If you watch it in one go, Netflix’s latest LGBTQIA+ release Heartstopper will take you about four hours to complete, but assuredly, will leave you with a comfortable warmth for a much longer time. Unlike other teenage shows like Euphoria or Riverdale, it is not action-packed or stress-inducing. It is gentle and heartwarming in the best way possible.
Based on the graphic novels by Alice Oseman, Heartstopper is an eight-part series primarily revolving around the lives of Charlie (Joe Locke) and Nick (Kit Connor). The series begins with Charlie Spring, who has had a hard school year being bullied and is currently his school’s only openly gay kid, with low self-esteem that might betray his otherwise smiling face. Ben (Sebastian Croft), who is figuring out his sexuality and hooks up with Charlie in the dark corridors of the school, is considerably less enthusiastic to acknowledge him even as a friend in the hallways, leading Charlie’s already fragile self-worth to suffer from even more blows. Enter Nick Nelson, Charlie’s newest form seatmate and quite the human embodiment of a golden retriever. He is on the rugby team, is popular, and most unfortunately, straight. And Charlie, develops a crush on him. However, fear not, for it does not stay an angst-ridden story of unrequited love, but Nick and Charlie do get together and you will not be able to get enough of their adorable-ness!
The blossoming of the relationship between Nick and Charlie, accompanied by animated sparkle sequences and an amazing set of OSTs is the best thing in teenage tv right now. Heartstopper is absolutely wholesome and optimistic but with a sense of grounding reality. Nick’s exploration of his sexuality is relatable with online quizzes and movie scene realisations. When he comes out to his mother (played by the impeccable Olivia Coleman), apprehensive and hesitant, perhaps we all as viewers held our breaths. And yet, we see a wholesome and accepting interaction, a parental validation all queer teens would perhaps love. And yet, although his struggle with his sexuality is not all rainbows and sunshine, it is not terribly traumatic or a stressful watch either, as compared to other pop culture representations of queer stories. It is a pertinent nod to bisexuality which can often be very confusing to accept, understand and realise. Even though Charlie is obviously in love with Nick, he gives him to time to come to terms with all of it, gently and softly, making sure to let him know that what he is feeling is valid, an assurance that bisexuality is often not provided with. When Nick plays with Charlie in the snow or when there is a whole day of PDA and love in the end at the beach, it is almost as if we can feel those animated hearts bursting all over.
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Other prominent characters in the show include Elle (Yasmin Finney), Tao (William Gao), Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell). Elle is a transgender girl and had left Charlie’s all-boys Truham school to join the all-girls Higgs school nearby. She meets Tara and Darcy at her new school, who we find out eventually are lovers but are not too keen to let everyone know about it till Tara comes out as she posts about it on her Instagram. What follows are stares and hushed and not-so-kind whispers behind their back that particularly bothers Tara.
On the other hand, Elle is struggling with her feelings for Tao, who is her quite clueless best friend (we love his comebacks to Charlie’s bullies but pay attention, Tao!). Elle here is not simply a token character for representation, nor is the representation typically distressful. Similarly, Tara and Darcy are not in any way hypersexualised as a lesbian couple, but rather their inclusion makes the host of characters more well-rounded and lovable. And since all of it takes place so matter-of-factly, it becomes easy to lean into the embrace of Heartstopper.
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What makes Heartstopper so amazing is its simplicity and ability to empathise. Its teenagers are not unrelatable rebels, but understanding and kind. There is something so incredibly healing about seeing joy, especially for queer folks, whose representation is often either tinged with hyper-sexualisation, fetishisation or stress-inducing experiences. The focus of Heartstopper is on emotions and feelings rather than an attempt to being a flagbearer of relevance, which is honestly, refreshing, relaxing and enjoyable. Its representation is genuine and empathetic and it seeps through every minute.
Featured image source: NetflixJunkie