Heartstopper’s Season 1 Premiere at 8:00 a.m.: Just Say It

7d66e6d847c93da6d95436438f28663eb1 Heartstopper 1.rsquare.w700Photo: Netflix/Samuel Dore

The first season of Netflix’s Heartstopper was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2022. It was a coming-of-age show that showed the modern process of coming out in a primarily funny but never unrealistic way. At every turn, it seemed like the show could fall into sappiness and sentimentality, smoothing over the harsh realities of being gay to make a story that is easy to understand and makes you feel good. But it never got to that point, credited to writer-creator Alice Oseman (who wrote and drew the same-named graphic novel series) and director Euros Lyn.

Heartstopper may not be truly radical queer art, but it doesn’t need to be. It doesn’t spend too much time on queer trauma, which is satisfying. One of the show’s most significant achievements is that it shows its teenage cast as realistically naive while letting them show surprising maturity at times. It’s easy to build a show around the phrase “warm hug”—if you Google the phrase with the show’s name, you’ll get many results—but it’s harder without skimping on conflict or exciting character stories.

Heartstopper’s first season was vital because it was mostly about one couple’s love story: Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) and Nick Nelson (Kit Connor), who was starting to learn about and explore his bisexuality. In the last episode, Nick finally lets himself go all the way. He took Charlie to the beach and told his friends and family he was gay. This grand romantic gesture and Nick’s tear-jerking confession to his loving mother made the perfect ending to pull at your heartstrings (Olivia Colman). It ended the season on a clear happy note, and if Netflix had wanted to cut the story short, it would have been an excellent way to do it.

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So season two has its work cut out for it. How do you follow up on such a hopeful and satisfying ending? Four published volumes of Oseman’s comic are for the show to adapt, and two more have been announced. In some ways, the show’s more developed cast gives it even more freedom. But that is hard in and of itself. Even though the other kids in Charlie and Nick’s group of friends have their own exciting stories, like Tara and Darcy’s relationship and Elle and Tao’s sexual tension, they’re all just supporting characters in Charlie and Nick’s story. Digging deeper into their lives has much potential, but will that take away from the central love story?

I’m not too worried right now. “Out” fits in with the first season because it shows some interesting ways to move forward without losing its focus or fun. The episode starts with a montage of the kids getting ready for school the morning after Nick comes out. This lets us enjoy the sweetness of first love. (The Maggie Rogers song “Shatter” helps.) They are in their own world and send DMs full of emojis repeatedly until they see each other at school.

The story then jumps ahead for at least a few weeks. We’re still in the spring term, which is when season one happened, but it’s getting close to the end of the year, and the Truham and Higgs classes are going to Paris after the year 11s finish their GCSE exams. I think Charlie, Tao, and Isaac are in year 10, the equivalent of ninth grade in the U.S. Nick, Elle, Tara, Darcy, Ben, and Imogen are in year 11, which is the equivalent of tenth grade. “Sixth form” means grades 12 and 13, the last two years of high school.) Charlie and Nick are no longer in the same form class. With the start of two weeks of study hall, led by the strict science teacher, Mr. Farouk, Charlie, and Nick are no longer in the same class. Nick gets the worst seat in the room, next to Ben.

“Out” does a good job of showing how a few hours apart can make teenagers in love feel like God is punishing them. Charlie’s return to the rugby team is based on this feeling. But the most essential part of this story is how Nick struggles to tell his friends he is gay. He tries to start small. He thinks it should be easy to tell Imogen now that she no longer likes him. (Darcy nods playfully to the fact that her friendship is awkward but well-meaning.) But in this episode, Nick has several chances to do something great with Imogen, but he doesn’t take them. It seems like it should be easy, but it’s not. This is true of many things about coming out in 2023, depending on the setting and the person.

When Charlie’s parents go away for the weekend, he has a sleepover and invites Imogen and the rest of the leading group. It’s made to be a casual place where Nick can tell his friend he’s gay, and he decides to do it while taking her to the bathroom. In the end, though, she figures it out before he can say it. After all, it’s pretty straightforward, especially after she saw Nick walk out of a rugby game with Charlie theatrically in the last episode. But when they hug, she realizes that her new secret crush is Ben, which makes the hug less sweet. Nick feels so much better when he lets someone else in. He is so sure of himself that the following day he kisses Charlie in front of everyone.

Charlie and Nick are pleased right now, which is very different from Elle and Tao, who are very confused and can’t talk to each other as easily. Both of them feel like they want to be more than friends, but if they make a mistake, they could ruin the most important friendship in their lives. Elle tries to see what will happen by flirting with Tao, which is pretty good. However, if Tao gets the hint, it seems to bother him as much as it excites him.

Nick asks about the possibility of Tao and Elle not being together for the last two years of high school because Elle is working on her portfolio for art school. Tao goes back to being the spoiled Tao we saw too much of in season one. His defensive snapping is a clear sign of denial, but his attitude makes Elle think he’s uninterested.

But they won’t be able to hide how they feel for long. The tensest part of this first episode might be the last scene when Charlie tells his worried sister that he is not worried about being bullied again like last year. He means well when he says he can protect Nick and ensure he doesn’t go through any of the pressure, stress, or fear he did. But he’s wrong. Even when things are pretty good in your life, pressure, stress, and fear are standard parts of the process. There is no perfect story about coming out. Charlie might forget his needs while trying to make one for Nick.

Maybe the first Maggie Rogers song says it best: “I don’t care if it nearly kills me/I’d give you the world if you asked me to/I could break a glass just to watch it shatter/I’d do anything just to feel with you.” It’s mostly a happy celebration of love that doesn’t have to be earned. But sometimes, it costs you something to care about someone else more than yourself.

Love Notes: During the sleepover, Isaac notices that everyone is with someone, so I’m assuming (and hoping) that he’ll get a little more attention this season, maybe because he hasn’t dated much or isn’t interested in it.

• I’d love to try one of those Cadbury Dairy Milk Oreo chocolate bars that Charlie buys Nick for their two-month anniversary.

• My favorite part is when Imogen says, “You didn’t like me because you’re gay,” and Nick says, “Actually, I’m bisexual.” It’s funny, but I’m also glad the show recognizes the irony in the writing. Before we knew Nick was bi, it seemed like he didn’t like her because she’s a girl, but now that we know he’s bi, we know that his feelings for her have little to do with his sexuality.

• Charlie’s parents don’t always get excited when they hear that their son is dating Nick, but there’s something almost comfortingly casual about it. “No hanky-panky until you’re married” is a line many straight teenagers hear from their parents, so hearing it from the parent of a gay kid brings back some memories.


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