In Search of a Captivating Queer Teen Narrative

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Joe Locke as Charlie and Kit Connor as Nick in Season 2 of "Heartstopper."

 Some shows are worth opening your heart to, and “Heartstopper” is one of them.

Netflix’s teen LGBTQ+ drama arrived last year as a fountain of happiness and romance that made it an instant smash hit with a dedicated fan base. It’s the kind of series that is easy to love, with sweetness exploding out of every scene without overwhelming you. It represents a world in which queer kids’ stories are taken seriously and given as much weight as their straight and cisgender peers. And if you didn’t feel the love between its effervescent young leads, there are doodles of stars and sparks on screen to help you. 

Season 2 of “Heartstopper” (streaming Thursday, ★★★½ out of four) recaptures that feeling of queer joy, but with just a touch more introspection and thoughtfulness. Among the exuberant emoting of British teens Charlie (Joe Locke) and Nick (Kit Connor) and their friends, there are quieter moments of contemplation, a contrast to Season 1, as the kids work through challenges in their personal lives and the greater world. Life isn’t always smooth sailing for adolescents, especially queer teens, and the new season acknowledges that struggle. But it remains fantastical and aspirational, which is the key to its success. 

Corrina Brown as Tara and Kizzy Edgell as Darcy in "Heartstopper" Season 2.

It doesn’t hurt that the series, adapted by Alice Oseman from her own graphic novels, is so well-crafted. The young actors are aces, the scripts are spritely and a jaunt to Paris gives the new season movement and a gorgeous new backdrop. The first season was a story of finding love, as Charlie and Nick met and fell for each other as Nick realized he was bisexual, Season 2 is a story of love sustained, and not just for our central couple. Their friends, including Tara (Corinna Brown), Darcy (Kizzy Edgell), Elle (Yasmin Finney) and Tao (Will Gao) are also learning that a relationship is more than just the spark of chemistry between two people. 

After bursting out of their love bubble and back into real life, Nick and Charlie have to figure out how to be a couple and relate to the rest of the world. Much of the new season focuses on Nick’s journey to coming out, which is circuitous and full of setbacks. At one point, he is so nervous to tell his “rugby mates” he’s bisexual that he falls ill and Charlie has to bring him to his mother (Olivia Colman, a delightful presence in any show). When some people in his life find out, it isn’t always a heartwarming moment. The nuance with which Oseman writes Nick’s story, and how Nick’s journey is both supported by Charlie and also a struggle for him, is remarkable. Coming-out narratives on TV have a history of tactless and cheesy storytelling, but “Heartstopper” doesn’t fall into any trope traps. 

Will Gao as Tao and Yasmin Finney as Elle in Season 2 of "Heartstopper."

Meanwhile, their friends have romantic foibles of their own. Tara and Darcy, seemingly the perfect couple, are emotionally distant. Tao and Elle can’t figure out how to bridge the gap between friendship and something more. The show’s funniest moments often come from the Tao and Elle storyline, in which two awkward kids try their hands at rom-com displays of affection and grownup feelings. It’s the kind of teen love story that makes you both say, “aww,” and enjoy no longer being 16. 

We live in a fraught and dangerous time for the queer community, as legislation is passed throughout the U.S. and the U.K., where “Heartstopper” is set, impeding the rights of this community. In 2022, when the series about two teen boys who fall madly in love premiered, it felt like a balm, a moment of queer joy amid some strife. In 2023, it feels like the most essential of representations.

Life can be hard for Nick and Charlie. But “Heartstopper” reminds us LGBTQ+ life can also be wonderful.

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