Heartstopper is definitely one of the cutest queer-led high school drama/romance stories I have experienced in a while. Also, as far as my opinion goes, the writing team did bisexual representation right!
Consisting of eight episodes, with each being approximately 25 minutes long, season 1 of Heartstopper (based on the graphic novel/webcomic of the same name by Alice Oseman) is about two young high school boys falling for each other. Our main lead is 14-year-old Charlie Spring (Joe Locke), who is out as a gay kid at school. And while he’s dealt with his fair share of bullying, he’s been doing well due to a supportive group of friends made of Tao (William Gao), Elle (Yasmin Finney), and Isaac (Tobie Donovan), and an understanding art teacher named Mr. Ajayi (Fisayo Akinade).
The romantic drama in Charlie’s life is due to another student named Ben (Sebastian Croft). Ben’s all about secretly meeting Charlie in the school library. Ben’s trying to figure out his sexuality and uses that as an excuse to be rude to Charlie and pretend he doesn’t know him in public. The entire relationship, if you can even call it that, is unhealthy.
However, things change for the better when Charlie’s paired up with star rugby player Nicholas Nelson (Kit Connor). The two instantly hit it off. The way they keep saying “Hi!” to each other is one of the cutest scenes in the show. The audience knows that Nick’s queer. So, it’s kind of fun to see Nick come to that realization himself while also growing closer to Charlie.
The emotional angst Charlie goes through trying to figure out whether or not Nick’s queer made for some comedic moments. Charlie’s friends tell him to stop pining after a “straight” student, but Charlie can’t help himself, especially when Nick’s making himself emotionally available for Charlie, something that Ben refused to do.
I liked how the narrative didn’t drag that particular storyline. Nick and Charlie share a kiss in episode 3 (titled ‘Kiss’). And while the two still have a lot to deal with when it comes to how to present their relationship at school (due to Nick still being in the closet), at least the writers allowed the boys to be honest about their feelings for each other and not wait until the finale for them to be a couple.
After everything that Charlie went through with Ben, I also liked how the writing team (with Oseman serving as the showrunner) realized that Nick’s situation was similar. A closeted Nick also didn’t want Charlie to go around telling everyone at school that they were into each other. However, unlike Ben, Nick didn’t ignore Charlie at school and they remained platonic friends as far as the public was concerned. Nick allowed Charlie to support him during his journey, which, again, was something Ben didn’t do.
Nick realizing that he’s bisexual, and how his arc was handled, did take me by surprise. Due to the media’s poor track record when it comes to portraying bisexuality, I always side-eye storylines focused on characters trying to explore their sexual identity. With Imogen (Rhea Norwood) being interested in dating Nick, I thought the writers were going to give a bisexual Nick a stereotypical cheating arc.
But thankfully, that didn’t happen. Heartstopper showed that a person didn’t need to go through a cheating phase to realize whether or not they were bisexual. Nick understood who he was. There was no need for him to start hooking up with girls while also dating Charlie.
With Nick getting an arc where he struggled with his sexuality and wanting to come out to his mother (played by Oscar-winner Olivia Colman), Charlie’s arc involved allowing himself to be loved and supported by others. Due to all of the bullying and what Ben put him through, Charlie’s the type of person who had accepted being pushed around by others. Charlie blaming himself for ruining Nick and Tao’s lives was quite emotional. As far as Charlie’s concerned, things would have been much better for others if he just disappeared.
Seeing Charlie stand up for himself made for some interesting character development moments. I really enjoyed the scene where Charlie finally told Ben to leave him alone. Charlie’s right. Ben could take all the time he needed to figure out his sexuality, but what Charlie couldn’t allow Ben to do was make him feel bad about being out at school and having feelings for Nick.
As for Charlie’s friends, Tao’s arc involved feeling left out as he saw things change in his group of friends. Elle, a transgender girl, had moved to an All-Girls School. Charlie was hanging out with Nick. And Isaac was off doing his own thing. Tao wanted everything to remain the same, and it took him a while to realize that what he wanted wasn’t possible anymore.
I really felt for Tao when it dawned on him that he was the only one in the main friendship group who didn’t know that Charlie and Nick were dating. I think his outburst, while a bit dramatic, made sense for a teenager his age.
Heartstopper also offered a secondary romantic storyline through Tao and Elle clearly having feelings for each other. I really wanted the two to kiss during the finale, but I guess they needed more time. Elle’s rightfully concerned about how Tao would react if she changed their “friendship” into “romance”. But she’s unaware that Tao’s waiting for her to do just that. Hopefully, we will get to see the duo finally come clean about their feelings in Heartstopper season 2.
There’s also another romance involving Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell). The two befriend Elle at the All-Girls School and the first season features a bunch of scenes showing Tara and Darcy trying to deal with homophobia at school after making their relationship public.
I liked how Heartstopper showed queer characters help other queer characters without their being a scene of jealousy amongst the group. The first season offers a variety of queer representation with gay, bisexual, trans, and lesbian characters. And maybe, just maybe, Isaac is supposed to be asexual? I’m not sure.
And while I would highly recommend that you watch Heartstopper season 1, I also have to bring forth some of the criticism it has been facing. Some people have said that Heartstopper is just another example of Netflix putting out “diverse” shows that still follow the tired trend of including PoC cast members but keeping them in supporting or minor “friend” roles. Also, certain fans of the graphic novel thought that Charlie was PoC (biracial) due to his complexion, and seeing Locke as Charlie in the live-action adaptation took them by surprise.
I haven’t read the graphic novel or the webcomic, so I’m unsure about what to say. But, apparently, Oseman does seem to encourage PoC headcanons. Make of that what you will.
Criticisms aside, I enjoyed watching Heartstopper season 1 as it offered a queer-led high school story that had more going on for it instead of relying on sex and drugs to cause drama.
With Netflix’s Young Royals having a more mature take, also featuring a lead trying to come to terms with his sexuality, in my opinion, Heartstopper is a well-written companion piece that focuses more on delivering queer cuteness. Again, go and watch it!
Heartstopper season 1 was released on Netflix on April 22, 2022.
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Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.
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