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Be Still My (Stopped) Heart: A Look At Netflix’s Extremely Popular – And Extremely Queer – New Series Heartstopper


If you’ve been paying even remote attention to the cultural zeitgeist recently, you know that Netflix’s new series Heartstopper is allegedly one of the best shows on TV right now. The show features a mostly Queer cast of gay, bi, and trans teenage actors, as well as forever honorary fam and Academy Award winner Olivia Colman. I figured we’d take a look at the series, what makes it so great, and what makes it so special.

I went into watching this show a bit hesitant for no other reason than the fact that it had been hyped up SO much to me. I assumed it would be sweet, but a bit saccharine, and probably something that could be equally fit for the CW or the Hallmark Channel. Boy, oh boy, was I wrong. All of the leads actually being Queer is only one part of why this show is so refreshing. It’s made even better by the fact each of them is also an outstanding actor. I mean… truly outstanding actors. Each one of them a better actor than the other.

One of the great downfalls for any show about teenagers is that many writers miss the mark on the subtle nuances of teenage conversations. They either try too hard and beat us over the head with the latest slang, or they just miss the mark completely by not even trying. Heartstopper finds an incredible balance by writing a script that is both accurate to the generation, while still making them feel like whole people who aren’t just stock characters. It’s rare that I watch a show and feel like I connect with all of the characters in some way, but Heartstopper managed to do just that.

Not only that, but some of the dialogue is really brilliant. In the first episode, Charlie (Joe Locke), one of our two protagonists, breaks things off with his very closeted prick of a “boyfriend” Ben (Sebastian Croft). He’s a prick because, though he has every right to “figure things out” at the pace that best suits him, he does so in very selfish and asshole-ish ways that are cruel to Charlie. When Charlie breaks up with him, Ben forcibly tries to keep kissing him. Nick (Kit Connor), the questionably straight object of Charlie’s affection post-Ben (and second of our two protagonists) steps in and rips Ben off telling him to piss off. As the moment settles, the two start to leave the end-of-day band room. Realizing how late it has gotten, Nick says, “We should get out. We’ll get locked in if we stay in much longer.” The layers to that statement could be easily missed, but it’s lines like that that make me truly respect this show.

In another scene, Charlie confides (as so many of us do) in the gay art teacher Mr. Ajayi (Fisayo Akinade) and asks what he should do about being in love with a straight boy. “When I was a teenager and had a crush on a straight boy, I just repressed it and suffered,” the teacher tells him, to which Charlie replies, “That doesn’t sound very healthy.” In some ways that line is the perfect embodiment of what makes this show unique, as it’s also incredibly telling of where society is in regards to Queer rights and the acceptance with which the new generation can experience their adolescence and sexual awakening. It’s not just that this young teenager is out in high school, but it’s also the fact that he understands the value in that fact, as well as the implications of what it must have been like to grow up before that was a common reality.

Peppered throughout Heartstopper are beautiful art graphics that highlight how people in love are feeling, and also serve as a nod to the book series on which the Netflix show is based. When Charlie first sees Nick, animated hearts pop up all around him. As Charlie and Nick’s friendship blossoms more and more into a deep connection, beautiful animated flowers and leaves scatter across the screen during various scenes with the two. And once Charlie and Nick have established themselves as not only the best of friends, but also clearly both into the other and not sure how to express it, they spend the day horsing around, playing Mario Kart (we love a #gaymer), and watching a movie. Charlie has fallen asleep and his hand rests open next to Nick’s. Nick, clearly beginning to lean into his feelings a bit more and more, toys with holding Charlie’s hand. He nervously hovers his hand above Charlie’s and as he does so we see little animated lightning bolds spark between them with a yellow glow, and we hear an electric sizzle along with it. It’s so well-done and they never hit us over the head with it.

Finally, and I know this is odd to write/read, but I found a joy in seeing Nick’s sadness as he realizes he is probably gay. In another episode, Nick finally types in the question that so many of us who grew up with the internet have typed: “Am I gay?” He bounces between BuzzFeed quizzes and articles on hate crimes/opposition to Marriage Equality, before finally taking one of the quizzes. The result: he’s 67% homosexual; a few tears stream down his face. The reason this brought me joy is because I remember that sadness so well, and I also know that as confusing as it was that it was just the beginning of one of the most profound sources of happiness in my life, being Queer. The struggle of sexual awakenings is universal to everyone, and this one just happens to be told through the Queer lens. But Queer as it may be, the show can really appeal to anyone who had young crushes, who felt confusion of any sort in high school, and who know the sadness of changing dynamics of adolescence. In episode three, two of the other leadsElle (Yasmin Finney) and Tao (William Gao)are hanging out waiting for their friend Isaac (Tobie Donovan) to join, Charlie having already cancelled to go to a party with Nick. Tao says, “I thought we were having a film night. …I just wanted it to be like old times” to which a wise Elle says, “Well, it’s not old times anymore.” Right then, the two get a text from Isaac saying he feels sick and has to bail. Tao is gutted.

I'm not going to spoil any major plot points, but for a myriad of reasons, I truly can’t recommend this show enough. It brings an unfathomable amount of joy to me to know that this show is available to young Queer kids across the world, as well as to see the picture it paints of what that experience is like for them growing up in a more accepting society. It's no doubt a much more healthy youth experience than that of my and Mr. Ajayi’s generation, to say nothing of the ones before ours. My face was locked in a glowing smile during each episode, and if that sounds like something you'd like then I strongly recommend you check out Heartstopper on Netflix. If they continue writing such outstanding dialogue delivered by such outstanding actors, a show like this truly deserves a long and glorious run.

Cybersocket: Plug In. Get Off. Questions? Comments? Email us at [email protected].

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