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Series / Higher Ground

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Top: Sully—er, Peter, Sophie, Anakin—er, Scott, JJ—er, Shelby, Dualla—er, Kat; Bottom: Auggie, Riley—er, Juliette, Tudgeman—er, Ezra, Kaylee—er, Daisy, Joe—er, Frank.

Airing in 2000 on what was then Fox Family, Higher Ground broke the conventions of a high school drama focusing on just the most troubled kids by giving them their own school. Mount Horizon is a rehabilitation school in the Pacific Northwest where troubled teens who have been abused, involved in drugs, prostitution, or gangs learn to grow in a safe environment. The series focuses on a group of students called the Cliffhangers, each with their own story and troubles.

Originally a Joe Lando vehicle, the series may be more well known for some of the actors who played the Cliffhangers: Hayden Christensen pre-Anakin; Jewel Staite pre-Kaylee; Kyle Downes pre-Tudgeman; A.J. Cook pre-JJ; and Kandyse McClure pre-Dualla.

No relation to the song with the same name by Red Hot Chili Peppers Stevie Wonder, or the 2011 film.

The show provides examples of

  • Abusive Parents: Many of the characters had these.
    • Juliette's mother constantly pushed for her to look perfect, so much she developed bulimia and cut herself.
    • Daisy's mother was verbally abusive to her.
    • Scott's stepmother raped him.
    • Shelby's stepfather raped both her and her younger sister.
  • The Alcoholic: Both of Daisy's the point of them breaking perfume bottles to get their fix.
  • Amazing Freaking Grace: The sheet music was part of Daisy's solo trek package; Jewel Staite sings it at the end of the ep.
  • Awful Truth:
    • Shelby's mother at first denies her stepfather had molested her and Jess, but later admits it's true, but she simply didn't want to know that it was happening.
    • Scott's dad later says much the same thing when stating he now believes him that his stepmother raped Scott.
  • Backstory: Each of the Cliffhanger's pasts, as well as the reasons for their being sent to Horizon, are gradually revealed over the course of the series.
  • Broken Bird: Shelby is a very sarcastic, cynical girl who it turns out was raped by her stepfather, hiding behind this façade for emotional distance.
  • Calling the Old Man Out:
    • Scott near the end of the last episode.
    • Daisy does this to her dad over her mother's (fresh) grave.
  • Cessation of Existence: Daisy says there's no afterlife when Isaac dies, and states people can't accept it because that makes them sad.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: David, who actually has ADD.
  • Cut Short: Subverted, in that the series was canceled after its first season and still managed to wrap up all the major plot threads.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Used to explain a few of the character's backstories.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Strongly averted. Scott's rapes at the hands of his stepmother are presented as horrifying crimes that affected him deeply. Lampshaded by Shelby.
    Shelby: "This is gonna sound really bad, but..I kinda thought guys always wanted it."
    Scott: "Me too."
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Ezra. He plagiarized Romeo and Juliet so he'd impress Daisy. She does not reciprocate.
  • Driven to Suicide: Isaac kills himself through taking barbiturates he smuggled in that Rebecca missed while checking his things. His dad blames her, but his mom says later he had tried to kill himself before because of his depression. Every time, his dad had covered it up and didn't get Isaac help. Frank also relates to the boys that his son did the same thing. At first Frank told himself it was accidental.
  • Due to the Dead: After J Uliette gets trapped in a cave, she finds there's an ancient corpse inside, which it turns out is of a young Indigenous woman. They find out that her body will have to be examined multiple times so it can be determined whether she'd died five hundred years or more ago. If not, it goes to the local tribe for burial, but that could take a long time. Otherwise, she'd go to a museum. Peter and an Indigenous cop (who told him all this) don't like that, deciding instead to give her a burial in the woods.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The first time we see Sophie, she is parachuting down off a cliff towards Peter.
  • Gaslighting: There's a chilling, realistic example when Scott tells his stepmom he'll tell his dad she raped him. She calmly replies that his dad will never believe it. Then later she tells him that his dad wouldn't forgive it, because he'd think they'd had a consensual affair. Unfortunately, she's right that his dad won't believe. He thinks Scott is just making something up from dislike of his stepmom.
  • Golf Clubbing: Daisy's sent to Horizon after hitting her father in the head with a seven iron.
  • Goth: Daisy; forced out of the makeup and black hair dye on Day 1. She goes back to the Goth trappings for her appearance at her mother's funeral to make a statement, just before she calls the old man out.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Averted. Peter loses a bet and has to sing YMCA; he clearly mostly knows the song, but he just isn't quite hitting the notes.
  • Jerkass/Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Shelby. Possibly Scott as well, though he's generally a bit nicer.
  • Karma Houdini: Scott's stepmother gets away with repeatedly raping him as she managed to make it look like Scott liked her and just made it up when she'd rejected him.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Sophie very loves Peter and wants kids with him...the problem is, she has severe endometriosis, which pretty much rules out her getting pregnant. She actually refuses Peter's marriage proposal at first because of this.
  • "L" Is for "Dyslexia": Auggie, who is nearly illiterate, is discovered to be dyslexic by Hannah in an early episode.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Discussed and defied. Scott was repeatedly raped by his stepmom. He admits one part of his angst over it was because he did find her attractive, and even enjoyed it partly despite himself. Shelby and he both conclude that doesn't make what she did at all right even so.
  • Parental Incest: Step-parental incest, actually.
    • We learn in episode one that Scott's issues and drug abuse stem from being repeatedly raped by his stepmother.
    • Later it turns out Shelby was raped by her stepfather, along with her sister.
  • Popularity Food Chain: Discussed a few times; the Cliffhangers are fully aware that, at any other school, Lovable Jock Scott and Spoiled Sweet Juliette would not be friends with, much less dating, say, white trash Shelby or delinquent Auggie.
  • Rape as Backstory: Scott, Shelby, and her younger sister Jess.
  • Road Trip Plot: "Daised and Confused" has Sophie, Daisy, and Shelby go on a trip to attend Daisy's mother's funeral.
  • School Play: Romeo and Juliet, as rewritten by Ezra; Scott and Shelby, of course, play the Star-Crossed Lovers.
  • Self-Harm: Juliette is a cutter, and also suffers from bulimia.
  • Sleeves Are for Wimps: Auggie, a a tough kid from the barrio, favors wifebeaters. In some excellent Character Development, he abandons them after he stands up to and rejects his old life.
  • Stepford Snarker: Daisy and Shelby often use sarcasm as a defense mechanism. Ezra could qualify as one, but he's probably better described as a Sad Clown.
  • Survivor Guilt: It's revealed in "Crossroads" that Kat has this big time. Her little sister was always trying to be like her, and followed Kat into a lake for a swimming race. She couldn't keep up, and drowned. Kat has been tormented by guilt ever since, and pushed her parents away (while her father couldn't help resenting her as well). She was also adopted, with her sister being their biological child, which made it worse. They finally air it out and tell her this wasn't Kat's fault, starting a process of healing in the episode.
  • Tarot Troubles: In the teaser to "Daised and Confused", Daisy reads the tarot for her friends...and herself, which is dangerous, but there's a "full moon out...too tempting". She draws "Death" for herself, foreshadowing the death of her mother in a car accident moments later.
  • Token Minority: Latino boy Auggie is the only male student of color.
  • Troubled, but Cute: EVERYBODY. All of the main cast are attractive teens with lots of issues (generally leading to drug abuse).
  • Twofer Token Minority: Kat is a black girl, the only female of color in the regular cast.