Heartstopper is a dream come true for anyone tired of watching queer teens go through utter hell, and all they get is tougher skin in the end.
|Genre(s)||Comedy, Drama, Romance, Young Adult, LGBT|
|Mr. Ajayi||Fisayo Akinade|
Charlie, barely forced out of the closet a year ago, takes what he can get when it comes to his situation with a down-low and older boy named Ben. But, at the start of a new term, he meets the “Rugby King” Nick, who is nice, dreamy, and befriends Charlie. Now, let it be known, Charlie isn’t some friendless kid who got bullied because they had no one. While their oldest friend Elle left his all-boys school to be in the all-girls sister school, Charlie still had the quiet Isaac and emotional Tao. Also, the art teacher Mr. Ajayi often provided Charlie the opportunity to get away from bullies, like Nick’s friend Harry.
But the first season of Heartstopper isn’t about the drama of Charlie’s past, but rather him working through the trauma Ben caused as he gets closer to Nick. Alongside that, we have the question of whether Elle and Tao might become a thing, considering how there are stars in their eyes for each other. Also, there is getting to know Tara and Darcy – two girls Elle befriends when she changes schools, who come out as lesbian.
Things To Note
- Unexpected Content Advisory: Cursing (Use of derogatory terms on a rare occasion), Violence (Minor fights), Miscellaneous (Suicidal thoughts)
What Could Happen Next
- We hope season 2 focuses on Elle finding love, be it with Tao or someone else
- It would be nice for Imogen to find someone, considering how sweet her character was crafted to be
Charlie Is Not Only Likable But Also Relatable
One of the struggles media has when it comes to focusing on those who don’t fit the overexposed heterosexual cis male heartthrob is that they don’t really push diversity as they could. They still look for that Michaelangelo-esque figure, but now give them new labels. Charlie doesn’t necessarily fit that. He is a boy who almost has a unibrow, is missing a tooth, is truly geeky, not Hollywood’s version, and in him coming off normal and imperfect, it’s easy to connect with him. Charlie can be someone who doesn’t potentially just have your story, but you can feel that despite the things you are insecure about, that doesn’t mean you can’t get the same things Charlie did.
Now, this isn’t to downplay Charlie being white and skinny, but as much as there is a need to recognize his privilege, Heartstopper does its best to make you know he doesn’t rely on that, nor dumb luck, to attract Nick. Charlie is kind, a musician, and internalizes things in such a way that he often puts others before himself, even when that person doesn’t deserve the grace he gives. Charlie’s layers truly make him feel like a whole person that either Alice Oseman (Writer/Creator of Heartstopper) knew and put to the page or Joe Locke channeled and put on screen.
It Is Not A Idealistic Queer Romance, But It Isn’t Trying To Be Pessimistic Or Pursue The Usual Trauma
Heartstopper appears to want to strike a balance. It wants you to know that just because it is 2022, that doesn’t mean homophobia amongst Gen Z or Millennials is dead. Whether gay, lesbian, or trans, there are still places that may, at best, tolerate you more than embrace you no matter who you love or how you identify. However, Heartstopper has no desire to be cruel. Yes, Ben does talk to Charlie as if he’ll never be loved, but not because Charlie is gay, but because Ben wants to manipulate Charlie into some human pleasure toy.
This is one examples of how this show gets real without being brutal. It has characters like Ben struggling with their own sexuality, so they try to repress the joy of those out, even if it was by force. Also, even amongst its queer characters, stereotypes are noted, such as the assumption Nick couldn’t be gay because he is masculine and doesn’t have feminine qualities. Though, I should note, in terms of the general public, many question certain characters being gay, like Tara, since she doesn’t look like she is or would be “the type.”
But, setting aside the negative stuff, there is also the journey. Nick’s pathway to bisexuality is difficult since sexuality can often be very binary regarding you only liking girls or only liking boys. For in the Heartstopper world, again, it isn’t trying to be some ultra-progressive show where people are pan, demi, or the 40 others, per Healthline. It wants to address that being out can be beautiful, as shown through Charlie, Darcy, and Elle confirming their gender identity. However, it is a process to get to that point.
