The trouble with most shows about teenagers is that while they can be entertaining, the storylines are often farfetched and absurd. In media, depictions of teens are adultified so much that the resulting characters are far removed from real-life adolescents’ daily lives and experiences. With “Heartstopper,” based on the graphic novel and comic of the same name, creator Alice Oseman proves that she recalls the uniqueness and singularity of teenhood. The U.K.-set Netflix series is one of the purest, most vividly accurate TV depictions of what it means to be a teen.
The first season of “Heartstopper” centered on the burgeoning relationship between Charlie Spring (Joe Locke), a lanky, quiet student attending an all-boys school, and the magnetic Nick Nelson (Kit Connor), the captain of the school’s rugby team. Having endured abuse by his classmates because of his sexuality, and emotional turmoil from a closeted boy, Ben (Sebastian Croft), with whom he’d had a secret relationship, Charlie was surprised to find refuge in Nick, who was equally shocked to discover his own evolving sexuality.
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The second season of “Heartstopper” opens where the first ended. Having come out to his mother (a delightful Olivia Colman) as bisexual, Nick decides he’s ready to share his romance with Charlie with everyone. However, being out isn’t easy, nor is it always safe. Though determined to share more of himself with the people in his orbit, Nick is reminded by his mother and Charlie that one’s sexuality isn’t information owed to the world. More than that, coming out can be a lifelong journey.
While the core of “Heartstopper” still revolves around Nick and Charlie, Oseman stretches outward this season, exploring the pasts, desires and pains of the newly minted couple’s core friend group. It becomes clear why Tao (William Gao), Charlie’s overprotective best friend, is so apprehensive about Nick and the constant changes in the friend group. Elle (Yasmin Finney) is learning to trust that safe spaces can exist outside of the small circle of friends she’s cultivated since childhood. Also, Isaac (Tobie Donovan), the oft-forgotten book-loving friend in the group, finally gets a storyline.
Additionally, now that Elle has found some gal pals at Truham’s sister school, Higgs, the vivacious Tara (Corinna Brown), her energetic girlfriend, Darcy (Kizzy Edgell) and even Imogen (Rhea Norwood), who has thankfully moved past her ill-fated crush on Nick, get more screen time. Viewers are also offered more glimpses at Charlie’s older sister Tori (Jenny Walser) — a genuinely underrated character who gives Wednesday Addams vibes, and delivers biting one-liners.
The episodes of “Heartstopper” are brief in length, 30-minutes-or-less, and each feels like a preciously crafted diary entry — romantic daydreams and vibrantly colored doodles included. While questions around queerness stand at the center, Oseman and the actors embodying her characters are exploring the never-ending shifts that come with being a young person, and how painful and beautiful it is to continually adjust to massive life changes while trying to discover who you are. From Tao and Elle, who are deciding whether a romance between them could work, to Nick’s quest to come out, and Charlie, whose blissful present is haunted by a past of incessant homophobia and bullying, everyone is just trying to figure things out.
In addition to milestones like prom, first dates, major exams and first kisses, “Heartstopper” Season 2 allows the characters to explore a different location as well. A class trip to Paris stretches across three episodes. Expanding the world around Charlie and his crew is a reminder that being queer, gay and trans are not inherently painful experiences. Allowing the kids to explore Paris opens their horizons to what’s possible outside their suburban English lives. After all, anguish felt by marginalized communities often comes from outside forces.
“Heartstopper” continues to impress because of the honesty and earnestness of the characters. Media often characterizes teens as cruel and unfeeling people with access to droves of drugs and alcohol. However, most young people are very aware of themselves and their feelings, even if they don’t yet have the tools to express them. Using a gentle pace, Oseman carefully peels back the layers of her characters, allowing the audience to connect the dots. As a result, “Heartstopper” and its pop-filled musical score perfectly capture those early feelings of love, comfort and the desire to crawl into someone else’s skin and make a home there. The series does this while addressing genuine issues that teens, specifically LGBTQIA+ teens, must contend with. While the entire cast is compelling, Locke’s sweetness and Conner’s tenderness are particularly moving.
One small blip in the season is the storyline involving Mr. Ajayi (Fisayo Akinade), Charlie’s art teacher who offered him a place of solace and a listening ear, and a new stone-faced professor, Mr. Farouk (Nima Taleghani). While this detour doesn’t take anything away from the overall series, it doesn’t add anything to it either. “Heartstopper” is for teens (and those who still recall what those days felt like). Let it be for them.
Blissful and euphoric, “Heartstopper” is a reminder that life is about living for yourself. More than that, those who have caused harm, whether they’ve offered an apology or not, shouldn’t automatically regain access to safe spaces or the people they’ve hurt. After all, coming out or allowing people in is an intimate gift, much like the series itself.
“Heartstopper” Season 2 premieres on Netflix Aug. 3.
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