New Netflix LGBTQI+ series Heartstopper it’s the sweetest of its kind since Love, Simon.
The UK coming of age story is based on the comic strip and graphic novel by Alice Oseman, who also wrote the screenplay. Produced by British-Australian company See-Saw Films, the 8-part series retains its animated origins with flourishes of hearts, birds, leaves and musical notes as the hearts melt.
Central to the story is Charlie (Joe Locke), an openly gay, but shy, high school student who finds himself drawn to the school’s “king of rugby” Nick (Kit Connor), a kind and sympathetic classmate.
Joe’s friends, ally Tao (William Gao) and Tobie (Isaac Henderson) are protective of their young friend while trans friend Elle (Yasmin Finney) is starting her new life at the local girls’ school. There she befriends Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell) who share the news that they are also dating.
But Charlie is reeling from the shadowy Ben (Sebastian Croft) when he begins to fall for Nick, a relationship that blossoms through boy meets boy / boys become friends / boys fall in love arc of the series. There are furtive glances, stolen kisses, secret touches and discoveries as Nick, in particular, finds himself drawn to his new friend.
While Charlie is in desperate danger of heartbreak, he’s also ripe for his years in a hotbed of potential bullying. Thankfully there’s a nice gay art teacher (Fisayo Akinade) and older sister Tori (Jenny Walser) on hand with varying degrees of support, in contrast to the parents being almost absent in this series (except for a minor role by the wonderful Olivia Coleman).
In this very modern series – in which children have a clear command of homophobic behavior – director Euros Lyn cleverly uses SMS to illustrate the characters expressing true feelings, even if they delete the messages as quickly as they write them.
The use of sparing animation keeps the story light, and the production designers went to great lengths to inject candy color into every occasion.
The idea of a gay teenager having a crush on a straight guy is certainly not new (in fact Beautiful devil also includes football and music) but what makes it sing are the performances and especially Nick’s arc, which I won’t spoil.
Leads the irresistibly sweet Joe Locke and underplays the role of Charlie, paired with Kit Connor despite not physically resembling a rugby king. And William Gao deserves a mention for his hair alone.
There are choices that are very 2022 that might surprise an older LGBTQI audience, while speaking honestly to a younger, more knowledgeable teen audience. Advised.
Heartstopper is now showing on Netflix.