Warning: This review contains spoilers from Heartstopper Season 2.
The loveliest moment in the new season of Heartstopper would have to be this scene in the final episode aptly titled Perfect: It sees Tao (William Gao) asking Elle (Yasmin Finney) to be his girlfriend, which concludes with a kiss—and what a glorious thing to shower this private yet universally shared experience with Carly Rae Jepsen’s Run Away With Me, arguably the pop anthem of our century as far as music for intense affection and first loves go. As writer Lakan Umali puts it, “Carly Rae Jepsen really understands the queer consciousness. She understands that the transience of love makes it even more meaningful.”
Not only does this scene take me to the familiar feeling of having my first contact with romance, no matter how impulsive it may seem, but also offer possibilities to trans and queer teens in the present, which I didn’t have growing up. And a huge chunk of the second season’s narrative interrogates further this dynamic between Tao and Elle, depicting how dating, even at such a young age, can be particularly challenging for trans and femme individuals.
Rarely do we see the media landscape get these stories right, and yet Heartstopper is proof that, with maturity and a deeper frame of mind, it can be done. One can find it admirable how writer-creator Alice Oseman and director Euros Lyn refuse to present Tao’s budding affection in a way that it patronizes Elle as the trans girl, and instead, simply treat her as an actual person and not an image—someone capable and deserving of love.
Given the baggage of expectations that hinge on how fast Heartstopper has established an army of solid viewers after the first season, it’s only wise for the show to broaden its horizon. The central story about Nick (Kit Connor) and Charlie (Joe Locke) remains entrancing so much so that we’re thrown into their leveled-up romance right off the bat, packaged in another terrific needle drop, thanks to Maggie Rogers’ Shatter. We see them snogging, exchanging sweet messages, and enjoying each other’s company more, just as they navigate the fine line that informs queer life in and out of the closet.
This time, though, the peripheral characters are also afforded more room to explore. Tara (Corinna Brown) begins to discover more about the interior life of her partner, Darcy (Kizzy Edgell). Isaac (Tobie Donovan), ever the quiet but perceptive one, encounters a revelatory moment. Even the teachers, like Mr. Ajayi (Fisayo Akinade) and the stern Mr. Farouk (Nima Taleghani), get a shot at an interesting storyline: one that surfaces how romantic relationships for queer adults are just as tricky.
Heartstopper weaves all of these through a formula common in coming-of-age dramas: from the looming exams, to the prom preparation, to Nick’s overbearing brother and distant father coming back, to the Paris trip, down to awkward dinners and confrontations. The magic comes from how the show does not cave into these complexities for the sake of drama and guarantees that they actually bring more thoughtful insights.
For instance: In the first episode titled Out, when Charlie decides to come clean to his parents that he and Nick are together, to which his father (Joseph Balderrama) reacts by banning his boyfriend from having sleepovers and “hanky-panky” in their house, Tori (Jenny Walser), Charlie’s older sister, immediately counters with, “Please don’t say hanky-panky.” This confrontation, mundane as it may look, demonstrates how sex education typically figures in many households. What more in far-right and hyper-conservative spaces? It also shows how parenting is never a one-way journey—take it from the ever-tender Olivia Colman and Momo Yeung (Tao’s mother).
Extending this train of thought further, one can find it ridiculous how some reviews fixate on how this latest season appears to be “chaste” and “sexless,” or how its “lack of under-the-shirt stuff feels unrealistic.” That the show’s believability and, by extension, its message about the joys and pains of queer adolescence is being measured through the number of sex scenes present in it is simply absurd and limiting for it sidelines not only the differences in artistic process but, more importantly, how Gen Z queerness, or the queer experience at large, is not tethered to a single mold. If anything, it always exists in a spectrum. It is counterproductive to label LGBTQIA+ teenagers whose experience of queerness does not involve having sex as “unrealistic,” precisely because they are the very people we encourage to be comfortable about themselves and their sexuality.
Raging hormones are, of course, part of any coming-of-age stories, but instead of falling into the trap of shock culture, what Heartstopper has, as journalist David Opie points out, is the ability to use heartfelt hugs to “document a timeline of growing confidence and queer comfort,” which is exactly why the show exists. In the same way that the animated fireworks and hearts, fizzing and shattering in many scenes, act as a substitute for what our characters cannot say out loud, every warm embrace in the show also conveys a number of things for these queer teens: desire, newfound friendship, safe space, and, above all, community.
While it’s a tall order to replicate the titanic success of the first run, this second season remains just as sweet and wholesome, aware that these qualities make the series work. But the show doesn’t treat it as an excuse to forgo narrative daring, and it does this exactly by casting its net wider and deeper, tapping more into the characters’ source of panic, doubts, and trauma. Heartstopper doesn’t harbor any delusions that all is going to be dreamy and perfect, so it knowingly harnesses the power of the moment, as if we’re discovering every single experience again, however silly they might feel, for the first time.
Both seasons of Heartstopper are streaming on Netflix.