“If you are not personally free to be yourself in that most important of all human activities — the expression of love — then life itself loses its meaning.” -Harvey Milk
I really really wanted to write about Heartstopper the minute I finished watching it for the first time. But as soon as I watched it, I was bombarded with content which I loved and I enjoyed. However there were so many articles, reviews, video essays on it that I was a bit disheartened about writing on it myself. Was it really my place to comment on it? Wouldn’t people be more interested in hearing the story through the lens of someone who identifies as part of the LGBTQ(IA+) community instead of me who identifies as CIS (at least for the moment)? Yes they probably would.
Something changed my mind though. And it was my desire to share the series with as many people as I could. So if you are reading this and are a member of LGBTQ community, know that I am still educating myself on everything LGBTQ and I’m grateful/eager to learn more. As we are at the start of Pride Month I will take this opportunity to keep reading and learning more about the 5 decades of history behind it.
Anyway, in the end, I thought to myself, how can I contribute to Pride Month and I find that showing my appreciation for the series and sharing it online with my readers (mostly all of whom are my friends) can help more people to get to see it. I know since it aired on April 22nd on Netflix, Heartstopper has been massive. It’s not like the series needs me backing it up with my humble following but there is so much I adore about it that if I don’t put that adoration into words I’ll just not be okay.
*This review may contain visual spoilers. If you haven’t seen the series you might want to skip the photos. Considering how many times you can rewatch the series, if I were you I wouldn’t mind spoilers.
What Is Heartstopper?
Heartstopper is an adaptation of Alice Oseman’s fantastic graphic novel series with the same name. They (Alice’s pronouns are she/her and they/them) also wrote the screenplay and as the creator/executive producer of the series their presence is felt in every scene so it’s safe to say the Netflix series is a great adaptation of the series. I have been lucky enough to read the graphic novels which have also been posted on Webtoon and you need to know they are beautiful. I’ll get more into why I love the web comic version later but to enjoy the series you don’t have to read the graphic novels. Reading them just gives you an additional sense of delight and a deeper understanding of the story.
The series is very easy to digest as the 8 episodes in total are around 27 minutes each. Heartstopper is about two British boys in an all-boys school who become friends. Charlie is 15 and Nick is 16. Charlie is an introverted but very smart and talented young man who is also openly gay ( he has been outed by a friend accidentally a year ago) and Nick is a talented rugby player who is quite popular and assumed to be the straightest person that can ever be. Their story is brought to screen so masterfully and so delicately. The little animations like leaves, birds or sparks really add to the magical way in which the story unfolds and also connects the series to the graphic novel in an authentic way. Above all else their innocence is so palpable, I dare anyone to resist how cute and heart-warming this show is.
Although Nick and Charlie are at the center of the story, Heartstopper is also about their friends and “their people” and how important it is to have the right friends while we are navigating life. Charlie’s best friends Tao, Elle and Isaac and Nick’s new friends Tara and Darcy all become an incredibly sweet little gang and we are able to bear witness to some of their storylines as well.
Joe Locke as Charlie and Kit Connor as Nick are both magnificent in their roles. You will not believe that this is Joe Locke’s first role yet. Kit Connor as Nick is so lovable and his vulnerability is so palpable that makes you feel for him as much as you feel for Charlie because coming out is not easy for anyone. Even for those who are not being bullied it is still hard to overcome the expectations of society. These two actors are definitely going to achieve more greatness throughout their careers as it is rare to exude so much positive energy through such a short performance.
As far as acting goes, I especially admire the choice of trans, gay and non binary actors for these roles. I hope that all projects from now on will have this type of diversity in casting and I hope that more roles will be written so that more series can have diversity of actors and characters. We all know we need more representation on our screens. We love and welcome it when we see it so I hope streaming services are taking note of this.
Why We Need More (Queer) Optimism?
