Arts and Entertainment

Heartstopper: the Endearing Queer Fairytale We’ve Been Missing

Netflix’s “Heartstopper” is a tender depiction of young queer love.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The first moments of “Heartstopper” immediately capture the anxiety of young queer love. Charlie Spring (Joe Locke), a gay Year 10 at an all-boys school, excitedly checks his phone as he waits to see his secret boyfriend Ben Hope (Sebastian Croft), a popular Year 11 who is afraid of being caught with Charlie. The two meet in the school library and share a kiss before Ben dashes away, leaving Charlie hanging. But when Charlie is seated next to his school’s rugby king Nick Nelson (Kit Connor), he realizes that his secret relationship with Ben is unsustainable and begins crushing on Nick. The show, adapted from the comic series of the same name by Alice Oseman, follows Charlie and Nick as they fall for one another. Interspersed with adorable animations by Oseman, “Heartstopper” is a delightfully sweet gay romance.

The show moves quickly, but makes room for multiple romances and plenty of angst. As Nick and Charlie’s relationship develops, Nick has to come to terms with his bisexuality while Charlie navigates homophobic classmates. In a separate plotline, Tao (William Gao), Charlie’s constantly cross and overprotective best friend, harbors feelings for his friend Elle (Yasmin Finney), a transgender girl starting at a new school. At her new school, Elle befriends Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell), a lesbian couple who face prejudice online when they come out on social media. With MLM, WLW, and transships, one of the show’s strengths is its accurate representation of the LGBTQ+ community. “Heartstopper” shows queer love in all its intricacies. The show is refreshingly focused on the relationships between its characters and the struggles they endure, rather than simply telling a coming-out story.

Joe Locke gives an outstanding performance as Charlie, and his chemistry with Kit Connor’s Nick Nelson is undeniably electric. In an equally impressive performance, William Gao plays an infuriated Tao, whose serious demeanor is offset by his adorable haircut. Gao does a fantastic job portraying teenage anxiety, and his performance teeters perfectly between annoying and charming in every scene. All of the cast members deliver consistent performances, with Connor’s depiction of Nick stealing the show, particularly in the fourth episode, when he confesses his feelings to Charlie while also revealing his struggles with his own identity. The insecurity of being outed is beautifully illustrated throughout the Netflix series as characters grapple with their queerness. Growing up while hiding yourself from the world can feel suffocating at times; the unease and self-loathing that comes with the repression of feelings is artfully woven into “Heartstopper.” Nick’s character is particularly relatable in the balance he struggles to maintain between fitting in with his friends and being honest with his sexuality.

Another one of the show’s strengths is its fantastic soundtrack, which features LGBTQ+ artists like Baby Queen, Thomas Headon, and girl in red. The show is scored by punchy Pop cuts like Baby Queen’s “Want Me” (2020) and Orla Gartland’s “Why Am I Like This” (2019), which reinforce the angsty youth that the show encapsulates. The soundtrack provides an excellent musical backdrop for the series. The songs immerse the viewer into Charlie’s world by adding an endearing touch to cute moments, like when Charlie falls asleep while texting Nick.

Despite its excellent cast, soundtrack, and plot, “Heartstopper” isn’t flawless. The show suffers from a lack of consistent pacing, which undermines the development of some romances. This is especially true of the show’s B-plot romance between Elle and Tao, which is given a disproportionate spotlight halfway through. Though it made sense for the pair to get together, it lacked buildup that would have created a more believable relationship. While Charlie and Nick’s love is given time to breathe and develop, Elle and Tao’s development feels simultaneously too slow and too rushed, which is a shame for the two fantastic characters. In addition, the timeline of “Heartstopper” is difficult to follow at times; certain episodes take place over the course of weeks, while others are contained to a few days without much variation in backdrop or weather. Though the breezy weather and pastel colors can feel repetitive at times, this issue never impedes how enjoyable the show is.

The sheer amount of gay panic in “Heartstopper” is simply dumbfounding. In a genre of television dominated by uninspired straight romance, the show’s success is an incredibly validating novelty. Though shows such as “Love, Victor” (2020-2022) and “Euphoria” (2019-2022) have also explored queer love, the depiction in “Heartstopper” feels the most focused and genuine, since LGBTQ+ representation is often shoveled into a side story of overcoming homophobia and shallow self-discovery. Though a coming-out story can be powerful, many streaming services are trying to season their content with more diversity rather than thoughtfully developing their productions. In “Heartstopper,” all the focus is on queer angst. The show isn’t just an excellent coming-of-age story: it feels necessary for a genre lacking in queer representation. It’s cheesy at times, but also tender and irrefutably touching. And we need cheesy young adult shows for straight and gay folks alike.

We haven’t seen the end of “Heartstopper” on Netflix yet. The webcomic is still being written, with a new issue expected in early 2023. The television series ends at only the second book in Alice Oseman’s collection of four graphic novels. The show has been renewed for two more seasons, hopefully with even more gay panic.