The following contains light spoilers for Heartstopper
Featured image drawing by Alice Oseman
If you haven’t heard about Heartstopper by now, where have you been. Heartstopper, a Netflix show based on a graphic novel of the same name by Alice Oseman, follows a group of queer teens as they navigate life and love in high school. In just 8, 30 minute episodes, it has captured the heart of people everywhere because it’s just so darn heartwarming.
Last weekend, I sat down expecting to watch an episode or two, and four hours later I’d watched the entire thing. I barely even scrolled Twitter while I watched, which is saying something for me since I generally have an inability to focused-ly watch TV for more than 20 minutes at a time. Despite not having many episodes, there’s a few different subplots that are all equally well done, so I’m going to take a minute to talk about how I felt about each one.
Charlie’s Dating Life
The main character in Heartstopper, Charlie (Joe Locke), is a nerdy gay boy who came out last year and was ruthlessly bullied by the people in his school, to the point where he frequently ate lunch in his (gay) art teacher’s room rather than face the cafeteria. Oh yeah, and he is currently involved in a secret non-relationship with one of the guys in the bully group, Ben (Sebastian Croft). Charlie is just a booty call to Ben, except by booty call I mean “call for a 30 second make out in the band room”.
It’s all incredibly frustrating, and we as an audience want more for Charlie, and then we get it. Thankfully, Charlie’s main love interest in the show is not Ben (more on that later) but Nick (Kit Connor), a charming Golden Retriever of a boy who is willing to stand up for Charlie to his friends rather than bully him to fit in. Their relationship is absolutely so cute to watch; they did a great job of showing scenes with romantic tension leading up to them actually kissing. The payoff felt earned, and we were always wholeheartedly rooting for Charlie and Nick to end up together. This was the best part of the show by far, which makes sense since it was also central to the plot.
At the start of the show, Nick was just another straight rugby lad minding his own business and flirting with Imogen (Rhea Norwood), one of the girls in his friend group. He had never thought much about his sexuality, and that was fine by him. Then, enter Charlie.
Nick’s whole life is thrown upside down.
Like many of us who find ourselves crushing on our best friend and don’t understand it, Nick turns to the internet. I absolutely love how they had him googling “am I gay” quizzes and then turning to Youtube to hear other queer people talk about their experience. It is such an accurate and fundamental way that so many young people figure out their sexualities now that it feels great to have it represented on screen. It’s rare that there’s a queer character who has to come out to himself in a way that isn’t rooted in homophobia, but instead in just not having thought about it before.
The fact that Nick realizes he is bisexual (and that nobody questions this or acts differently towards him because of it) is incredible for bisexual representation, and felt accurate for who Nick was characterized to be.
Ben, Harry, and Homophobia
Like I said earlier, Ben is a a gay high schooler who isn’t okay with the fact that he’s gay. He wants to hook up with Charlie in private, but the second other people are around he not only pretends that he is straight, he actively bullies Charlie. When it becomes clear that Charlie doesn’t want to be with him, Ben says incredibly cruel things. He is a bully.
What I love about this show is that it didn’t make any apologies for Ben’s homophobia on account of him being gay. This isn’t a story about the bully and the bullied falling in love (i’m looking at you, Sex Education). Ben is an asshole. He’s a gay asshole, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is a bad person who doesn’t deserve Charlie. It was nice to see a story where the main queer character could find a partner that was truly nice to them.
The main bully in the series was Harry Green (Cormac Hyde-Corrin). He ruthelessly bullied Charlie for being gay, Nick for hanging out with the gay kid, and Tao– who is straight– for just existing. If you are going to watch the show, be prepared for the homophobia, including slurs, that will spew from Harry’s mouth each time he is on screen. Still, I appreciated that Harry was not a secret gay kid, he was just a jerk rich straight boy who was homophobic. Furthermore, everyone who was “good” in the show stood up to him. There was no moral grey area for homophobia.
Elle + Tao
Charlie’s best friends are Isaac, Tao (William Gao) and Elle (Yasmin Finney). Isaac is gay, Elle is a transgender girl who just transferred out of the all-boys school and into the all girls one, and Tao is the token straight friend who is wildly in love with Elle and kind of a jerk to everyone else. He’s desperate for the friend group to stay together and for nothing to change, a fear prompted by the fact that Elle is gone to a new school and Charlie is distracted by his crush on Nick, a relationship which Tao vehemently opposes.
Tao is super annoying over the course of the series, and I found myself groaning literally anytime he was on screen, but there were some good parts to him. For one, he was a diehard supporter of his friends. Even in his opposition to the Charlie/Nick relationship, he in reality just didn’t want to see his friend get hurt. The other thing I loved about the way Tao was written is that he is a straight friend with a crush on Elle. Too often in media we only see queer, and especially bisexual people, being attracted to trans people (even in Euphoria, Rue, who was a lesbian, was rewritten as bisexual during her relationship with Jules). It was refreshing to watch a show where Elle could simply exist as a girl and nobody questioned that.
It was mentioned that Elle was bullied in the previous year, and that one of the teachers repeatedly misgendered her, but that was only spoken about in hindsight. In the present day, all of Elle’s friends and the people she interacted with were supportive, and she got to be the center of her own love story. The Elle/Tao friends to lovers slow burn relationship was honestly adorable. They were both at their best when they were together, and I loved the way that they similarly prioritized their friendship over anything romantic. I am most definitely hoping that their crushes get explored more in season two, but I do love that we didn’t have to wait to find out that they are both attracted to each other.
Tara + Darcy: The School Lesbians
Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell) attend the same school that Elle goes to, and they became her first and best friends. They also happen to be dating. At the beginning of the series, they are keeping this a secret from almost everyone, but Elle quickly guesses it and they open up to her. Their relationship is absolutely adorable, and I love just watching them be happy and cute together. They’re band lesbians who had their first kiss locked in the band room. It’s too cute.
Over the course of the series, they decide to come out publicly. Darcy is perfectly okay with this and goes about her merry way. Tara, on the other hand, struggles once she actually comes out. Although she wanted to be able to live her truth honestly, she wasn’t ready for all of the gossiping people would do about her once she came out. Some of the girls make cruel comments and refuse to sit near her, and she struggles to deal with that. She just wants to be a normal girl dating a normal girl, but people make everything out to be a big deal.
Although I hate the fact that they have to deal with this homophobia, I do like that we saw the contrasting reactions from Darcy and Tara, and that they still supported each other no matter what. The two of them were some of the best characters in the show, and I hope to watch their relationship blossom in season 2!
I really just cannot emphasize enough how much I loved this show and how badly I want all of you to watch it. There’s something so exciting and revolutionary about a group of queer high school students being shown on TV in an accurate way. Heartstopper did not shy away from showing blatant homophobia and bullying, but it also didn’t let that get in the way of the main characters finding love. Charlie, Tara, Nick, Elle, and everyone else found their people and they were able to find happiness through that. It just felt like a normal (yet positive) high school experience was being portrayed on screen, and that level of comfort is something that we all need right now.
If you’re looking for a heartwarming story with a nearly entirely queer cast, please go watch Heartstopper immediately.