When I finished reading the web comics -which I highly recommend buying the books as you will want to keep them forever, I just couldn’t get my hands on the books in Turkey unfortunately- I immediately wanted to read Alice Oseman’s other YA books. The first one I picked up was Loveless which has been published in 2020 and won the Bookseller’s 2021 YABook Prize in 2021. I’m still reading it and so far I love it. Oseman’s writing really draws you in without much effort or long descriptions. They have really figured out how teenagers and young people think, act and feel.
They also created a beautiful universe which they or their fans call Osemanverse where their books and their characters intertwine. This is a clever way to provide more depth to some characters and shine light on them and their individual problems through different stories. Oseman’s characters are mostly queer and from different ethnicities and the diversity is not only refreshing, it is also educational. At least for me at the beginning of my forties and with English being my second language and living in a Muslim country this is extremely helpful. But putting silly old me aside I can’t imagine how much it helps the younger generation.
Heartstopper has been praised but also criticized for being an optimistic queer teen drama. As you know most queer stories don’t have happy endings. I remember hearing Xavier Dolan saying he especially wanted to end Matthias and Maxime on a positive note because a lot of queer love stories have sad endings.
Heartstopper is praised because it’s what we need in these dark times, not just queer kids, all kids and adults need more hope. However some also say that it is too optimistic and therefore not a realistic depiction of how life most is for queer kids. Arguably coming out is not as easy for all kids as it is for Nick Nelson, but I think many people forget that it’s important to set an example and pose something people will strive for. It may not be the reality for all kids everywhere, it certainly is not for Turkish kids where I live.
However stories like Heartstopper are necessary because they cause a paradigm shift. We are affected by them and we start to do things differently. We model the behavior of people we watch on screen. That’s why the supportive teachers and parents in Heartstopper are necessary. They may not be what the majority of teachers or parents are like right now but parents who watch them will model their behavior sometimes even unconsciously. I believe stories that demonstrate the ideal situation still bring change in the audiences who watch them. I think Oseman’s strength lies in this beautiful optimism and innocence which shines in her writing and through her characters. We root for her characters queer or not, because they are kind, loving, thoughtful.
Graphic Novels vs. The Netflix Series
Season 1 of Heartstopper is based on Heartstopper graphic novels volume 1 and 2. One month into its release the series became such a success that Netflix renewed it for not one but for two more seasons! The series’ success is well deserved considering while you watch it you can feel the amount of love that went into making it. Not just the cast but the crew also is diverse and has a good amount of queer representation. Every minute of Heartstopper feels like a passion project of a group of talented artists. The cast is superb! It’s unbelievable that most of them are first timers (apart from Kit Connor who has been working as an actor since he was a small kid), I applaud the director and acting coaches as well because all acting performances feel super authentic. I love the fact that finally in a teen drama we really feel and almost smell the school corridors some of us have been in many years ago. :)
I can see why fans of the graphic novels have embraced the series and their reaction is so positive. The series bring the novels into life so vividly and so beautifully. Heartstopper is such a comfort show with its colorful cinematography, beautiful lighting, realistic costumes and sets but also with attention to detail to bring to life the universe created by Alice Oseman.
As the story goes on and as we get to know more about the characters their more serious problems are introduced. I’m really curious to see how issues like eating disorders and mental health will be handled in the second and third seasons and honestly in the graphic novels I loved how they were handled. Readers, especially the target audience as teenagers can really relate to these characters and learn from their experiences. The most important thing is that Charlie, Nick and other characters’ stories really help demonstrate how important it is to communicate and ask for help when we know we can’t handle something by ourselves. Asking for help and starting therapy was the best thing I did for myself and I wish I had done that sooner.
I also love the fact that there are no real villains. I mean yes there are characters like Ben and Harry who do bad things but they are not far from reality and they do hurt as well so that we know they are human and to err is human right?
Will Adults Enjoy Heartstopper?
This is what’s great about Heartstopper, the cinematography is really good too. The director Euros Lyn’s previous work speaks for itself: Dr Who, Sherlock, Black Mirror, Daredevil, Broadchurch, His Dark Materials are all highly acclaimed.
