). Another gym class features a very sexualized floor workout.
Lovestruck High is a great alternative if you’re bored by the glossy, expensive aesthetics of a Love Island or Love Is Blind. (There’s a lot of navy blue and cheddar yellow.) A main pleasure of the show is its theatricality and how immersed the cast members are in this ridiculous world. There’s a charming set of teachers who lead the group challenges—or “classes”—and a terrifying female principal who enters every scene to the Jaws theme. It’s eerie, hilarious and somewhat impressive watching the adult students eat in a cafeteria surrounded by extras, be transported in a yellow school bus, and carry backpacks probably filled with foam peanuts to go nowhere without bursting into laughter at the absurdity of their environment. The end result is more than a little dystopian.
When the cast gathers for the first time, you see how quickly they all blend together with their early-aughts fashion, center parts and face fillers, undermining the distinct archetypes they were originally introduced as. Notably, there’s a handful of queer students—a refreshing bit of inclusion in the historically heteronormative canon of dating shows. Their task of finding a prom date immediately seems more difficult than their straight counterparts’. It’s a specific anxiety you can also glean from the racial minorities on the show. But it also makes the competition more fierce, dramatic, and petty.
In that way, everyone’s attempts to find their “true love”—or at least a companion to hang out with throughout the duration of the show—seem deeply earnest. No matter how many followers these adults have on Instagram or people pining for them in real life, there’s something about being surrounded by lockers and bulletin boards that creates a palpable sense of anxiety and desire to be accepted among the entire cast.
A major challenge of making reality television today is that so many people who get cast are clearly reality obsessives themselves and understand the roles they want to play and how to play them. Despite the artificial setting, the cast of Lovestruck High comes off as extremely authentic, even in their facades. For example, one of the first students we meet is a guy named Huss—a name I can only assume is short for Hussein or Hasan but nevertheless sounds extremely bro-ish in this shortened form. The moment he attempts to compliment two female students on their respective eye colors—and incorrectly identifies one—we understand that he’s a playboy, albeit a very clumsy one. You can tell he isn’t aware that he’s the show’s antagonist until he’s clocked for his shady ways by several women. By then, it’s too late.
On the other hand, Junaid, maybe the most flirtatious, extroverted person on the show, has no idea that he’s getting a villain edit because of how well-liked he is by his peers. His gregarious image completely shatters when he attempts to make an enemy out of a popular blonde named Megan for no other reason than that he probably assumes she’s getting a mean-girl edit. (In the few episodes I’ve seen, she doesn’t). Overall, the discrepancies between these students’ self-perception, how they’re treated among their peers, and how they come off on-screen are amusing to observe.
Lovestruck High ultimately wouldn’t be able to pull off its comedic voice without the literal voice of Lohan. Iconically husky voices don’t always age well, but the actress—who’s chicly photographed with a cigarette at all times—somehow takes you back to her early and mid-2000s work with her subtle but effective delivery.
In any given scene, an earnest, romantic moment between two students will immediately be undercut by Lohan’s sarcasm in voiceover. But the show still maintains its sweetness with all of her sardonic one-liners. Likewise, I boldly predict that Lovestruck High will be a better comeback role for her than the Christmas rom-com she’s starring in on Netflix later this year that was almost certainly written by an algorithm and won’t be remembered after a week.