To escape into a world where you can live vicariously through its characters and live out the most joyous experiences and come out wanting to emulate that in your own life, is exactly what ‘Heartstopper‘ has done to me. My immediate reaction after watching this show for the first time besides overwhelming joy and a huge puddle of happy tears was that I had slowly stopped exploring new ways to express my sexuality and find new parts of myself that I had never known before. I still remember feeling my heart beating out of my chest when I went to watch ‘Love, Simon’ in cinemas and now here I am wanting to live as authentically as possible even if I’m not all there just yet. To those that have said that ‘Heartstopper‘ is too hopeful or not realistic, I argue that it makes queer people want to be their most genuine selves and in return, they help shape the world they want to see and I couldn’t be happier about it.
spoilers for the first season of Netflix’s ‘Heartstopper‘ are included in this review.
Going to an all-boys secondary school as a gay boy was a four-year hell I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. That being said, it is where I found my best friend who was always there for me and when I did come out to him, made me feel at home. It also helps that he’s gay as well and that we can talk about guys now like we never could in school. Putting myself back in Nick and Charlie’s age which is around 15/16, I can say without hesitation that I never had what they had, not at that age and not even now funnily enough. Watching this show, I saw myself in both Nick and Charlie and I can confidently say that ‘Heartstopper‘ is the most authentic depiction of what I consider my experience with being gay felt like. The pining and longing from afar, the smallest of small talk with a crush providing heart-stopping waves of happiness and excitement, the anticipation of sitting next to someone you like, ‘Heartstopper‘ absolutely nails these teenage trials and tribulations. It got me to live vicariously through Charlie whom I relate to an awful amount. I was giggling, laughing nervously and crying all the way with Charlie throughout the season. I am not a person that giggles but I’ll be damned, Nick Nelson is a charmer!
One aspect of ‘Heartstopper‘ that I feel is contributing heavily to its success is the fact that it is so bright and hopeful. It is a tender tale of a queer coming of age for two boys that simply want to live freely. The one word most people would use to describe this show is ‘wholesome’. It is the first queer show I can think of that manages to replicate the radical queer embrace of shows like ‘Steven Universe’. The concept that queer media is constantly being tainted by tragedy and sadness is one that holds true to a certain extent. For example, many fail to bring up animated queer television like the aforementioned ‘Steven Universe’, Disney’s ‘The Owl House’ and Netflix’s ‘She-Ra and the Princesses of Power’ (2018) which are inherently some of the queerest content television has ever seen. That being said, when it comes to live-action queer content, that sadly is true for the most part. Most times, it’s done for dramatic effect, stuff like inner homophobia or fear of outing leading to bitterness tend to be at the top of the list and it does taint the experience for some, including me. Queer stories shouldn’t keep using reality as an excuse to portray queer trauma and tragedy. While these are true issues that should indeed be talked about, they don’t need to be included in every single piece of queer media. There should be shows like this where queer characters are allowed to be happy. There was this one instance while watching ‘Heartstopper‘ that stood out to me so much because I caught myself instinctively expecting the worst after the kiss at the end of episode 3. I fully expected Nick to act weird around Charlie during class and have inner homophobia play into the story, I was dreading the moment so much but then as Charlie walks into class, the camera pans over to Nick anxiously anticipating Charlie’s arrival with a huge grin on his face. At that moment I just started bawling my eyes out because I was truly caught off-guard. I couldn’t believe that I was watching a show about two gay boys and it was in its very DNA, excited to talk about how beautiful queer love is.
On that note, despite the fact that homophobia is still very much included in this show, ‘Heartstopper‘ makes an even bigger effort to highlight the safety and comfort of friendship and community. When Nick is figuring out his sexuality he finds comfort in Charlie, almost like a home. Most times throughout this show, they first hug and then kiss because at the end of the day they want to comfort each other. More often than not, the intimate hugs were even more emotional than the kisses because it really was such a beautiful representation of the bond they have. I love that Nick found comfort in talking to Tara and Darcy, (whom I love very much!) by coming out to them first and asking them for advice. I’ve never really seen a TV show highlight the importance of queer friendships like this before. Even more so, the innocence in Nick and Charlie’s romance is so pure and utterly adorable, the chemistry is off the charts. Kit Connor and Joe Locke are the perfect people to play these wonderful characters, I cannot imagine anyone else playing them. My favourite moments between the two have to be the snow day in Episode 2, the arcade kiss in Episode 5 and above all, the beach date montage in Episode 8. The latter might be one of the purest, most euphoric presentations I’ve ever seen of queer love. I cannot emphasize how much that sequence and this show mean to me.
That being said, the heart-shattering sadness present in episode 7 and the first half of episode 8 is still definitely a part of the experience and it was done tastefully. It went to very dark places while still maintaining that innocence and rawness and I really do applaud the show for balancing those tones. Charlie’s character arc is ripped straight out of not only Alice Oseman’s graphic novels but the lives of millions of queer people around the world, mine included. The exploration of such a specific type of trauma regarding queer relationships and the infamous closet was done very faithfully, You could tell just how much the cast and crew wanted to get this right. It also helps that the cast and crew is mostly queer so there is that level of authenticity and safety always present. Growing up, I never had a show like this, even just a few years ago a show like this didn’t exist. While queer representation is definitely growing, there isn’t an avalanche of variety or a surplus of content. Straight people still think we are being force-fed down their throats by Netflix anytime a mediocre queer character makes an appearance in a mostly straight show. This is the only show I’ve seen that fully understands me, that knows what it’s like to be a gay teen and offers hope and inspiration. Even Nick’s storyline brought me to tears, his coming out scene made me sob uncontrollably for about ten minutes. The palpable tension in the room, the hesitation in his voice, the impulse of finally deciding to come out, it was as if I was watching myself come out to my own mom. I cannot imagine the impact this show is going to have on its younger audience, the response from both teens and parents has been so overwhelmingly beautiful, it really makes me so incredibly happy.
Overall, I can go on and on about ‘Heartstopper‘ for literal hours, I didn’t even cover everything I wanted to in this review alone. I didn’t mention the other characters and how much I love every single one of them, the jury still isn’t out on Tao but he’s fine I guess. I love Elle, Tara and Darcy, this is one of the few shows where I could watch them read the phone book together and still be entertained because that’s how much I love these characters. Critique-wise, it’s honestly a near-perfect first season, the pacing is lightning fast but it never feels rushed, the only nitpick I have is that Episode 4 drags and isn’t as interesting as the others, the same goes for Episode 6 but it’s far more entertaining. The performances are great, the soundtrack is incredible, I am now a Baby Queen fan thanks to this show! Honestly ,this is just the best thing in the world for me at the moment. I bought all the books, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack over the past two months like it’s my job. It truly is just my everything right now. I cannot wait for Seasons 2 and 3, until then… HI!
The first season of ‘Heartstopper‘ is now streaming worldwide on Netflix. Alice Oseman’s ‘Heartstopper‘ graphic novels are also in bookstores everywhere, if they’re still in stock.