Even before the inhumane introduction of Section 28, LGBTQIA+ youth have been desperately seeking accessible and normalised representation of their true selves. Though queer acceptance has integrated into the mainstream norm, fictitious depictions can often be stereotyped, obvious cash-grab fodder or likely to pale into the realms of borderline tolerance. Spearheaded by openly asexual creator Alice Oseman, Netflix’s Heartstopper effortlessly encompasses the nostalgic yet present representation young generations need—while also clearing the intricate hurdle of successfully adapting a book series for TV.
Taking the everyday woes of British high school in his stride, Charlie (Joe Locke) is sick of hiding in the shadows with his maybe-boyfriend Ben (Sebastian Croft). When he meets rugby player Nick (Kit Connor), Charlie tentatively falls for his first childhood sweetheart. Accompanied by a long-term group of friends and friendly new faces, Charlie and Nick figure out their feelings in a brand new landscape.
After transitioning from webcomic to graphic novel series in 2018, Alice Oseman’s unique command of the YA demographic hasn’t gone unnoticed. With the Heartstopper series gaining huge popularity among teens and adults alike, its visual configuration could have easily peddled a subpar alternative—yet the series holds beautifully true to the source material. Taking the pastel hues and green scale wash of the graphic illustrations, the attention to matching each notable detail is a wonder in the eye of every beholder. Flourishes of animated motifs dance between moments of candid intimacy, never straying from child-friendly PG boundaries. Under the watchful eyes of Oseman and director Euros Lyn, the mundanity of the British school experience subtly sings into its own sweetly-scented joy.
It’s almost difficult to believe the entire cast was scouted from callouts and Instagram posts. Collectively, their calibre is exceptional—and likely to birth rising stars onto the international screen. A young Olly Alexander in his waifish charm, Joe Locke leads the cast as the quietly self-doubting Charlie, delicately toeing the line between annoying teenage behaviour and heartfelt emotional turmoil. His supporting players are equally as effervescent, proving that depictions of daily adolescence don’t have to resemble the profanity-fuelled blueprint laid out by Skins. Heartstopper’s innocent charm is exactly what holds its appeal, its cast creating the strung-out naive tension that defines teenage friendship and first love. A diverse gang that represents an entire spectrum of identities, the continued normalisation only heightens the small problems that become life-changing milestones in the eyes of the youth.
For some viewers, all of the above will be a touch too trite to appreciate. Heartstopper’s charm is sickly sweet, veering away from the gritty narratives audiences are used to seeing on the small screen. While the attention to detail excels itself, the amalgamation of lively nuances can make for a sensory overload that appears surface-level. If a mature audience is able to overlook the candy floss first impressions, they’re likely to enjoy appreciated escapism and a rose-tinted look at what it’s like to be young. Staying true to its namesake, the level of heart bursts through the seams of the narrative and envelops viewers in a jovial pause on first-world problems.
Regardless of who might be watching, the rite of teenage passage is a ‘been there, done that’ situation for all. Being able to transform wild and visceral emotions is an art in itself, and one that a team of mostly novices have taken into their stride. Undoubtedly benefitting from the same authorship, the wistful glee in reading the series is pleasingly apparent in Heartstopper’s TV debut.
Heartstopper comes to Netflix on 22nd April.