Netflix’s winning gay teen romance formula
In pre-pandemic times, when people worked in person in an office, the Netflix series “Heartstopper” (eight episodes of about 25 minutes) would have been a favorite water cooler conversation topic.
Instead, this sensational British coming-of-age series about first love, friendship, coming out and mental health has become the darling of social media, with near-universal critical praise from fans. Instagram and Twitter users. It received a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Heartstopper” originated as a webcomic in 2016 on Tumblr and Taps, but was later turned into four compulsive-reading graphic novels (highly recommended, with plenty of material, some darker, for future seasons), but good luck trying to find or buy one, as they are all out of print, the publisher is forced to reprint new copies.
Author Alice Oseman is also the writer, creator, and executive producer of its television adaptation. “Heartstopper” will warm your heart as you fall in love all over again.
Charlie Spring (Joe Locke), a student at the all-boys Truham Grammar School, had been bullied the previous year and forced to come out under nasty circumstances. Starting a new term, he has a new office mate, Nick Nelson (Kit Connor), a rugby player, presumably a nice, likeable guy. They get along well and Charlie is in love with him as soon as he says hello, although he seems unlikely to be a potential boyfriend.
Nick grows attached to Charlie and as they get to know each other he slowly realizes that he is attracted to him, forcing himself to ask himself some tough and scary questions, such as the possibility that he is bisexual. .
Complicating Charlie’s life is his closeted, toxic ex-boyfriend Ben Hope (Sebastian Croft) who refused to recognize Charlie in the hallways, terrified that his friends might find out the truth about him. Charlie is also tormented by Harry Greene (Cormac Hyde-Corrin) with homophobic comments. He plays on the rugby team and is friends with Nick.
Charlie has a support system that includes his protective best friend Tao Xu (William Gao) and their close friend Elle Argent (Yasmin Finney), a black transgender who was forced to change schools last year to a nearby girls’ academy, after a cruel behavior by both students and teachers. She befriends Tara Jones (Corinna Brown) and Darcy Olsson (Kizzy Edgell), a couple of lesbian students.
Although longtime friends, Elle may fall in love with Tao. And Tao resents the budding friendship between Charlie and Nick. All of these well-developed characters interact as they struggle with their own individual changes while maturing throughout the school year.
There are so many reasons why “Heartstopper” is so fabulous. The teenagers are actually played by real teenagers, so they look and act like real teenagers. The sexy and cute on-screen thrill between Charlie and Nick feels natural, their attraction genuine.
Although the two actors are handsome, they are not gorgeous “models,” so the audience can relate to them. Neither Locke nor Connor have come out as gay, although there are persistent rumors on social media that Locke may be dating Ben/Sebastian Croft off-screen. Still, it doesn’t matter if one of the actors is actually gay, because on the Gaydar meter, he scores close to 10.
What’s also refreshing is that both characters exude confidence and vulnerability. The series beautifully balances this internal battle of desire and shame when examining one’s sexuality.
Additionally, the secondary relationships of Tara/Darcy and potentially Elle/Tao both provide welcoming counterpoints to Charlie/Nick. Overall, the series presents being queer as a joyful experience, but doesn’t underestimate the challenges of challenging the status quo.
There’s even a retro 1950s vibe with milkshakes, hugs and classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes suggesting integrity, with romance trumping sex (which there isn’t). here), while still managing not to be cheesy. Even animated special effects designed to mimic the series’ webcomic/graphic roots, such as animated pastel-colored falling leaves or fluttering hearts to convey a romantic swoon moment, add to the sweetness, whimsy, and charm of the show. series.
“Heartstopper” is almost entirely teen-focused, with few adults. Those featured are significant, even though they are mostly cameo appearances. Fisayo Akinade plays art teacher Mr. Ajayi, who is gay with a visible Pride pin on his lapel. He is friends with Charlie, allowing him to have lunch in art class on days when he is being harassed by other students.
Then there’s Olivia Coleman as Sarah, Nick’s mother, who raises him alone and is very supportive. She only appears in a few brief scenes in the Season 1 episodes. The only gripe about the show is that when you have a towering actress like Coleman, she should be used more frequently and creatively.
She’s wonderful, registering a hundred emotions when Nick comes out to her, but this incident only lasts two minutes, a waste of such prodigious talent.
Finally, yes, it’s gay actor/broadcaster/comedian/writer Stephen Fry, as the voice of Director Barnes you hear on the speakerphone in the morning making sarcastic announcements, recalling his “Jeeves and Wooster” days. .
“Heartstopper” succeeds brilliantly where two years ago a very similar series, “Love, Victor”, on Hulu, was seriously incomplete. They both centered on main characters sexually questioning and falling in love with an openly gay friend. But here, the actors were in their 20s, were unmistakably straight (scoring 0 on the Gaydar meter), and didn’t act or talk like normal teenagers. The trials of Victor’s mother were more gripping than the gay protagonists, who both felt dull, bland, lacked depth, or showed sizzling chemistry between them.
“Heartstopper,” versus “Love, Victor,” proves that gay teen romances can work well if you’re true to your source material, both in how it’s told and cast convincingly.
Even for viewers over the age of forty for whom an openly gay high school affair would have been inconceivable, the film rings so true with its emotional honesty and relatability, that one can vicariously experience a fantasy romance by filling a schoolmate crush as your own personal Nick, replacing the virtually impossible with what should have happened.
“Heartstopper” has earned its cultural moment, securing its place as perhaps the best gay teen romance created for television.
Hoping – no, insisting – that Netflix renews this delightful, delightful series for a second season.
Favorite on Netflix
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