Some shows are worth opening your heart to, and “Heartstopper” is one of them.
Netflix’s teen LGBTQ+ drama arrived last year as a fountain of happiness and romance that made it an instant smash hit with a dedicated fan base. It’s the kind of series that is easy to love, with sweetness exploding out of every scene without overwhelming you. It represents a world in which queer kids’ stories are taken seriously and given as much weight as their straight and cisgender peers. And if you didn’t feel the love between its effervescent young leads, there are doodles of stars and sparks on screen to help you.
The second season picks up a month or so after the events of season one, with Charlie and Nick in the happy throes of the honeymoon phase but still keeping it all a secret. This run of episodes chiefly focuses on Nick’s struggle to come out to his family and to his rugby mates at the suburban England high school where he and Charlie matriculate. It’s a well-articulated process, sensitive and patient—even when it seems that Nick and Charlie really have nothing to hide.
These boys aren’t very subtle, you see. Each is constantly staring goony-eyed at the other. They hang out all the time, Nick essentially abandoning his jock friends for Joe’s burgeoning coterie of lovable queer besties. There’s lesbian couple Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell—one of the great names in all of television); there’s maybe gay, maybe something else bookworm Isaac (Tobie Donovan); and there’s Charlie’s true bffs, artsy straight boy Tao (William Gao) and Elle (Yasmin Finney), a trans girl who has a big ol’ crush on Tao. It’s a merry band of misfits who, in the show’s portraiture, aren’t really misfits at all. They are the ardent center of the show, supportive and open-minded and providing all the haven a kid like Nick might ever need.
But because a TV series needs conflict, Nick wrestles and wrestles, taking one nervous step forward and then jumping back two. The process could become repetitive had Hearstopper not introduced a genius interruption. Several episodes of this season take place during a post-exams school trip to Paris, providing an ideal stage for heightened feeling and bold action. Cracks emerge in the show’s extant relationships, but none that are fatal. Another couple finally gets together in the City of Light, during a charged interlude at the Louvre.
From the looks of it, the show actually filmed at that storied museum, because the series is a global juggernaut that has, I suppose, earned such special privilege. Heartstopper’s bigness is at times too keenly felt in season two. These kids know you’re watching now, and thus every significant moment is treated as a seismic event. Each main character is allowed a bit of messiness, but otherwise they are fashioned into righteous avatars for the fans who might most closely identify with them. Any ancillary antagonists are morally rebuked in a manner that I’m sure will satisfy viewers, but can also come across as smug. Heartstopper’s core crew have become neat encapsulations of contemporary YA’s most jealously held value: main characters can never be too bad, cannot transgress too much, lest they lose the sacred talisman of relatable superiority. If you’re looking for ethical complication and ambivalent shading, seek out a different show.
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