I went back and rewatched the very first episode of Heartstopper (season one), the wildly successful Netflix series based on a graphic novel by Alice Oseman, just to make sure that my second experience of it jibed with my memories. Was it as schematic as season two turned out to be? Had I been on a lonely bender and so in need of hugs that I had given it too much slack? It wouldn’t have been the first time.
Yet, I don’t think so. The structure of season one, episode one, is tight but light, and more importantly, significantly more satisfying as storytelling and character exploration. It also doesn’t shove diversity down our throats. Instead, the particular quirks and orientations of each character are depicted in a relaxed and natural way, without the forced narrative (and non-stop smooching) of season two. I appreciated the care and patience given to Nick’s coming-out process. It shouldn’t be rushed. But so much of the dialogue sounds like it came from a well-being AI (helpful but not inspiring), not like it was coming from the minds and mouths of caring friends.
Season two has doubled down so sedulously on the sentiment and the identitarianism that I could almost feel each box getting checked off as the filmmakers strived to make clear their allegiances to the alphabet-soup people. I also didn’t celebrate, as I was evidently supposed to, Charlie’s telling off Ben for his too-forward advances last season, one of which was also featured in episode one, season one. Ben was an asshole in the wrong, although he also obviously has some issues of his own to deal with, but labeling what he perpetrated on Charlie as sexual assault, as much of the online fanbase is doing, seems a couple steps too far. Of course, Charlie is under no obligation to forgive Ben, and his self-possession in this scene is admirable, but I still probably would have liked him more if he had. Here again, there seems to be a woke Millennial therapist writing the script at these points. Plus, what’s Ben even doing in the show if, when he seems to be penitent, he’s still going to get rejected?
Also, Olivia Colman as Charlie’s mom? She’s only there to provide unconditional admiration, constituting a waste of a great actor and providing more examples of the shallowness of the drama.
Much more ideologically programmatic than season one, I found myself wincing a lot at the overall earnestness. The actors aren’t ever able to stretch out except in scenes written for two people, which may or may not be indicative of creator Alice Oseman’s personal conceptions of sociality, but the relative awkwardness and stiffness in the group scenes do seem dispositive. The cast is as charming as ever, however, particularly Kit Connor, whose face and smile beam a radiant light, managing to lend otherwise dull and predictable scenes a temporary refulgence.
So, I don’t regret including season one on my list of the Gay Best of 2022. For those of you still interested, both seasons are available on my repos. Just join the Telegram channel or donate for even more movies (and books).