Heartstopper’s emotional lows are shallow sandbars. The art teacher is a source of useful advice. Most students are fortunate to have supportive friends. And the really lucky ones even have Olivia Colman for a mother.
In Netflix’s new queer romance series, high school is a place where bullies lose, nerds have great hair, and everyone knows your name. After spending eight episodes in its warm clutches, I’d like to sign up.
We enter Kent’s Truham Grammar School for Boys through Charlie (newcomer Joe Locke), a gorgeously disheveled 14-year-old who has a crush on his school’s rugby star, Nick (Kit Connor, whose voice you may know as Pantalaimon from His Dark Materials). . In a beautiful subversion of the genre, Nick is a nice boy with flowing curls that rival Charlie’s own. Charlie is among his classmates and the bullying that resulted from his exposure is mostly a thing of the past. Friends and teachers refer to it, but never specifically – just a promise that they will protect him better from now on. Then they actually keep that promise.
It’s hard to overstate how refreshing it is, at least for television, to meet a young gay character this side of coming out. Charlie knows who he is and who stands behind him, including his sister and father. Now the most painful part of puberty is waiting for the boys he likes to find a way out of their own closets.
Heartstopper hits all the notes a high school romance series should have. There are birthday parties and band rehearsals. A milkshake with two straws. Unlike Netflix’s other teen hits, like Sex Education and Never Have I Ever, school itself can be a sanctuary. Here, Charlie escapes the stress of sending his crush the perfect direct message. There he hangs out with Tao and Isaac, friends whose biggest annoyance with Charlie is that Charlie doesn’t like her enough. Despite the incursion of smartphones, Truham Grammar is oddly and appealingly timeless.
Of course there are bad guys. Every school has them. They stay on their own turf: the rugby field, the cinema in the mall, the school picnic tables. That means you can avoid them simply by knowing where not to sit.
Charlie’s nemesis Harry (Cormac Hyde-Corrin) is an older schoolboy whose harassment mostly takes the form of intrusive questions: what’s it like to be gay? Do you fancy Harry Styles? Who do you like? Heartstopper is based on Alice Oseman’s 2018 graphic novel, illustrated in the style of loose doodles, hearts and falling leaves scrawled in the margins, not unlike what a child might leave in a textbook. Perhaps it’s Harry’s comic book origins that keep him from ever becoming too menacing.
If Euphoria, HBO’s dark show steeped in sex, drugs and trauma, depicts an older generation’s wild fears of what it’s like to be a teenager, then Truham Grammar is the high school they desire. It turns out that what’s left of adolescence when you take away the alcohol, peer pressure, academic stress, overbearing parents and bad teachers are petty drama, dates and gym days.
One of the nicest things about Heartstopper is that it doesn’t try to spotlight the dark side of anything. It’s school in the rising sunshine of a day that should be an ordinary day. Here, a gay high schooler’s romantic experience is not significantly more traumatic than a normal high schooler’s romantic experience. It might not be realistic, but it might be worth questioning just how revealing adult teen TV can really be.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/television/tv-reviews/heartstopper-review-sunny-vision-of-school-queerness-is-a-fantasy-but-thats-ok-41633493.html Heartstopper Review: Sunny Vision of School Queerness is a fantasy — but that’s okay