The series is marketed as a teen drama but you don’t have to be young to enjoy it and as far as I can see from reactions on the internet a lot of adults really enjoy it too. I have previously mentioned why I love YA literature and films here and my opinion stands. My generation was unfortunately mostly held in the dark when it came to sexuality. I am grateful that today thanks to the internet queer kids have more resources to turn to.
Heartstopper is a family friendly show and tells its story in the most engaging way. The only downside is that it is so binge-worthy you will watch it in one sitting and then will crave for more immediately. This is such a beautifully shot romantic series and I can say that I have really missed this kind of stories where I am at ease and there is no drama. Of course there are challenges the characters face but we know they will be fine as long as they have each other.
If you ask me, any story that can offer a twist on a genre or a trope is interesting and I’d watch it. As a teen drama the first one that brought realism to this genre for me was SKAM which was a huge success and after the original one which was Norwegian, it was sold to many countries who all put their own spin on it. SKAM’s each season focused on one kid and its 3rd season was about a boy who struggled with his love over another boy and who also tried to come out to his friends and family. I remember it was a big moment in television for a couple of years as countries like France, Italy and Germany made their own versions of SKAM. Finally there were real teenagers on the screen and real problems like sexuality, abuse, religion and race were being discussed openly.
Recently I have also watched Young Royals which is a Swedish Netflix teen drama and I can say that it is another unexpectedly well done series in the genre. These series are proof for me that you can always try new things in a well established genre as long as you are creative and have a solid story and good writing.
Happy Pride Month!
I know I used the word education a lot in this piece but I really think that the media and cinema/TV can contribute to us bettering ourselves. Taboo subjects can be opened to discussion and people can be brought to overcome their prejudice over groups who have been marginalized. We are in 2022. It’s a shame we live in a world that people still fail to accept each other for who they are. But I think it starts with accepting who we are first. And that starts with accepting our own sexualities. And accepting that maybe our sexuality is not carved in stone. And we love whoever we love. We should all be able to love whoever we want. What I understand from #LoveisLove is we should stop trying to put love in a box and enjoy all kinds of love.
In Turkey we have a saying, “it’s not a shame not to know, but it’s a shame not to learn”. A few years ago I didn’t even know what non-binary meant. A few years ago the word queer was used as an insult and look how the LGBTQ now owns it with a positive connotation. Series like Heartstopper are teaching us how trans kids, gay kids, lesbian kids need our support and love while they navigate this journey of self discovery just like other kids. They need supportive parents and teachers because they already suffer from bullying from their peers and maybe even struggle with self doubt and societal expectations. Being a teenager is hard as it is let’s not make the mistake of increasing the weight on our kids’ shoulders.
Adieu For Now!
I can’t tell you how excited I am for second and third season of Heartstopper. How excited I am for these young actors to keep growing and how excited I am to be able to read through Alice Oseman’s bibliography while I wait for season 2 and 3. Second season will probably have a few episodes in Paris hence me finishing this off with and adieu. I hope you liked reading this and excuse me for blabbering about how much I adore Heartstopper, I find it hard to stop. If you still haven’t seen Heartstopper, give it a go and see for yourself. If you are a parent with young kids I think you must see it. If I made any mistakes about the use of pronouns or about any other thing feel free to correct/educate me in the comments, I’m still learning.
I wanted to write this in honor of Pride Month and more than 50 years of LGBTQ history, in honor of activists, artists, writers and people who have been contributing to it. I wanted to write this because even though I don’t believe in the genuineness of the streaming services that put out gems like Heartstopper I believe in the people who create them.
If you are angry that the same streaming service that is now championing Heartstopper also puts out homophobic comedians’ specials out, then go and support trans comics and gay comics and lesbian comics more. I’m leaving down a few videos below. We as the audience are more powerful than we think we are. Support queer artists so that they can keep making beautiful art. I salute you and I hope you’re having a good day wherever you are in the world right now. Sending you lots of love and light from a very hot day in Istanbul! Now go and watch Heartstopper! ❤