Netflix’s Heartstopper is one of those shows that keeps you smiling from start to finish. There’s just something so comforting about all of it. Based on the graphic novel by Alice Oseman, the coming-of-age teen romance follows Charlie Spring (Joe Locke), the only “out” gay kid at school who is recovering from a traumatic year of bullying. He develops a crush on Nick Nelson (Kit Connor), a popular rugby player who seems to have nothing in common with him. Soon, the crush blossoms into a deep friendship and romance. Throughout the season, we see Nick exploring his identity, and realizing he might be bisexual when he starts having feelings for Charlie.
The show is just so sweet and gentle it’s impossible not to fall in love with it. With moments of animation especially when emotions are intense, from cartoon leaves swirling in the wind and lightning sparks, it doesn’t forget its origin as a graphic novel. However, beneath all the beaming colors lies a highly familiar narrative—coming out. I believe that almost everyone in the LGBTQ+ community can relate to the scene when Nick googles “am I gay?” Nick’s desperate late night searches, and other telltale signs of a sexuality crisis, are so familiar. This reinforces that we still need much more reliable resources that should be available in schools to make the journey of coming out easier and less confusing.
Whether it’s coming out to others or oneself, it’s a classic part of the queer experience. Although we’ve seen a number of shows that center a coming out story, Heartstopper isn’t just about one couple. We see a number of different journeys, as it covers a larger spectrum. It recognizes how many layers there are to coming out, from transgender girl Elle struggling to find her place in a new school, lesbian couple Darcy and Tara coming to terms with their relationship publicly, Charlie’s never-ending struggles with bullies even after a year of coming out, and Nick’s journey of discovering his own sexuality. The show also reflects how coming out actually never ends, as well as how someone else perceives you as a person after being “out”.
It’s momentous how far we’ve come. But, at the same time, it’s evident that the LGBTQ+ community still deserves significantly more acceptance and support. Heartstopper mainly highlights the heartaches and sense of isolation that hits home, but it’s refreshing to see those challenges illustrated in a teen drama. Back in the day, we relied on creating queer interpretations of the straight storylines on TV. Today, we have a show that actually celebrates being queer. Translated from page to screen with a cast of unpolished, first-time actors, the show is put together really well—and it’s definitely a show we all needed as queer teenagers.