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HEARTSTOPPER Season 1 Review

Neil reviews the first season of Netflix’s HEARTSTOPPER. The eight episode season, adapted from Alice Osman’s graphic novel, streams 22/4.

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Heartstopper (Netflix)

All eight episodes of Netflix’s Heartstopper stream from April 22, 2022.

Synopsis

When gentle Charlie and rugby-loving Nick meet at secondary school, they quickly discover that their unlikely friendship is blossoming into an unexpected romance. Charlie, Nick and their circle of friends must navigate the ever-relatable journey of self discovery and acceptance, supporting each other as they learn to find their most authentic selves.

Review

There’s no escaping the fact we live in a transformative age. Through hugely successful series like Love, Victor and Generation, queer culture is breaching the mainstream and normalising a spectrum of identities. But there was something of a gap in the market for a story deeply rooted in British culture.

Netflix and director Euros Lyn has found that story in adapting Alice Oseman’s web-comic-turned-graphic-novel, Heartstopper. The series is fronted by newcomer Joe Locke as Charlie, an out student in year 10 at a British secondary school. Charlie starts the series in a relationship with another student who is far less comfortable in his own body. Things change for Charlie when he meets Nick (Kit Connor). Charlie is a year older and, at first, seems to be Charlie’s opposite. But as the two connect it seems there could be more to their friendship than meets the eye.

Without Locke and Connor in the lead roles, Heartstopper would be nowhere near the success it is. Both are perfectly cast and their chemistry is undeniable on screen. With Oseman adapting her own words to the screen, every word is infused with the overwrought teen emotion which made her original works a cult success. Every “hi” and every “sorry” carries an emotional weight and become recurring motifs which embody the journey of each character.

Despite a confidence in his sexuality, Charlie is anxious and uncomfortable in his surroundings. Osman populates the school with plenty of expected stereotypes though interestingly swaps out the usual football hooligans for slightly more a slightly more sophisticated rugby team. Day-to-day Charlie deals with homophobic jibes alongside the kind of bully every British teenager deals with. Any potential anxiety Locke had in undertaking his first major role is perfectly channeled in to Charlie.

Connor’s career has been on an upward trajectory for some time. After roles in Rocketman and BBC’s His Dark Materials, playing Nick feels like a natural progression in taking on a lead. Connor brings the confidence of his previous experiences to Nick’s role as popular rugby player and member of the cool year 11 gang. But beyond this, he’s also able to bring all of the apprehension which goes hand in hand with beginning Nick’s journey of self discovery.

Supporting cast members also play a key role in shining a light on queer stories. Charlie’s friendship group includes Tao (William Gao), an outcast film-nerd whose best friend has transferred to an all-girl school. Yasmin Finney plays Elle, said best friend who also happens to be trans. I can’t heap enough praise on the production team for making the trans aspect of Elle’s story so subtle. Elle’s issues lie in making friends in her new school and integrating to new surroundings. A perfect analogy for the trans journey but without any of the forthright, unsubtle signposting of other stories. Together, Tao and Elle have to reconcile their feelings in a journey which will serve as a backdrop for future seasons.

Inhabiting the girls school are Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell), a lesbian couple on a journey to coming out to their peers whilst befriending Elle.

Moving to the show’s outer fringes there are parental figures and teachers who all play an important part in illustrating each character’s journey. Several standout moments are between Nick and his mother, two of which certainly left me incredibly emotional.

Heartstopper has a wonderful visual style and levity. Each of the eight half-hour episodes is wonderfully paced and builds to a specific turning point. The series can easily be binged but also sits perfectly as an episode-by-episode season. Each of the big turning point moments is garnished with animated elements such as the series’ trademark leaves but also hearts, stars and other doodles. These moments also translate key panels from the graphic novel. It creates an interesting visual landscape and sets Heartstopper apart from other shows. The soundtrack also features a great selection of recognisable chart hits.

The series stumbles slightly in finding a coherent tone. Netflix found huge success with the Neo-American style of Sex Education, a show which appeals hugely to an older audience. Heartstopper attempts to recreate some of that style and reconfigure it for younger viewers. The results are, at times, a little saccharine but never threaten to derail the enjoyment.

There’s no escaping or underestimating the importance of stories like Heartstopper. Coming out stories are so often portrayed as difficult and distressing. But whilst that is true in real life, they are often surrounded by a warmth and a love which makes the transition endurable. Heartstopper is wonderful and goofy and romantic and we should celebrate that.

Verdict

Carried by the undeniably charming Joe Locke and Kit Connor, Heartstopper is an uplifting love story for the ages. But more than that, these are important stories which need to be told.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

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