Netflix’s ‘Heartstopper’ is absolutely heartwarming

UMass Boston student Dom Ferreira watches “Heartstopper” on his laptop in the Mass Media office space.

**This article contains minor spoilers for Netflix's "Heartstopper."**

While book to screen adaptations seem to be a dime a dozen, finding a good adaptation can be incredibly difficult. Either these television shows or movies alter the characters fans have come to love, have a minute budget that makes the production seem lackluster or are simply low-effort. However, a few adaptations stand out amongst the rest and become masterpieces of series or films. Included in this group is Netflix’s newest series, “Heartstopper,” which shines in its pure joy and love.

“Heartstopper,” based off the comic by Alice Oseman of the same name, follows Charlie, a highly-strung, openly gay chronic over-thinker, and Nick, a cheerful, soft-hearted star rugby player, who meet when they’re placed in the same class at a British all-boys grammar school. Their friendship blooms quickly, but Charlie wonders if there is a chance for friendship to become something more. Both boys are characters from Oseman’s debut novel, “Solitaire,” which focuses on Charlie’s sister, Tori.

The series had first been announced in 2019, when the company that produced “Heartstopper,” See-Saw Films, optioned the rights. In 2021, Netflix ordered the series, with Oseman as the writer, before the series began filming in April 2021. The adaptation was released to the platform on April 22, with fanfare from longtime lovers of the comic and new fans alike.

From the first scene, viewers are immediately transported into the heartwarming world Alice Oseman has spent nearly six years publishing online and in paper copies. Bright blues and yellows light up Truham Boys School as Charlie walks through the halls, and small animations like hearts, leaves or dark clouds help convey the characters’ feelings or the start of something new.

Overall, “Heartstopper” felt like a four-hour-long hug or like being wrapped in a warm blanket. Any melancholic moments were counteracted by joyful ones and the characters, sets and scenes were incredibly detailed and moving. It was clear to any viewer—fan of the comic or not—that this series was absolutely a passion project, and an immense amount of love was poured into the making of the show.

The entire cast had been incredible, however, the standout members of the cast had been Joe Locke (Charlie), Sebastian Croft (Ben), Yasmin Finney (Elle) and Corinna Brown (Tara). Locke was an absolutely ideal Charlie, with his actions beautifully bringing the main character of the series to life in subtle and obvious choices.

Croft made hating Ben incredibly easy—a bit too easy at times—which can be difficult for actors to do while still establishing themselves as a separate person from their character. Finney’s Elle was everything a comic fan could have dreamed of her being—bubbly and charismatic, yet reserved, all the while exploring her own identities. Finney, like Elle, is transgender, which made her portrayal much more genuine and enjoyable to watch. Lastly, Brown’s portrayal of Tara had been so raw and honest for many queer women, especially lesbians, coming to terms with their identity, even if those watching aren’t lesbians themselves.

The diversity within this show had been absolutely wonderful, with three members of the friend group presented in the show being people of color, and nearly every single member being in the LGBTQ+ community. Darcy and Tara are both lesbians, and are solely referred to as such, which is incredibly rare in media. Elle is trans, Nick is bisexual, Charlie is gay and Isaac, a new character, is asexual and aromantic. Many of these characters’ identities are never used for sob stories, but rather for uplifting their respective character and creating growth.

However, “Heartstopper” isn’t a textbook adaptation. Two new characters had been added to the series–Imogen, a classmate of Elle, Tara and Darcy, with a crush on Nick, and Isaac, a friend of Charlie, Elle and Tao that replaced Aled from the comics. Mr. Ajayi, an art teacher in the comics, was modified to teach at the boys school rather than the girls one. These changes were not negative, however, and seemed to add to the overall story.

Imogen helped to develop Nick as a character, and Mr. Ajayi gave much appreciated insight into Charlie’s past being bullied as well as fulfilling the role of a gay adult Charlie can look up to. Isaac, however, felt a bit lackluster, especially in comparison to his comic counterpart Aled. Aled is a well-loved character in the fanbase of Oseman’s works, even having his own spinoff novel, and while it makes logistical sense not to include Aled in case “Radio Silence” is picked up as well, it is disappointing for book fans that love the character.

Netflix’s adaptation of “Heartstopper” is incredibly faithful, uplifting and joyous, and celebrates young love in all its forms. The series, of course, focuses on romantic love—Charlie and Nick are the central romance, however Darcy and Tara have a sweet background romance, and Tao and Elle have an adorably antagonizing best friends to lovers arc—but the friendship between the group was just as important. The family relationships, especially Charlie’s relationship with his sister and Nick’s bond with his mom, were also incredible to see. Lastly, the topic of self-love and acceptance is explored with all characters in some capacity.

One of the enjoyable parts of the series to any college student, beyond the witty dialogue and loveable characters, had been the fact that all of the actors were teenagers or looked to be teenagers in order to play their teenage characters. Often young people are expected to accept the perfectly matured actor playing a teenager in their shows and movies, which can set up unrealistic expectations for these young audience members. Almost every member of the main friend group in "Heartstopper" was a teenager at the time of filming and discussed the need for that representation—not only on a larger scale, but with small details like acne on their faces or bodies. 

Overall, the series had been absolutely delightful, and whether the show is renewed for a second season or not, it felt succinct and perfectly wrapped up—which is more than many premature Netflix cancellations can say. “Heartstopper” is available to watch on Netflix, as well as read on tumblr, Webtoon and Tapas, and in physical copies.

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