While this new British queer coming-of-age rom-com is not polarising, Netflix’s latest Original series Heartstopper dares to present an empathetic and adorable ode to all kinds of love in a delicate and understanding fashion. In eight fast episodes, the showrunner Euros Lyn upholds the ethos of Alice Oseman’s original graphic novel and presents the complex politics of identity, sexuality and self-discovery wrapped in a warm embrace of feelings and positive emotions.
To stay true to the core of its source material, the show relies heavily on snippets of animation, namely pink hearts and cartoon lightning bolts to express emotions and add an appeal of innocence to the premise of various high school romances. The show is set in two same-sex schools, namely Truham Boys School and Higgs Girls School and focuses on the development of various kinds of friendships and relationships.
While the show tries to uphold the promise of being happy and different from other LGBTQ+ coming-out tales, it does not create a supposed rainbow utopia and hints at internalised homophobia and chronicles subsequent bullying. However, teachers are more welcoming, parents way more accepting and the students have a marvellous understanding of sexuality and the gender spectrum.
The scene with Olivia Colman, in particular, wins hearts as she is warm and accepting of her son’s sexuality. Her levelled understanding of bisexuality, too, is a triumph for the community who have for quite a long time, been victims of bi-erasure and often trivialised and unnecessarily sexualised in media.
The show begins with the openly gay student Charlie (Joe Locke) who has been severely bullied for his sexual orientation and publicly humiliated by his ex-boyfriend; the latter projects his own feelings of self-doubt and anger onto Charlie. When Charlie sits next to Nick (Kit Connor), a well-recognised rugby player at the school, sparks fly. Although he develops a crush on Nick, Charlie is unsure of the latter returning his feelings. However, over shared concerns regarding homework and other elements, their unlikely friendship culminates into a cute and heartwarming love story.
Besides Nick and Charlie, the show features a lesbian couple as well as a trans character. Unlike its predecessors, Heartstopper does not milk the politics of sexuality to move the narrative forward. It presents a positive environment that abounds in film nights, milkshakes, group dates and more.
Zooming on the texting scenes between the characters where they often type, delete and retype their messages reflects teenage apprehension and anxiety regarding burgeoning emotions and feelings. Even Charlie joining the rugby team to protest against the stereotype of him being a particular kind of gay boy is pretty exciting and empowering.
Heartstopper is a show that needs to be watched by children and adults alike as it crushes the inherent heteronormativity and starts a meaningful and accepting conversation regarding queer love. It is a brilliant portrayal of Oseman’s graphic fantasy about LGBTQ+ teenagers trying to find their place in the world. Heartstopper is indeed heartwarming!