While representations of queerness on television have grown in the last decade, shows have varied significantly in their accuracy of portraying the queer experience, especially for Gen Z. Scoring a rare 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and gaining immense Twitter popularity immediately after its release, “Heartstopper” has quickly become one of the most cherished recent releases on Netflix. Thankfully, the show masterfully lives up to the hype it has received, finding success as a delightful coming-of-age story that builds excitement with every episode.
Based on Alice Oseman’s graphic novel series by the same name, “Heartstopper” follows the budding relationship between two British secondary school students, Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) and Nick Nelson (Kit Connor). While Charlie is already out as gay and comfortable with his identity, he questions whether his feelings for Nick are reciprocated, especially as he knows how hard it can be to deal with the stigma of being in a queer relationship. In contrast, Nick struggles with coming to terms with his bisexuality, facing pressure as his fellow rugby teammates expect him to date exclusively girls.
As this relationship builds, Charlie’s friend Tao (William Gao) grows suspicious of Charlie’s new friendship with the rugby lads, worrying about his well-being at school because of his past bullying. However, Tao’s well-meaning intrusiveness is calmed by their friend Elle (Yasmin Finney), as her saccharine optimism and contrary perspective often help neutralize the group.
Outside of Nick and Charlie’s story, the friend group that forms around their relationship is a pure, accurate representation of young queer people; “Heartstopper” showcases a wide variety of queer identities, doing so with equal parts intention and ease. Elle’s classmates Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell) also share illuminating perspectives on the queer experience, with their relationship as a lesbian couple offering its own unique conflicts absent from Nick and Charlie’s story. In particular, Elle’s identity as a transgender girl is one of the first of its kind, as media representation of transgender teenagers is rarely this poignant yet authentic. While the show references her previous experiences with bullying at a boys’ school, Truham Grammar, Elle’s past trauma is never central to her story.
In this way, “Heartstopper” doesn’t shy away from showing the stigma surrounding accepting one’s queer identity, portraying coming out with positivity and avoiding capitalizing on queer trauma. Rather than centering the relentless bullying Charlie and Elle have experienced, the show beautifully emphasizes the importance of the love in their romantic and platonic relationships.
However, what most separates “Heartstopper” from the plethora of queer teen dramas is the unmistakable whimsicality of the series, as it doesn’t try to be unnecessarily gritty or edgy. Elements of the graphic novel, such as the same cartoon leaves as the book’s cover and other colorful animated doodles, populate the frames of particularly meaningful moments, making these scenes all the more impactful. For instance, the pastel colors and milkshake-sugary sweetness from the friend group’s milkshake truck triple-date are strikingly dreamy. While other teen dramas attempt to tap into the lure of adulthood present in teenage life, “Heartstopper” delightfully cherishes the wholesomeness of youth, especially as it relates to budding young love.
A binge-worthy pleasure, “Heartstopper” fully deserves the fanbase that it has amassed. In all of its glory, “Heartstopper” is the epitome of a young queer love story that is incredibly entrancing, joyfully pure and a magical portrayal of one’s first relationship.