Heartstopper review | Avoids tired tropes but for young viewers only

A star rating of 3 out of 5.

Let me start by saying that I really admire the ethos of Heartstopper. Based on the graphic novels by Alice Oseman, this new Netflix drama tells a story about LGBTQ+ teens falling in love, providing vital representation for people who may not have seen themselves on screen before. That said, noble intentions do not a show make and my overwhelming feeling after finishing the first season was mostly that I wish it had been a bit more entertaining.

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There's another caveat to apply here too, that being I do not fall into the target audience of this show. In fact, at the ripe old age of 24, I think I'm about a decade removed from the range to which Heartstopper will resonate most. That is very much an intentional decision on behalf of the creative team, which I can only assume have delivered a faithful translation of the young adult source material. But it's worth noting for any non-teens considering tuning in so that they know what to expect.

It's a stark contrast to fellow LGBTQ+ show Love, Victor, which is also based around high school boys falling in love, but handles the topic with a little more maturity, depth and plotting. In the case of Heartstopper, not much really happens. Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) meets Nick Nelson (Kit Connor) in form tutor and instantly feels a spark, with the next eight episodes charting the course of their gradual evolution from friends to boyfriends.

There are bumps along the way of course, including bullies, identity crises and peer pressure, but generally things stay pretty rosy throughout. There's a lot of awkward flirting, loving stares and PG-rated antics, which is all very nice but doesn't make for the most riveting viewing. Intermittent moments of conflict or tension are usually resolved quickly, with almost every remotely difficult conversation neatly capped off with a healing smooch.

What drama does come along usually ends up feeling pretty juvenile, with much being made out of Charlie's friend Tao (William Gao) fretting about his friendship group slipping away – a matter that could have been quickly settled if he made even the slightest effort to communicate. Admittedly though, it is refreshing to watch a teen drama that doesn't feature a love triangle, with that being one of several genre tropes Oseman manages to dodge in this first season.

Equally trailblazing is the ensemble Heartstopper cast, which reads as a veritable bastion of representation and introduces some promising newcomers. Joe Locke and Kit Connor are quite sweet as our romantic leads, with the latter being strongest overall and holding his own against some more established screen partners. Corinna Brown and Kizzy Edgell arguably have even sharper chemistry as secret girlfriends Tara and Darcy, with Yasmin Finney also delivering a heartwarming arc as young trans woman Elle.

Overall, there's no doubt that Heartstopper is going to be very popular among existing fans of the graphic novels and it will certainly pick up a horde of new admirers as it steps onto arguably the world's biggest content stage. However, it's difficult to imagine many people over the age of 16 finding it as stimulating. Again, that's less of a flaw than an observation – children and teenagers need this content more than anyone and I'm sure this show will do a lot of good in that capacity.

Heartstopper is available to stream on Netflix from Friday 22nd April 2022. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight. 

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