Boy meets boy. Boy dates boy. Boys kiss without tongue. Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper is a slow burning comic. It’s happiest when the leads are simply hanging out. The series has been adapted to television with a strong cast and smart direction. However the format inspired Oseman to manufacture additional conflict. These are the moments when an otherwise confident show loses its footing.
Joe Locke plays Charlie, a sensitive musician. Locke brings a warm smile that covers a well of insecurity. At school he’s introduced to Nick, a jovial rugby player. Kit Connor plays the role with charm and vulnerability. Nick could have been Charlie’s fantasy Prince Charming. But the show emphasizes the struggles an out person faces when they date someone closeted. The terrific early episodes follow their courtship. They trust the source material but streamline it for the medium.
The strongest B-plot belongs to Charlie’s friend Elle (Yasmin Finney). She transferred to a new school to escape transphobic bullies. There she meets cheerful lesbians Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell). The subplots on Love, Victor and Young Royals felt like needless distractions. Here they complement the shows’ themes of queer self-discovery.
Conflict arrives in the form of an abusive ex (Sebastian Croft), a jealous friend (William Gao) and a one-note bully (Cormac Hyde-Corrin). These three were quickly dispatched in the comic. Here they linger with diminishing returns. Keeping Charlie at their mercy renders him a passive protagonist. This drains the late episodes of energy.
Heartstopper is not as groundbreaking as it claims. But the tropes will seem fresh for the target audience. Teens have embraced the show and turned every kiss into a GIF. I enjoyed the initial episodes and see the potential for growth. Oseman’s later comics are short on plot. A second season would need to add a narrative through-line without losing the slice-of-life moments that make it shine.
For an in depth analysis check out James Somerton’s video essay or Myles McNutt’s episode recaps. You can find more of my reviews on The Avocado, Letterboxd and Serializd. My podcast, Rainbow Colored Glasses, can be found here.