"Heartstopper" returns for a sweeter, more heartfelt exploration of coming-of-age queerness

Netflix's British YA series heads to Paris in its second season, while also deepening and diversifying its romances

By Nardos Haile

Staff Writer

Published August 3, 2023 3:00PM (EDT)

Joe Locke and Kit Connor in "Heartstopper" (Teddy Cavendish/Netflix)
Joe Locke and Kit Connor in "Heartstopper" (Teddy Cavendish/Netflix)

Netflix's young adult comedy-drama "Heartstopper" is a sweet, delightful gem. It is one of the few television shows in the ether that prides itself in being a safe place for its characters and audience. In its second season, the British series based on the comic by Alice Oseman elevates its storytelling and allows all its characters — main and supporting — to live in the uncertainty of coming of age with the just right amount of realness and sugariness. It is still the sweet-tooth-tinged show that made us believe in love, but it has added complexities that fill out the questions that were previously left unanswered.

Nick and Charlie learn to tackle each one of their hurdles together as a couple.

In the series directed by Euros Lyn, Charlie (Joe Locke) is an out teenager who crushes on his schoolboy seatmate Nick (Kit Connor), who eventually realizes he's bisexual and reciprocates Charlie's feelings. By the end of the wildly successful first season Nick comes out to his mom (the wonderful and surprising Olivia Colman), and is intent on coming out to others as he and Charlie officially start dating. 

This season, Charlie and Nick's relationship evolves effortlessly through eight episodes and allows them to explore their developing identities and sexuality, troubles with mental health and eating disorders, and tense familial drama. Through it all, Nick and Charlie learn to tackle each one of their hurdles together as a couple, and their bond becomes an impenetrable forcefield as they lean on each other and their friends for support.

HeartstopperYasmin Finney and Will Gao in "Heartstopper" (Netflix)During the first season, Nick struggled to understand what his bisexuality meant and how it fits into the idea he had of himself as a straight, popular rugby player. This year, with Charlie's support, Nick blossoms into his identity while confronting what it means to come out. Unlike Charlie's horrific outing (and Connor's own personal outing on Twitter last year), Nick is never pressured to share his identity with anyone — in fact, every time he struggles, Charlie assures him that there's no pressure. Coming out is solely based on his terms — not anyone else's.

Meanwhile, the show delves into some of Charlie's unprocessed issues that resulted from last season's outing, bullying and the end of his toxic relationship with the closeted Ben (Sebastian Croft). Although Charlie is an eternal optimist, cracks begin to peek through as Nick notices evidence of self-doubt and self-hatred in his boyfriend. Locke's performance demonstrates more uneasiness as Charlie struggles in class and in his self-esteem but pretends like everything is perfect. In a beautifully and quietly acted scene, Nick asks his boyfriend to allow himself to be vulnerable, and Charlie finally lets down his guard in a raw and tender moment.

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In contrast, quirky film nerd Tao (William Gao) and the ethereal artist Elle (Yasmin Finney) stop dancing around their feelings and go for it, but with a few hiccups along the way. While there are many will-they-won't-they moments, the relationship matures into their well-established friendship, showing that not only are Charlie and Nick the main queer love story this year but so are Tao and Elle. Girlfriends Darcy and Tara (Kizzy Edgell, Corinna Brown) also account for the show's other female queer plotline, focusing on emotional vulnerability and familial acceptance of queerness. We also learn more about Isaac (Tobie Donovan), the friend who is often silent in the background reading, and his burgeoning identity. Welcoming Imogen (Rhea Norwood) and Sahar (Leila Khan) into the fold broadens the warm and familial friend group.

HeartstopperKizzy Edgell and Corinna Brown in "Heartstopper" (Samuel Dore/Netflix)Mirroring the heartwarming dynamics are whimsically animated sketches of hearts and butterflies, a nod to the story's graphic novel roots, that float around the characters. The show increases the romantic atmosphere by having the students head to Paris on a school-sponsored trip for three episodes. In a warm, sepia-toned filter flare lens, the cinematography and landscapes change from a dreary England to the bustling and hopeful Parisian streets. There's nothing more bright and heartening than to see them experience teenage wonder exploring the Louvre, local Parisian bookstores and the city's queer spaces. 

If this season of "Heartstopper" attempts to teach its audience anything — it's that queer stories exist in all shapes, sizes, ages and experiences. These experiences do not always exist to be traumatizing or even to teach a lesson. These experiences are real and grounded in human connection and the universal question of belonging and purpose. "Heartstopper" does exactly that with an achingly sweet message of love and community.

"Heartstopper" Season 2 is now available on Netflix. Watch a trailer via YouTube.


By Nardos Haile

Nardos Haile is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She’s previously covered all things entertainment, music, fashion and celebrity culture at The Associated Press. She resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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