Adapted from the hit graphic novel of the same name and writer, Heartstopper follows the relationship of quiet, out Charlie Spring and popular rugby king Nick Nelson as they become friends and then something more.
Review by Daniel James & Gabriel de Jesus
Spoiler level-Mild to Moderate
Heartstopper captures the magic of the graphic novel within the first few minutes of the first episode. The tone is set instantly by the sound of “Want Me” by Baby Queen, and shot transitions pay homage to the comic origins. The use of animations to highlight building emotional connections between characters and their love interest adds another layer to the wholesome feel of the show.
The chemistry between Joe Locke as Charlie and Kit Connor as Nick is instant, transcending dialogue as a collage of “Hi” shows Charlie’s crush grows. Locke personifies the anxious energy of Charlie while Connor’s acting from the first episode foreshadows the journey of self-discovery Nick will go through.
The remainder of the characters are equally well cast, each able to bring new life to the complexities and nuance of the source material. William Gao portrays Tao, Charlie’s overprotective friend who fears his friends leaving him. Yasmin Finney presents the strength and insecurities of Elle Argent. While Corinna Brown and Kizzy Edgell share just as much chemistry as the leading men as Tara Jones and Darcy Olsen. Sebastian Croft as the slimy Ben Hope and Cormac Hyde-Corrin as the entitled Harry Greene deliver villain performances that will leave viewers hating their characters for a long time.
Heartstopper leans heavily on its source, at times lifting entire scenes in a way that will likely feel nostalgic and validating to fans. However, it isn’t afraid to make changes to further elevate the narration. It isn’t until later volumes of the graphic novel that focus is shared among the supporting characters. Elle and Tao’s plotlines are established from the first episode with Tara and Darcy introduced not long after. Not only does this allow for the characters to present as well-rounded sooner, but it also creates a sense of community as each character’s growth and struggles interact with each other.
Two changes that did not land as well were the addition of characters Isaac and Imogen. Though both Tobie Donovan and Rhea Norwood give great performances as Charlie’s quiet bookworm friend and the quick-tongued girl crushing on Nick, respectively, neither felt as integrated into the story. While there is plenty of potential in Issac, who presents as not only without a love interest but no expression of wanting one, he seemed to receive significantly less screen time and focus. The character of Imogen played a role in Nick’s self-realization and motivation for Tao’s distrust of Nick but then promptly vanished aside from a brief acknowledgment in the final episode.
An important area that Heartstopper shines in is representation. It isn’t just a story about two cis, gay white men. Of the three central relationships, half the characters are BIPOC, and Elle being a trans woman is never ignored nor is it farmed for the trauma. None of the characters’ identities are used to showcase the trauma. Traumatic things related to their identity occurred prior to the start and the cost of this is used to highlight the characters’ strength and growth. Even the on screen depictions of homophobia are done in a way that acknowledges its existence without dwelling in the characters’ pain.
The strength in representation is not just in terms of characters and cast but in the way it handles the identity of the characters. Unlike other shows, especially others from Netflix, it doesn’t treat bisexuality as something that makes the character “edgy” or “quirky.” It doesn’t become the punchline of jokes. They give the character the opportunity to sit with his feelings and experience and when he reaches the end(for now) of his journey it is a label he decides for himself. It is something he verbalizes when he is ready, not when he is made to by an outing or an ultimatum. Darcy and Tara come out when they want and have no hesitation in saying the word “lesbian”. Elle doesn’t shy from saying when people have been transphobic.
Heartstopper not only captures what makes the graphic novel so impactful, but it goes further to create show that overflows with heart and queer joy.
Now to wait if Netflix continues and commits to a second season.
Netflix’s Heartstopper- Adapting Queer Joy
- Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Acting - 9.5/109.5/10
- Music - 10/1010/10
- Production - 9/109/10