Based on their bestselling volumes of graphic novels, Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper is a new heartwarming coming-of-age show that follows teens Charlie (played by Kit Connor, His Dark Materials) and Nick (newcomer Joe Locke) as they grapple with the realisation that they are falling in love.
With its English grammar school setting, Heartstopper has a cosy, almost nostalgic feel to it as a twenty-something-year-old settling down to binge-watch the first season the day it debuted on Netflix. The camera pans across a school playground as kids spill in to start their day before shifting to follow our protagonist, recently outed 14-year-old Charlie, through bustling corridors as secondary school kids traipse to tutor groups, teasing each other and giggling.
Bright cinematography and bursts of colourful animation in Oseman’s signature illustrative style fill the screen as Charlie sees who he is seated next to in his form group – ‘rugby king’, Nick Nelson. It’s a simple and classically sweet introduction in a setting we’re all familiar with and it kickstarts the blossoming of an even sweeter friendship that then, in turn, blossoms into something more.
While the show centres on their love story, it is nonetheless a joy to watch the cast of supporting characters that round out this wholesome treat of a show. Tao, Charlie’s best friend, who steadfastly clings to the Good Ole Days, struggles to adjust to Charlie’s budding romance as he misses Elle, their friend who recently moved to Higgs Girls School. Elle, in turn, adjusts to being the new girl before finding her place with the joyously fun couple, Darcy and Tara. Another heartwarming relationship we get to see is that of Charlie and his art teacher, Mr. Ajayi, who offers solace to Charlie amidst the turbulence of secondary school and the cruelty of kids who bully Charlie for being gay. A surprise appearance from Olivia Coleman, in the role of Nick’s mum, was also a joy to see. Watching the simple moments between the two of them serves as a sweet reminder to audiences of how it’s the little things, as well as the big, that can make a parental relationship so special.
One of the notable and most heartwarming elements of Heartstopper is that, as Nick attempts to figure out his sexuality, none of the drama comes from him being closeted. In fact, there is very little drama at all between Nick and Charlie, with each attempting to be as supportive of one another as they can while dealing with their own respective struggles. While a seemingly small detail, it does wonders for leaving the audience with a warm, fuzzy feeling as we race through each of the short but sweet 25-minute long episodes.
Accompanied with an upbeat (and wonderfully, mostly queer) soundtrack, Heartstopper is sure to delight fans of the graphic novels and newcomers alike as it perfectly adapts its source material to screen. Having binge read the comics the night before the show was released, and loving them more fiercely with each volume, it was a true delight to watch the young cast shine in their roles, with Kit Connor, especially, portraying Charlie’s conflict with perfect tenderness and sincerity. Every new episode brought a fresh wave of irrational tears of joy from me as I watched, simply feeling glad that a show like this now exists for the queer youth of today.
In a world seemingly in endless supply of heavy news and a world in which it is still sometimes terrifying and dangerous to be queer, Heartstopper’s strength is in its joy. It is a series that celebrates love–queer, platonic, and familial–with a warm tenderness, all while exploring the highs and lows of teenage life with unpatronising understanding. That is what makes it not only a wonderful viewing experience, but a must watch.