And through showing that, it honors what it means to be part of the LGBT+ community. Both in terms of the unfortunate bits and the beauty that comes from finding or creating a community of found family and thriving together. All while living out loud.
The Two Central Relationship
The two main relationships of season 1 are Charlie and Nick, alongside Tara and Darcy. Charlie and Nick dominate and what is cute but sometimes heartbreaking about them is that Nick, while venturing from curious to bi, gives Charlie far more than he expects and sometimes acts like he deserves. For you can see the trauma Ben caused where Charlie expects the best he can get is someone to kiss and have fun with in private. But Nick isn’t like that. Charlie was his friend before he fell for him, and while Nick does have some apprehension about coming out, especially after Tara’s horror stories, he wants Charlie to feel and be loved as he deserves.
Then, when it comes to Tara and Darcy, there is this giggly fun there, especially since Darcy is fully comfortable with who she is and is a comforting presence. She is the one who brought Tara out of her shell, made Nick feel comfortable enough to even say he isn’t straight, and brought Tara the kind of joy that she can’t just steal kisses and looks. She needs access whenever, wherever, for holding her love in until she can be alone with Darcy is agonizing.
And it is honestly beautiful to see both couples’ journeys from doing what they can when no one is looking to going on dates, publicly claiming each other, and just having a regular old teenage, high school experience.
Heartstopper Doesn’t Like To Give Too Much Backstory
A lot of the time, when it comes to getting to know characters, you may feel like what you learn is surface level and common knowledge. Whether it is Charlie playing drums, Tao’s love for movies, Isaac liking to read, or Nick having a dog. The deeper stuff, like why Tao has serious abandonment issues? That isn’t gone into. Since we never met his dad, you can fathom that that could be why, but you don’t know for sure.
The same goes for Charlie’s insecurities. You can assume it is because of Ben and their relationship, but considering how Elle and Tao make it seem Charlie was like this even before Ben preyed on him, you’re left wondering why? Who planted this weed that has long siphoned away Charlie’s joy?
On The Fence
Tao & Elle
Tao and Elle are technically the third couple of Heartstopper, but the show only teases when it comes to these two. You see longing looks and the same animation that Charlie, Nick, Tara, and Darcy have when looking at their partners. However, between Elle and Tao being afraid of change, and maybe the show not being ready yet to dive into what it would mean for Tao to date Elle and really explore that, it seems that has been put off until season 2.
How Supporting Characters Are Treated
Unfortunately, if you aren’t in an active and progressing relationship on the show, you’re someone used when necessary, despite the interest your character could derive. Two prime examples of this are Tori, Charlie’s older sister, and Mr. Ajayi, who was there for both Elle and Charlie when they were being bullied, partly because he gets it as a gay man.
Though it gets worse for others characters like Isaac, who we’re told is part of Charlie’s friend group, but we are pushed to question why? He barely says anything, often has his head in a book, and really doesn’t push you to take much note of who he is. The same can be said about Ben and Harry. They are bullies of two different flavors, but why isn’t answered. Which, in a way, you get. Not everyone has a deep-rooted reason. Ben might be mean to Charlie because he hates himself and is secretly gay, but that can’t be Harry’s reason too.
I’d also throw into the mix Imogen, who, on any other show, would be in Charlie’s position. A person who has this long-standing crush, wants love yet has thus far looked for it in all the wrong places. All these characters feel wasted, and while some get to have their moment in the sun, like Tori in the last episode, consoling her little brother, many feel insultingly untapped.
Our Rating: Mixed (Stick Around)
What leads to Heartstopper barely missing being labeled positive is that for all the praise you can give it for showing a realistic, not idealistic, portrayal of what it can be like to have your first queer relationship, it falters in most other areas. It doesn’t develop its characters. It only really develops their relationships. It has a slew of wonderful and interesting supporting characters, but they are mostly underutilized. Add in holding off on one of the three couples until a second season, and at times, as much as you recognize how wonderful the representation and hope instilled in Heartstopper is, it can also be quite frustrating.
|Network(s)||Netflix | Watch on Netflix|
|Created or Developed By||Alice Oseman|
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