Unfettered by cynicism and romantic in a way that’s winsomely youthful, Netflix’s Heartstopper is a joyous and heartfelt look at two boys falling in love. This teen drama which centers on Charlie (Joe Locke) and Nick (Kit Connor) is a welcome reprieve from the noise, containing eight charming episodes which allow us to gracefully fall in love with their love story. Based on the graphic novel from Alice Oseman (who also adapted her work to screen) the series is a dexterous and insightful look at the wholesome awkwardness of burgeoning emotions and discovering your sexuality. Sweet and empathetically written, Heartstopper is an excellent and quick binge.
We meet Charlie at the start of the new year following a school semester that saw him forcibly outed and bullied by his classmates. After being assigned to be deskmates with Nick – described aptly as a golden retriever in human form – the two soon develop a friendship, despite Nick being a popular rugby player for the school. Forgoing the need to delay the inevitable, the series makes sure to address their mutual attraction to one another sooner than later, though that doesn’t deter from the drama, with Nick coming to understand his bisexuality while Charlie worries that his status at school is causing Nick more trouble than what he’s worth.
While their story and burgeoning romance would’ve been enough to supply the series with enough content, the show also does well with its supporting characters, from a lesbian couple who have started dating publically at the nearby all-girls school to Charlie’s friends, Tao (William Gao) and Elle (Yasmin Finney) a girl who transferred to the all-girls school after coming out as transgender. By encompassing so many different stories and highlighting the varying levels of introspection that go into digging deep to unearth the fundamental pieces of yourself – while still a teenager no less – the story engages with the audience in a way that’s both poignant and natural, reflecting what the youth of today looks like.
Not only is it refreshing to see a toned-down adaptation of the teenage adolescent experience in comparison to series such as Euphoria or Elite but also because it wears that authenticity so well. The teenagers don’t just look like teenagers, they behave like teenagers. They’re seen studying and participating in sports and, in a charmingly relatable scene, shown being given a curfew and then honoring it, picked up by a parent who is kind and patient with their son’s heartache. Moments of drama take place in the hallways of a movie theater after a group goes to see a horror film and, perhaps one of the strongest narrative elements, conversations, and communication exists to deter any hackneyed pull at forced conflict.
Awkward and blemished as they are, these kids are alright – they’re just figuring stuff out. The cast, largely newcomers aside from the adults (which includes a surprise appearance by Olivia Coleman as Nick’s mom) share vibrant chemistry, but it’s Locke and Connor who leave their marks on these characters. For fans, Charlie and Nick were already well-developed and realized characters but between the efforts of Locke and Connor along with the series director Euros Lyn, they manage to honor the subject material while imbuing the world and characters with their sparks.
The blues and yellows that paint the walls of the school come to define our two leads and their romance and it’s that attention to detail that allows the series, for all its realism, to be given a dreamlike quality. With the bursts of colors and animations that fly around characters as their feelings ignite, the rainbow explosions of light that backdrop the first kiss, and romance-soaked downpours, the series gives us the euphoric feeling of falling in love through each and every detail.
Joyful and sincere, Heartstopper exudes warmth and empathy to all of its characters. Charlie and Nick’s romance anchor the series, but from the incredible soundtrack and design and production that allows a schoolyard to feel picturesque, the Netflix coming-of-age romance is a beautifully rendered adaptation that engages with fans of the series both old and new.
Season one is out now – you can watch the trailer below.