'Heartstopper': Why you should make time to watch Netflix's sweet, queer YA romance

Kelly Lawler
USA TODAY

Some TV series are so sweet, so joyous and so wonderful that the mere mention of them can make you smile. Netflix's "Heartstopper" is one of those. 

Based on the graphic novels by Alice Oseman, who wrote the show herself, "Heartstopper" (streaming now, ★★★★ out of four) is a delightfully charming half hour series about Charlie (Joe Locke) and Nick (Kit Connor), two British teen boys who fall madly in love over the course of a school year. It's a simple story that feels vital in today's climate, and it is exquisitely portrayed by the young actors. Brought to life onscreen with the help from drawings and doodles from the graphic novels, "Heartstopper" is one of the best teen series Netflix has ever offered. It is a distillation of happiness so complete it is hard not to fall in love with it. 

Nick (Kit Connor) and Charlie (Joe Locke) are British teens from two walks of life that fall head over heels for each other in Netflix's sweet rom-com, "Heartstopper."

At the start of "Heartstopper," Charlie Spring is his school's only out gay kid, hooking up with closeted Ben (Sebastian Croft) in secret and recovering from a traumatic year of bullying after he was outed against his will. He has low self-esteem and even lower self-worth, and he soon falls head over heels for his new homeroom seat mate, Nick Nelson, a straight, popular member of the rugby team with whom he has ostensibly nothing in common. What starts looking like an unrequited crush soon blossoms into friendship and romance as Nick realizes he's bisexual and the couple navigate dating amid the complicated politics of high school hierarchies. 

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William Gao as Tao and Yasmin Finney as Elle in "Heartstopper."

The series also follows Charlie's friends Tao (William Gao) and Elle (Yasmin Finney), each dealing with fundamental change. Elle is transgender and recently left Charlie and Tao's boys' school for its sister girls' school, where she struggles to fit in. Tao is so protective of Charlie and Elle that he pushes Nick away and is ignorant to the fact that Elle has feelings for him.

In her scripts, Oseman is able to capture the sense of whimsy and earnestness that made her graphic novels, which began as a webcomic, so popular and heartwarming. There is actually a lot of conflict in "Heartstopper," in addition to sad and upsetting moments. Charlie is the victim of bullying and his mental health suffers. Nick's struggle with his sexuality is not easy.  But once you've finished the eight episodes it doesn't feel as though you've watched anything with even a little bit of stress. 

One important element that makes "Heartstopper" such an addictive source of positivity is the fact that the teenagers who populate its private school halls are kids you would actually want to be around in real life. This is not the place of sex, drugs and rebellion a la HBO's "Euphoria" or annoying, juvenile kitsch of Netflix's "The Kissing Booth" films. These are (almost) emotionally mature young adults dealing with serious issues while enjoying their youth. When Charlie and Nick play in the snow or go to the beach, it is so achingly simple and beautiful you'll find yourself running outside at the first flurries to make a snow angel. 

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One of the best things about "Heartstopper" is that it is not as unique in the teen TV space as it would have been a few years ago. It is one of, if not many, at least a few LGBTQ-themed series. It is able to be lower key, more focused on romance than capital I importance. This kind of of subtle, simple representation is also important. It is a pretty typical high school story of teen crushes and emotions. It's just about a group of LGBTQ teens. 

So if you're looking for escape, for positivity and glee, look no further than "Heartstopper." It may not stop your heart, but it might make it grow three or four sizes.