Yes, it is time for another Netflix coming of age rom-com to hit our screens but this time with a much needed twist. Released on the 22nd of April 2022, Heartstopper has made waves in the TV industry with its portrayal of the trials and tribulations of high school life with queer love at the forefront of the story.
Featuring Kit Connor as the high school ‘popular’ rugby player Nick Nelson, Joe Locke as the central protagonist Charlie Spring who is one of the only openly gay men in his school after being outed in the previous term, Yasmin Finney as Elle Argent and William Gao as Tao Xu (to name a few). This stellar cast is diverse, extremely talented, and portrays a much needed dose of the reality of high school relationships and what they should/do look like.
The TV series is based on Alice Oseman’s graphic novel and has garnered a rather positive reaction from its audience, especially those in the LGBQT+ community. Importantly, most shows portraying queer relationships like Euphoria have interplayed violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and adult relationships into their narrative which of course there is nothing wrong with however when young kids aged 10-11 are struggling with their sexuality and/or sense of self, there are very little on screen representations of themselves which can validate their feelings and make them feel seen. Thus, Hearstopper has placed itself into a very important market and in that sense, I am going to explore how well it has met that expectation.
It is an eight part series and explores key themes such as sexuality, identity, high school drama and hierarchies alongside navigating growing up and friendships. It is full of cringe and moments that are possibly too sweat or innocent. But from watching similar Netflix representations of high school like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I think that is to be expected.
Before researching the show and understanding it from a broader perspective, I was slightly overwhelmed by the clunky nature of some of the scenes, the awkward interactions between characters both in dialogue and body language and the overwhelming need to shout at the screen in an angsty rage. But, that soon disappeared and was replaced with a heartwarming sense of appreciation for this television programme and how much it meant to so many people.
As a straight, white female it is important to recognise just how much privilege one has had when growing up watching TV. Most shows were filled with heterosexual relationships, played mostly by white actors. Thus, when this representation is decreased and replaced by more stories of a variety of different relationships, it is easier to understand how belittled and unrepresented so many people must have felt.
This representation is carried throughout the film with one of Charlie’s best friends Elle Argent, played by Yasmin Finney (who is set to play Rose in the next series of Doctor Who). Elle (and the actress Yasmin Finney) is a trans woman who has had to move schools because of bullying. The way this was dealt within the series was commendable, Argent’s identity was not reduced to her being trans rather that was only a small part of the characters persona. It was something that particularly stood out to me and by no means did the squandering of this part of her diminish it, it just meant it wasn’t something to marvel over which so many news outlets and people want to exaggerate nowadays.
As I am writing this Hearstopper has been confirmed for two more seasons and I am hoping they’ll centre the relationship between Elle and William to properly showcase the difficulties that come with navigating a trans relationship in-terms of societal norms and navigating sex when growing up.
Although, as I have mentioned, it is full of cringe and innocent moments, that is not to say the real life aspect of life is not showcased. Of course school is messy and full of moments you would wish to never relive but it is also full of moments that fill you with butterflies and joy. Heartstopper is all of that combined but with a dose of nostalgia and vintage colouring (reminiscent of Sex Education).
Importantly, the show if free of shame which has been the monumental point with which the show has been acknowledged for. No character feels ‘disgusted’ at their identity and although Nick has a hard time coming to terms with his bisexuality, it is never looked at as an issue for him or anyone else in his family. Rather it is portrayed more as confusion and a period of self discovery. The only people who have issues with sexuality across the board are Nick’s friends who cannot seem to fathom someone in his position being with other men. Strikingly, this is imperative to the shows success as Williams belittling of the bully Harry Greene (played by Cormac Hyde-Corrin) in his sarcastic, witty comments highlights how Greene’s issue with other people says more about him than anyone he is bullying. Greene’s positioning in the narrative showcases how little power he has rather than centring him as someone with the right to abuse people. Furthermore, Nick’s willingness to put people in their place puts standing up for the ‘little kid’ as something ‘cool’ to do, which mainstream media has previously avoided in their own representations of high school.
On the other hand, the inclusion of Olivia Colman as Nick’s mother, which was kept under wraps until the shows release, showcases the beautiful moment of inclusion and understanding from parents and highlights what ‘coming out’ should look like. I had a lovely conversation with my flatmates in this particular scene and actually got emotional at how so many kids do not have that luxury. In that sense the show opens up important questions and discussions; whether that is amongst young kids who are figuring out their identity, with parents who want to navigate their relationships with their kids in a loving and supportive environment or with young adults who need to reflect on their own privileges/past experiences in school.
Heartstopper hit all the right notes and it is a joy to see something hit the screen that will genuinely make a difference.
What did you think of the show? Has this changed your mind at all? Let me know below.