By Haley Hadge
Netflix has brought Alice Oseman’s graphic novel, “Heartstopper,” to the small screen, and it is arresting.
Young Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) and Nick Nelson (Kit Connor) hold a candle for the community of LGBTQ+ youth who have been silenced by societal pressures and the expected “norm” of heterosexuality.
Viewers will press play and find refuge in a silo of pure acceptance from a world that tries so hard to silence the beauty of any love that doesn’t conform to heteronormative standards.
Charlie Spring, a 10th-year high-schooler, has faced the wrath of bullies for over a year since he was “outed” as gay. He has been put through the washer, the dryer, and the wringer.
It’s as he is navigating an exit strategy from his first relationship - based on abuse and shame - that he meets 11th-year rugby-playing Nick Nelson.
The unlikely duo forms an immediate bond kindled by endlessly endearing exchanges of “Hi’s” as they trek through the corridors of high school.
Once these two are in their first scene together, any doubt of the series failing to be on par with the graphic novel is vanquished by the literal sparks that ricochet between the two - major props to the post-production animation team.
This graphic novel is brought to life.
This visual and emotional seamlessness results from Oseman’s presence on set to ensure the story she created was unmistakably shining through from paper to lens.
From the repeated animation of two birds flying freely, leaves billowing in and out of multiple scenes, and exact freeze frames from its pages, the graphic novel lives and breathes within this screen adaptation.
With a single look from Nick, as a viewer, you are on the edge of your seat hoping his emotive capacity brings you on this journey with him.
It is further heartwarming to see him surrounded by an amazing group of friends that accept him as he grapples with the beginning stages of self-discovery.
There’s a hint of rainbow luminescence when Tara Jones (Corinna Brown) and Darcy Olsson (Kizzy Edgell) are living publicly in their lesbian identity while at a party.
This show breaks the mold of what has come to be expected of LGBTQ+ representation in mass media and portrays the realities of torment many LGBTQ+ youth face while growing up without showcasing and romanticizing maladaptive coping mechanisms.
There is also serious research conducted, i.e. an “am i gay” Google search.
No one is numbing out their pain with substances. Rather, they acknowledge the inequities of treatment, ask for help, and learn how to implement healthy boundaries to protect their emotional and physical well beings.
Through it all, this group of friends harbor great resiliency against homophobic and transphobic people.
Further breaking antiquated norms are the writing and casting of the character Elle Argent (Yasmin Finney).
Do you know what I love about Yasmin Finney playing Elle Argent, a transgender woman? Yasmin herself is a transgender woman.
It has been standard procedure for non-LGBTQ+ actors to continually represent and speak for LGBTQ+ characters. Not with “Heartstopper.”
In an interview with Attitude Magazine, Finney shared that her main direction from Oseman was to “be herself.”
Furthermore, it is beyond refreshing that Elle’s main character trait is not her trans identity. She is an entire human being, and she is extraordinary.
Elle is kind to her friends as they stumble through the tumultuous rip tides of high school. She has a particularly infinite amount of patience with Tao Xu (William Gao) as he is often quick to judge, and challenging to reason with at times.
Elle exudes grace in her every word and action. Her moral fiber is built on empathy and understanding.
No matter your walk of life, this show will gift you a beautiful breath of fresh air with its raw honesty.
For those of us who see ourselves in these characters, and coming from someone who watched this show twice in 24 hours, I offer you a warning:
Every heart-stopping love calls for a mourning period, and this tale is no different. So, I caution you now, be prepared to watch this show at least twice in a row because once will simply not suffice.
And when the poetry of representation - seeing yourself in mass media, is palpable in your mind, remember to be brave like Charlie, loyal like Nick, and to love yourself as they love each other.
And as you’re doing all that, make sure to keep your defibrillator at arm's length - the title is no joke, my friend.
A, Without a doubt, this show has earned an “A” from me.