Queer love is a revolutionary act of rebellion, even more so in an age where LGBTQ people are facing some of the biggest threats to their rights in our lifetimes. It may seem strange to attach such fiery words as revolution and rebellion to Heartstopper (★★★★★), a series so sensitive and sweet that it feels worlds away from our volatile reality, yet, few shows come close to reaching its heights.
Based on the graphic novels by Alice Oseman, Heartstopper is a young-adult series about two teens falling in love at an all-boys high school, but you probably already knew that. It seems as though every LGBTQ person on Earth quickly became obsessed with the Netflix-produced series and added it to the top of their 2022 watch lists.
Lauded as the sort of show that could change the lives of LGBTQ teens, the highly anticipated second season has returned for a new year of love, schooling troubles, and just about every other teenage issue you can think of.
Picking up shortly after last season, Charlie (Joe Locke) is as giddy as can be with his new boyfriend, the charming, rugby captain Nick (Kit Connor), still in the process of coming out as bisexual. As they return to school, we once again meet Charlie’s besties Tao (William Gao), Isaac (Tobie Donovan), and Elle (Yasmin Finney), while Nick avoids his old sports friends and considers coming out to Imogen (Rhea Norwood). The first hint of something new to come arrives when Elle gets to school and confides to her lesbian besties Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell) that she may have feelings for Tao, but worries about the effects on their friendship.
Anyone nervous that Heartstopper would end up a one-season wonder can breathe a sigh of relief, as the show’s signature wholesome beauty shines through immediately. However, there are a few hiccups season, which doesn’t handle its larger cast’s stories with as much grace as last season, leaving some characters behind and others getting lost in the mix.
But it’s a minor flaw, one rounded out by this season’s depths into darker and more realistic waters for the main teens this season with much more conflict and wide-ranging discussions on homophobia in the family, eating disorders, and the process of coming out.
One aspect of the series that has remained top-notch is its technical prowess. Despite having every opportunity to give in to the excitement and joy of its characters, the series paces things out perfectly, allowing smaller moments to carry much more weight. The animated touches are sparse but impactful, showing the sparks of someone touching their crush, darkening to show the fear and despair of their current situation (like taking a major test), or a heart being broken and deflating to indicate troubles ahead.
Elle’s initial attempts to flirt with Tao are almost all wordless and dotted with animated touches, allowing the latter to organically freak out. Even the story takes this slower approach as Nick feels like he’s on a deadline to come out, with Charlie repeatedly telling him to take his time and not force things.
As Nick panics over coming out, his insecurities and fears are animated across the screen. What could have been the dozenth scene of the main couple making out is paired with dreamy tunes, longing stares, and hand-drawn hearts to quietly create some extraordinary television.
It’s almost chilling how well the series captures the anxieties and joys of being an LGBTQ teen. Nick’s coming-out journey seems drawn out. There is little doubt his friends will accept him, but what makes Heartstopper so good — it is able to show internalized fear. Queer teens are forced to grow up sooner than their hetero-counterparts, as being LGBTQ is the biggest wake-up call a kid can have. The series is so sweet, it is almost comedic, and yet, it holds firm in the struggles that these teens are facing as real ones and gives them the space to come to terms with it on their own timeline.
Connor and Locke do their best work as actors when they are wordlessly trying to muster up the courage to be honest with themselves and their friends. The characters and story are so sensitive to their subject matter that the varied forms of queerness get to shine. Letting queer kids get to see queer characters ask out their crushes, have awkward first dates, or even tell each other they love each other for the first time is a rare joy few truly understand.
While Heartstopper does capture a slice of queer teen life, it is missing even the slightest indications of actual sex. While it’s adorable to see the characters kiss their faces off, the reality is that teens have sex, and while there is a puritanical movement among people to remove sex from our entertainment, it feels ingenuine here.
The graphic novel version covers the topic of sex a bit, but it still remains that these trans, gay, and lesbian couples aren’t learning proper queer sex education in high school. Not only can this be done, but it can be done fantastically. (Case in point: Netflix’s own Sex Education, the only teen show I’ve ever seen that gives a douching tutorial.) It’s not about watching these grown actors have sex, but about using entertainment to at least address a fundamental, essential part of life, LGBTQ or otherwise.
It may be a long wait until we get Season 3 of Heartstopper, but if season two is any indication, it will be completely worth the wait.
Both seasons of Heartstopper are now streaming on Netflix. Visit www.netflix.com.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!