12th May2022

‘Heartstopper: Season 1’ Review (Netflix)

by Rhys Payne

Stars: Joe Locke, Kit Connor, Yasmin Finney, William Gao, Cormac Hyde-Corrin, Tobie Donovan, Rhea Norwood, Olivia Colman, Fisayo Akinade | Based on the novel by Alice Oseman

I may be biased as an NQT (nearly qualified teacher of English) but I think that teachers have one of the hardest jobs known to man! Not only are they solely responsible for one segment of a child’s academic journey but we are also on the lookout/in charge of facilitating any educational needs, as well as making ourselves available for any safeguarding or otherwise issues where we are a point of confidence for an at-risk child. I have only ever had one serious issue of safeguarding which happened just after school hours and outside the school building but the meetings, reports and accounts I had to provide were endless and I know that some teachers have to deal with this constantly. I would like to think that as a teacher I am approachable enough for any child to confide in me should there be some sort of issue in their personal lives. Where that is safeguarding concern, general day to day frustrations or even for marginalised pupils to feel listened to and cared for. When I was in high school (which was only seven years ago) there was very little support and it’s clear that schools are now placing a much bigger focus on the pastoral side of learner development with the introduction of dog therapy sessions, the availability of fidget toys and relaxation stations. In fact, the last school I worked in had an LGBT+ society where learners could go to talk about any issues, they would get guest speakers in and provided a social space to make friends. When I was in school this was not even an idea considered by schools so it is clear that schools are beginning to think about how to care for all pupils!

Every influencer I know has recently been posted on social media about the new LGBT+ inclusive, Netflix original, teen drama Heartstopper so I thought it was about time I gave it a watch. In the opening moments, we are introduced to our lead character Charlie Spring, played by the wonderful Joe Lockett, who is involved in a top-secret relationship with a ‘straight’ classmate. This obviously leaves our character with very mixed feelings are his secret lover is very passionate when they are alone but becomes somewhat of a bully when in social situations. The sad reality is that this is an extremely common experience between openly gay individuals and those who are experimenting. As explained throughout the episode, there is nothing wrong with being nervous to come out and experimenting with people but the treatment of the other people is the key difference. These situations almost always end up with heartbreak for the experienced homosexual as they are led on to be told that their affair partner is straight again. In this situation, the ‘in the closet’ person treats Charlie extremely horribly when they are around their friends which obviously leaves our lead character very upset and confused. What I really enjoyed about the writing in this season is that everything seen on the scene has been carefully and deliberately included to affect the narrative. This fling is referenced multiple times throughout the episode and the effects on future relationships is explored.

On a tangent, I had a teacher friend once who would eavesdrop on pupils’ conversations to find out who has a crush on who and then would alter the seating plans to make sure those two people would work together. From a less meddling viewpoint, a seating plan can really have a big impact on your experience not only within that class but also throughout the whole school experience. In our story a teacher’s seating plan allows Charlie to connect with Nick Nelson who is a key player in the school’s rugby team with “golden retriever energy”. From experience, the art/music students (which Charlie falls into due to his love of drums) and the athletic students don’t tend to mix of their own accord so this opportunity for them both to mix during form time, and is a situation that might not have happened otherwise. Nick and Charlie form a very close bond but there is one issue, yet again Charlie is chasing a straight boy. Nick’s journey of same-sex attraction is portrayed beautifully by Kit Connor who managed to capture the complexity of a person exploring their sexuality over a period of time without being horrible to those you love. The hyper-realistic portrayal of coming to term with your sexuality (which reached the perfect climax for bisexual representation in the media) is so carefully constructed that queer people everywhere will be able to relate to it. There are moments when Nick completes an “Am I Gay?” BuzzFeed quiz and gets emotional while watching coming out videos on YouTube. After his peers begin pairing up, there is a rather powerful conversation about the fact that suddenly when people come out society seems to change their perspective of that person. You could be the most flamboyant and camp person known to man but as soon as you slap a “gay” label on yourself the world’s view changes as if you have suddenly become someone different. Physically and mentally there is nothing different about a person who has come out but suddenly people’s perspectives of them do which is totally unfair!

I have to admit that the character of Tao Xu, played by the incredible William Gao, is a character after my own heart. I have been known on occasion to be rather protective over my friends and other people new relationships can be scary due to the idea of losing them. He begins the show being extremely cynical of Nick and the friendship group he usually associates himself with, but as the show progresses Tao grows in confidence and even finds love for himself. He is a wonderfully eccentric and animated person by the end of the story but is not without his struggles which again could easily be used to describe me! We also have an appearance from none other than Oscar award winner Olivia Colman who plays Nick’s mother. This is a fairly small role for the iconic actor but the moment where Nick finally comes out to his mum is extremely emotive and powerful! I’ve talked about teaching throughout this review and this was due to the inclusion of the very kind-hearted queer art teacher who helps Charlie in his moments of crisis. During a period of time when Charlie was being bullied Mr Ajayi (played by Fisayo Akinade) allows the student to sit in his room and from this they form a very professional but personal relationship. The art teacher has created a space and is able to provide queer support for Nick when it is needed which in my opinion is the ideal image of a teacher that I myself strive for in my professional journey!

Overall Heartstopper is an extremely heartwarming and honest portrayal of young people who are exploring their sexuality. The show has been crafted in such a way to represent a large amount of the LGBT+ community without perpetuating commonly held stereotypes or ideas. The cleverly subverted parallelism of the first and second romantic encounters for Charlie keep the audience on the edge of their seat waiting for the moment that this perfect relationship falls through which luckily it does not! The show is and will continue to be a clear illustration of the experience of LGBTQ+ people all over the world and hopefully will encourage a more welcoming school environment (and potentially wider!)

***** 5/5


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