For years, Canadian twin sister pop duo Tegan and Sara Quin have raised the spirits of many LGBTQ indie-pop/rock fans with their upbeat angsty music. During the early 2000s, no viewer could escape the Quin sisters' music, as their music was featured in nearly every popular teen drama television series from “Degrassi” to “90210” to “One Tree Hill” to “Riverdale.” After years of having their music featured on every teen drama series imaginable, it was only fitting they get their own biographical teen drama series. Based on the forthcoming memoir of the same name by the Quin twins, Freevee’s “High School” asks the question, "How did Tegan & Sara Quin become Tegan & Sara?"
Set during 1996 in the Canadian suburbia of Calgary, Tegan & Sara Quin’s sisterhood (TikTok creators-turned-actresses Railey and Seazynn Gilliland) is at a heightened turning point. Their family including their mom Simone (a sensationally powerful Cobie Smulders) and longtime boyfriend Patrick (Kyle Bornheimer) are adapting to their new Calgary house, miles away from the sisters' hometown. As an impending school year awaits, Tegan begins to feel left out on group hangs with her sister and their friend Phoebe (Olivia Rouyre), with whom Sara has a secret romantic relationship, unbeknownst to everyone. After a sisterly fight results in Sara getting a bruise on her face, the sisters start their new year in a new high school further apart than ever before. The two venture then off into tenth grade, where the sisters individually navigate new friendships, queer awakenings, high school parties, and most importantly each other.
Many music bio-drama series rush a story's rags to riches arc, leaving little substance of the importance of the artist's humanity. But showrunners Laura Kittrell and Clea Duvall, who also directed six out of eight of the first season’s episodes, provide ingenuity in bringing the duo’s formative years to life. The series takes a grounded slice-of-life approach akin to “Freaks and Geeks,'' walking the fine line between character-driven drama with its ensemble going through typical teenager drama, while creating an authentic atmosphere that encapsulates the era. “High School” refreshingly accomplishes being a '90s period piece where Green Day and Smashing Pumpkins ruled the alternative scene without feeling like a pandering exercise of nostalgia through rose-tinted glasses.
The show's resounding timeliness stems from how the sisters navigate this particular hurdle in their lives, like innocent angsty teenage girls. The truths in showing Tegan and Sara’s anxiety lets viewers resonate with the musician’s formative selves: they try to make new friends, bickering with each other, experience subtle queer panic when harboring a new crush, and sneak off to a party and doing drugs.
Similar to the source material, the episodes are divided into chapters that rotate between the twins' perspectives of the events they individually face during their school year. DuVall's lens keeps the viewer intimately close to her subject as she personalizes their lifestyle. It’s an ambitious structure choice that might seem a bit gimmicky but the momentum consistently lasts by expanding that world beyond the sisters. Several episodic chapters diverge from the sister’s viewpoints and focus on either Simone, Patrick, their friends, or crushes. The episodic teleplays maintain a consistent realism that doesn’t veer into melodramatic territory, a godsend given that adolescence is the most melodramatically charged time in life.
TikTok creators becoming actors is still uncharted territory. That said, newcomers Railey and Seazynn Gilliland are sublime as the younger versions of the twins. The two are given the hefty responsibility to exhibit subtle teenage angst and awkward body movement, and they excel like pros. Railey and Seazynn Gilliland confidently match the series’ tone, while holding their own amongst established actors like Cobie Smulders.
There’s enough material in "High School" for the ultimate Tegan & Sara fan to sink their teeth into. Each episode’s title is the name of a pre-existing Tegan and Sara track. Later into the season, demos from their childhood become integral plot points to the sister’s budding relationship.
But “High School” functions on its own as a slice-of-life coming-of-age series that's digestible for everyone. Any LGBTQ viewer can feel seen by “High School,” a rich and timely teen drama that's far more than just a gateway to becoming a Tegan & Sara fan.
All eight episodes of season one screened or review. "High School" premieres on October 14.