by Logan Gion
Created and Written by Alice Oseman
Directed by Euros Lyn
Starring: Kit Conner, Joe Locke, Stephen Fry, Olivia Colman
Heartstopper was adapted from a webtoon–a contemporary fusion of digital comics and “Manhwa,” the South Korean equivalent of Japan’s “manga.” Rapidly gaining international popularity, webtoons, even in the action or horror genres, typically have soft edges with a warm glow. Author Alice Oseman utilized this new platform to create a British love story about two gay teens. The acclaim that Heartstopper has received from the LGBT+ community and the material’s confident pivot to television from a medium that has been nigh impossible to crack brought this show to the top of my review list.
You’re right! Not only is this an entry into–
–it also fulfills the prophecy foretold back in June. Behold! It’s the–
Now, if only it starred Kurt Russel…
This week’s pick comes from my brother, who has been stanning this show harder than a My Hero Academia fan wishing Bakugo and Kirishima would stop being subtextual (All. The Clues. Are There. #PopRocks). The two of us share music, game, and movie picks, so I was willing to check this show out. In return, my brother’s gonna watch Chainsaw Man with me next month.
Charlie Spring is in year 10 at an all-boys school. He’s the only out-and-proud gay kid there, which makes him a prime target for both bullying and illicit make-out sessions with closeted self-loathing popular kids. This all changes when he’s recruited for the rugby team by his homeroom classmate Nick Nelson. Nick and Charlie become fast friends, but Nick’s unsure of his sexuality while Charlie doesn’t want to lose what he has with his new best friend.
Uncomfortable with this shifting dynamic are Charlie’s friends–Elle, Tao, and Issac. Charlie’s life isn’t the only one that’s changing, though. Elle, a transgender teen, has finally been accepted into the neighboring all-girls school. Her school friends Tara and Darcy are a couple, and their public relationship status is slowly giving Elle the confidence to admit her feelings for Tao.
Through these three relationships, Heartstopper guides its audience through a multitude of colors within the pride prism.
Yes, because it shows that LGBT+ people are people. Yes, Charlie’s relationship with Nick is the center, but we see him have delightfully prickly conversations with his skulking sister, practice intensely for an orchestra concert, and worry about fitting in on the rugby team. Just like with any marginalized minority, a person being part of that minority is just one (albeit significant) piece of their human makeup. Heartstopper painstakingly reveals this truth through its characters, and garners much goodwill for doing so.
One truth with which the show had trouble, in my opinion, was its portrayal of bullying. LGBT+ bullying still definitely happens, its prevalence still depressingly high and its effects soberingly cruel. Heartstopper‘s portrayal, however, feels like bullying I would’ve seen in the ’00s. Simiary, when I was in middle and high school, movies and television starring teens felt stuck in the ’80s. I think that’s because the creative team was bringing their truth from their own teenage experience. Obviously, professional screenwriters aren’t teenagers, so Millennial-era bullying portrayals in Gen-Z programming feels like a natural progression. I’m sure 10-20 years from now, Gen-Z will be showing Gen Alpha what teen antagonizers look like and the cycle will begin again.
Conversely, there are many cycles Heartstopper refreshingly breaks. My teen British programming mainly consists of Skins and Misfits, which made me think that the U.K. was full of ravenous horndogs. Heartstopper focuses wholly on romantic relationships, leaving steamier aspects at the door. This show scores double for denouncing the stereotype of young gay people’s rampant promiscuity. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll probably see Bros in theaters and laugh at all the wry observations about gay sex lives. I’m simply stating that Heartstopper refreshingly provides an alternative for teens and young adults who don’t feel like stereotypical representation portrayal describes their experience. For this reason alone, Heartstopper is worth watching.
You might fall in love with it, but Heartstopper and I decided to be just friends. The main reason our relationship didn’t go further is because of the age gap. Occasionally, I’ll try a show out and, while I acknowledge the quality and see the appeal, immediately discover that I’m not its target audience. Were I even five years younger, I’d be swooning over this show. As it stands, I found much of the conflict overblown and dealt with immaturely. Oh wait–that’s how teens act! I certainly can’t fault the show for portraying its main characters accurately.
There’s much to like about the show–its warm, digital synth soundtrack and graphic-novel cues position Heartstopper as Juno‘s cool-but-shy younger sibling. The LGBT+ teen characters are enlivened by solid performances, mainly because their actors are LGBT+ teens! The show also retains its webtoon feel through careful, intentional direction.
Overall, it’s a winning show that deserves to be cherished. With a two-season renewal from Netflix, I’m happy that Heartstopper seems to be in a supportive relationship.