Heartstopper – The Series


I just want to believe in romance

Main Cast: Joe Locke, Kit Connor

Creator: Alice Oseman

Coming-of-age stories are tricky. They have a built-in audience of teenagers—who are also coming of age—but their appeal is not lost on adults. After all, most of us remember well the awkward days of high school with its many pitfalls and heartbreaks.

The key is making the show work for both audiences and that’s not easy. Fortunately, we have geniuses like Mindy Kaling, who brought us Never Have I Ever, and Alice Oseman, the woman behind Heartstopper, to show us how it’s done.

Heartstopper is the story of a group of English school kids. They’re an eclectic crew and devoted to each other. They exist outside of the “norms” of their schools, and their teen discoveries about sexual and gender identity make up the bulk of the narrative.

Our main character is Charlie (Joe Locke). Charlie is gay and was accidentally outed at school. The fallout was brutal, with bullying and a soul-crushing secret relationship as the result. But there’s someone new on Charlie’s horizon. His name is Nick.

Nick (Kit Connor) is a popular rugby player who ends up sitting next to Charlie at school. The two begin a tentative friendship that will change both their lives. It is this relationship that is at the core of Heartstopper. These two kids are so different, but so alike. They learn as much about themselves as about each other on their journey.

Surrounding the pair is a larger friend group. Tao (William Gao), Isaac (Tobie Donovan), Elle (Yasmin Finney), and Charlie have been friends for years. They were there for Elle when she came out as trans and transferred to the girl’s school. They were there for Charlie when he was being bullied. They are not keen on Charlie’s new friend Nick, who has to prove himself someone who can be trusted with such a tender heart.

As the series progresses, so does the friend group, adding members who share their struggles. We meet both supportive and resistant siblings and parents (including the fabulous Olivia Colman) as the kids slowly make their way through adolescence.

Heartstopper is based on graphic novels of the same name by series creator Alice Oseman. What she has accomplished with these characters and their stories is magical. She weaves us into the lives of teenagers whose experiences are both novel and universal. Everyone wants to be loved and accepted for who they are. Lots of people have societal hurdles to overcome to find that acceptance.

Very few people have a group of friends who are unwavering in their support of everyone, regardless of who they love or how they identify. Heartstopper examines the struggles of gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, and transgender young people while giving them a soft place to land as they open their hearts to the wider world.

There are struggles, but the villains aren’t cartoons. They may be intolerant and even abusive, but Oseman treads lightly without ignoring the problem. Her vision seems to be twofold. To present a safer, sometimes joyful world to teenagers facing hatred and bigotry and show all of us how the world could be if only we saw each other as individuals instead of labels. She is never, ever preachy, and she is always, always hopeful.

Heartstopper is marvelously conceived and brilliantly presented. Every performance hits its mark, both main and supporting players. The elements reminding us of the story’s graphic novel roots are just right. A hint of animated illustration emphasizes the big feelings of adolescence and introduces a playful undertone to the show.

This is such a tender, thoughtful series. The characters aren’t jumping into risky or graphic sexual activity or self-destructive substance abuse or constantly being mistreated and attacked. The real world and plenty of other series give us plenty of grim reality. These are just kids, figuring out who they are. If we were all as accepting and open to happiness as the teenagers in this TV show, the world would be a far, far better place for everyone.

There are currently two seasons of Heartstopper on Netflix, with a third coming in October 2024. I hope they plan more seasons–I would watch these wonderful kids grow and change until they’re grandparents.

The graphic novels are available on Amazon and probably through your local public library.

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