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The Only Thing Bringing Me Joy Right Now Is ‘Heartstopper’ — Netflix’s New Gay Teen Drama

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Bombs are blasting over Ukraine in a pointless war waged by Vladimir Putin of Russia. COVID isn’t over yet, more than two years after it started. Politicians and judges are trouncing women’s rights in a power grab that is challenging Roe v. Wade’s 49 years of precedent.

And I arrived home from Hawaii — where I spent winter with my family — to stormy clouds of doom hovering over Chicago. At one point there were 42 days in a row without sunshine in Chicago. That’s not good for my seasonal affective disorder (SAD). And I am struggling with depression right now.

But there’s one ray of light I can count on this spring — “Heartstopper.”

“Heartstopper” is the kind of show that makes you feel tingly all over. I’m a sucker for coming of age stories and I’m one big softie, but I don’t think I’m alone. The romantic British teen drama has scored 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

“There are some TV series so sweet, so joyous and so wonderful that the mere mention of them can make you smile. Netflix’s ‘Heartstopper’ is one of those shows,” writes USA Today.

“It’s hard to be a human in the year 2022, and so we all need our little treats. Mine, this past month, was Heartstopper,” says TIME.

I couldn’t agree more.

“Heartstopper” is fun and escapist. It is literally a fairy tale that follows the lives of teenagers Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) and Nick Nelson (Kit Connor) as they frolic their way through high school from secret crush to boyfriendhood. The story is based on the graphic novel of the same name.

Charlie is a bookish 15-year-old gay boy and drummer in the school band who is out of the closet both to his family and classmates. He’s not popular. He meets Nick, a closeted bisexual rugby player who rolls with the “cool” crowd and invites Charlie to join the rugby team. Charlie and Nick are an unlikely duo, hailing from two divergent social cliques and there is tension that arises among Charlie’s friends and the rugby team.

But “Heartstopper” is pretty much a PG-rated romance for the 21st century, with Charlie and Nick not having sex or logging in to hookup apps, but merely flirting via text. Charlie experiences the uncomfortable “is he or isn’t he gay?” question early on in the series. The questioning Nick is seen Googling “Am I Gay?”

Charlie and Nick’s romance unfolds just like any straight couple’s would. The show features twinkling cartoon stars, fluttering flowers, and bolts of lightning blinking every time the pair kiss or touch.

But it’s not all a cuppa tea and smiles, “Heartstopper” does indeed depict bullying and homophobia. And the horrors of high school aren’t absent. Anyone who has survived prep school can relate to the blood-and-guts buffoonery of dreadful social strata that occurs at this time in most people’s lives. I know I did.

What’s new here is that a hugely mainstream show like this would even entertain the idea of two boys falling in love, let alone celebrating it. When was the last time you saw an innocent teenage gay kiss (not a sexual one) on a popular TV show?

I’m gay, too. And growing up in the 90s, there were no gay role models whatsoever in pop culture, save for Pedro Zamora on MTV’s “The Real World.”

Don’t get me wrong. There have been plenty of representations of LGBTQIA+ characters over the years. The big predecessor of them all was Showtime’s ensemble dramatic hit “Queer as Folk” that ran from 2000 to 2005, but that show is chock-full of stereotypes, lacks diversity — all the leads are muscular white males — and seems totally dated now. For more recent depictions of adolescent gay romance, see “Love, Victor” (Hulu, Disney+) and “Young Royals” (Netflix), to name a couple. But no recent LGBTQIA+ themed series has generated nearly as much buzz, if any, as “Heartstopper.”

“Heartstopper” isn’t without star power. Oscar and Emmy award-winning actress Olivia Colman plays Nick’s mum. Colman won Best Actress for “The Favourite” at the 2019 Academy Awards, and she scored an Emmy in 2020 for “The Crown.”

“Heartstopper” stands in stark contrast to HBO’s mischievous “Euphoria,” which —realistically or not — is rife with promiscuous sex, alcohol, and drug abuse.

Tune into Netflix’s alternative and you’ll get a completely different vibe. In what could be seen as a “coming out playbook,”  “Heartstopper” is comic and heroic, a delightfully galvanizing homage to gay romance that is overflowing with warm-fuzzy feelings of joy.

We needed this cute series.

It was good for my mental health.

I’m glad I found it.

Image via Netflix Official Facebook Page

Originally published: May 13, 2022
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