When the first season of Heartstopper released on Netflix in April, nobody expected it to become the phenomenon that it did.
I had been excitedly waiting for Heartstopper to be released, after having read Alice Oseman's graphic novels (which the TV show is based on). However, given that the reputation of book-to-TV adaptations is often hit or miss, I had my reservations. I was worried about the story being condensed into just eight 25-to-30-minute episodes. I was also worried about the cast; most of whom were relatively unknown, with Joe Locke (Charlie), Yasmin Finney (Elle) and William Gao (Tao) making their first appearances on screen. Regardless, I knew Oseman would not settle for anything less than perfect, so my concerns were fleeting.
Heartstopper released on the 22nd of April 2022 to critical acclaim and praise. It boasts a 100% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, described as ‘realistic but never bitter’. With superb performances from a stellar cast (including a surprise appearance from Olivia Colman as Nick's Mum), and a story that finds itself unique while staying true to the source material, Heartstopper was made to stand out. The audience it manages to reach, however, is perhaps the most surprising part.
While obviously targeted at teens, Heartstopper's influence is much bigger than that. Scott Bryan from the BBC said it best: ‘There is a weird melancholy when you finish watching this. That melancholy is evident because I think for some people in their 30s, or in their 20s, or who aren't in school anymore, they never had this’. Heartstopper creates a broader coalition of viewers than many other shows in this way; it appeals to almost anybody of any age, any sexuality, any race, any religion. Heartstopper truly is for everybody.
The effect that Heartstopper has had cannot be understated. The diverse representations within Oseman's characters leaves nobody feeling left out. Charlie, a gay 15-year-old who has been subject of immense homophobia since he came out, ends up in a relationship with Nick, a 16-year-old who never really questioned his sexuality as anything other than straight before meeting Charlie, ending up in the spiral of confusion and self-questioning that so many LGBTQ+ people (myself included) face when trying to label their sexuality. There's also Elle, a black transgender woman who is struggling to fit in to the all-girls school she has moved to after transitioning and faces transphobia from teachers. To round out the four main characters, there is Tao, Charlie's ‘supportive straight friend’ who is the perfect example of allyship. This charming squad of characters barely scratches the surface of Heartstopper's list of characters, but it gives a flavour of just how inclusive it really is. It’s unique selling point is that it is able to make people say, ‘Wow, I've been through experiences just like that’. That's the magic of Heartstopper.
Heartstopper truly has revolutionised LGBTQ+ media. It has proven that a TV show that has queer characters at its core can thrive and achieve equal success of any other top-rated TV show. At the time of writing, we're just a week away from the release of Season 2 of Young Royals, a wonderful queer Swedish TV show, which I hope following the success of Heartstopper will be launched into the spotlight. Heartstopper has paved the way for the future of queer media - a much brighter future of normalisation and inclusivity.