Netflix’s Heartstopper: The Love Story We Needed Decades Ago… and Today

Television

OK, Ausiello, you were right. Heartstopper was amazing. Beyond.

When my boss told me to watch Netflix’s teenage romance, insisting that I’d like it, I said what I usually do when he makes suggestions — “Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, you betcha” — with every intention of ignoring him. But this week, I gave it a shot. Dunno what possessed me, really. Too much wine? The last thing I wanted to do was sit through a show that Michael had described as “really sweet.” Life, it seemed to me, had become too ugly, too cold and relentless and f—king insane. I didn’t want to spend any time with an alternative that didn’t really exist and maybe couldn’t anymore.

It turned out that I needed Heartstopper. Badly. Its story, if you don’t already know, is pretty simple: Gay boy meets straight boy, straight boy realizes that he’s bisexual, love blossoms, sometimes literally, all around them. But it’s written so earnestly, acted so deftly and directed so thrillingly that its impact is profound. There is a joy to these eight episodes, to their gentleness and tension, that radiates too brightly to be rejected. They comprise four hours of happiness and hope.

And yes, Michael, they are “really sweet.”

Heartstopper was exactly what I was so reluctant to admit that I needed after how many years now of absorbing blow after blow, from the pandemic to politics to almost hourly upheaval. It also occurred to me, as I zipped through episodes that went by so fast, I would’ve sworn they were 10 minutes apiece, that this series is going to mean a lot to a whole lotta kids. At a time when hateful “Don’t Say Gay” bills are giving them the impression that being anything but straight is wrong, something shameful that’s to be hidden, here comes Heartstopper, with its sensitivity and insight, to reassure them that nope, “different” isn’t wrong, it’s just different. It can also be pretty magnificent.

I can’t imagine how vastly my childhood and adolescence would have been changed for the better, had there been a show like Heartstopper around all those decades ago. Growing up is confusing, as it is, and growing up without any idea that what you are is something that exists, and that it’s OK, scary as hell. But I’m not here to play “If only… ” I’m here to say, “Thank goodness — Heartstopper is here, better late than never.”

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