How do you make a love story set in the gloom of winter months seem bright and fuzzy like a summer romance under whose warmth you’d want to bask in? You take notes from Alice Oseman’s ‘Heartstopper’, the coming-of-age tale of shy nerd Charlie Spring and Rugby lad Nick Nelson. The live action adaptation of the beloved comic books has been directed by Euros Lyn, under the guidance of original creator Oseman, she is also an executive producer of the show. So to readers who might have had their apprehensions about how loyal the Netflix show would be to the original source material – you have nothing to worry about.
Newcomer Joe Locke leads the show as its protagonist Charlie Spring, who is in year 10 and is the only gay teen in his all-boys school. While he is sort of seeing a jerk, things change when he meets the athletic and caring Nick Nelson at the start of a new school year. Kit Connor who plays Nick looks like he was pulled right out of the comic books, he is unwittingly charming and exudes the cuddly earnestness of a ‘golden retriever’ (like characters in the series observe). In fact, both actors capture the essence of their teen protagonists flawlessly and are the absolute beating heart of the show.
The first episode brilliantly sets up their first meeting, you know something is going to brew from the soft endearing way in which they say ‘hi’ to each other. There’s a nice slow progression from friendship to lovers, while the boys deal with their varied emotions of confusion, insecurities, fear and well… their undeniable mutual affection. The show is not all rainbows and sunshine, the teens do have to deal with bullying, prejudices and stereotypes, however, the overarching themes are LGBTQ positive.
Actor Yasmin Finney who plays Charlie’s trans best-friend Elle, is also trans in real life, and delivers one of strongest performances as a supporting cast member. There’s just something so wholesome about Elle – she is an empathetic being who always has her friend’s back. William Gao is feisty as the protective Tao Xu, he is like a mother-hen of the pack, constantly worrying about Charlie’s emotional well-being and standing up to his bullies with the fiercest come-backs. Tobie Donovan completes the primary friend group as the wallflower Isaac, silently supportive of all the silly antics his buddies engage in. Sebastian Croft, the ‘villain’ Ben Hope, isn’t as despicable as he seems in the books, but does manage to pull of his negative role. Cormac Hyde-Green was an absolute jerk (a compliment) as the rich privileged Harry Greene, who can’t differentiate between a joke and blatant homophobia. Jenny Walser was the only cast member who stuck out as a bit of a sore thumb as Tori (Charlie’s older sister), who is still a senior in school, but looks too old to be a teen. And while that might not be a kind thing to say, a little bit of searching online – turns out the actor is 27, and well, it shows.
The cinematography is colorful, bright, filled with warm tones that will please the eyes. Despite the show starting off in February, the scenes are shot in the lines of a dreamy fall romance, except for the one gorgeous snow scene, where Nick and Charlie hang out for the first time. All the houses in the show were overtly pretty, and maybe too organized, but they were all homey with a cozy aesthetic. Whoever was in charge of the ambient music has done a good job with picking out upbeat tracks that blend well with the mood of the moment they are played again.
While only eight episodes long, ‘Heartstopper’ does try to cover all bases to give a satisfactory season 1, so viewers also get brief glimpses into some of the familial interactions of the primary protagonists. Nick’s relationship with his mother is the most precious of all, they have a communicative and transparent equation, which hopefully will serves as healthy model for a parent-child relationship for whoever is watching the show. Some of the parents could’ve used a little more screen-space, considering the kind of impact they have on the lives of their kids. But honestly, no complains there, would anytime choose more of ‘Charlie-Nick’ interactions over parental representation.
The pace of the series is consistent and never meanders into unnecessary diversions. Each interaction, be it between the lead pair or the secondary couple(s), helps in moving the story forwards. Within the show, the creators display the necessity and power of positive LGBTQ+ representation. For a second, the question ‘why are there no heterosexual couples in there?’ might arise in your mind, but if you really think about – the show is filled with heteros, Oseman is just not telling their story, because they already have their voices everywhere.
Heartstopper has a consistently engaging pace and the climactic episode only marks the beginning of a new chapter, leaving plenty of scope for a few more seasons. Hope Netflix serves them soon. Meanwhile, season one isn’t just perfect for a weekend binge, it also has a high re-watch revalue. I am gonna go ahead and give this a 9/10. Stream it.
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