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Heartstopper review: Netflix coming-of-age series is guaranteed to give you the warm fuzzies

Heartstopper should reinforce confidence in filmmakers to create more relatable, heartwarming tales of same-sex romance.

  • Devki Nehra

Last Updated: 12.47 PM, Apr 26, 2022

Heartstopper review: Netflix coming-of-age series is guaranteed to give you the warm fuzzies

Image via Netflix

Story: Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love. When gentle Charlie (Joe Locke) and rugby-loving Nick (Kit Connor) meet at secondary school, they quickly discover that their unlikely friendship is blossoming into an unexpected romance. Charlie, Nick and their circle of friends must navigate the ever-relatable journey of self discovery and acceptance, supporting each other as they learn to find their most authentic selves.

Review: There’s already a deficiency in LGBTQ representation on screen, but even more so when it comes to happy stories. Same-sex romances, as far as I can recall, are almost always marred by tragedy. Whether it’s intentional or not, this outlook where LGBTQ+ persons are wronged for being themselves and for loving openly and wholeheartedly sends across a rather ominous message. But Netflix’s new series Heartstopper, based on Alice Oseman’s graphic novel series, does the opposite. In fact, I believe it should reinforce confidence in filmmakers to create more relatable, heartwarming tales of same-sex romance.

Over eight breezy episodes, each about 30 minutes long, Heartstopper shows how an unlikely friendship between Charlie, an openly gay teen in an all-boys school, and Nick, the school rugby star player, turns into a love story.

Charlie’s instantly smitten by Nick after they are seated next to each other in class, though at that point he’s in a secret situationship (a romantic relationship which lacks formal commitment) with closeted classmate Ben (Sebastian Croft). These two have hushed meetings in the library or in any empty corner of the school, but Ben refuses to acknowledge Charlie in public. Their situationship comes to a permanent halt (and thank God for that) after Nick swoops in to save Charlie when Ben forces himself on him after school. It’s the start of something special.

Charlie’s confident in his sexuality and makes no apologies for who he is in spite of being bullied a year before. He’s doubtful of Nick’s though, and as they grow closer, it turns out that Nick also has some figuring out to do. The show is so, so, so sweet and wholesome that I was bawling my eyes out when they almost hold hands and cartoon electricity pops up on the screen. My heart went out to Nick when he goes down an internet rabbit hole trying to make sense of his newfound feelings for Charlie. The storm of emotions brewing inside of him as he clicks on one link after the other is heart-wrenchingly palpable. Heartstopper explores bisexuality, which is often understood in a negative light, through Nick.

This story is not just about these two boys but also acquaints us with an ensemble of characters who have their own stories. Elle (Yasmine Finney), a trans teen, has switched schools to an all girls one, leaving behind her solid group of friends who miss her sorely, especially Tao (William Gao). Being a new kid is difficult – you stick out as a sore thumb, you’re lonely, aching for the familiarity of your old life, and unsure about how to strike a conversation with your new classmates. Elle feels all of this, and I hope there's a new season that can expand more on her story.

Heartstopper aptly brings to fore the inner conflict of discovering your true self as a teenager, and I’m here for it. The story is guaranteed to give you the warm fuzzies and the animated bits emphasise how the characters' feelings add a little more fun to the entire experience. There are toned down bits and bobs about bullying, standard teenage meanness and social exclusion, but not to the point that you feel uncomfortable. The key characters are all likeable, emotionally level-headed and surrounded by supportive, loving people like Olivia Colman, who plays Nick’s mother or Mr Ajayi (Fisayo Akinade), the art teacher whose classroom is Charlie’s sanctuary.

Verdict: The show is an outlier in the plethora of teenage-focused stories, much like Sex Education and Big Mouth, in the best way possible. It’s also far, far away from the realism and cynicism that Euphoria has brought to the portrayal of the teenage and LGBTQ experience onscreen. Heartstopper takes an earnest approach toward normalising diversity on screen, normalising how messy self-discovery is as a teenager, and for that it should not be missed.

Heartstopper is streaming on Netflix.