Why has everyone fallen in love with Netflix’s ‘Heartstopper’?
If someone asked you to draw a Venn diagram showing the overlap between Ted Lasso and Euphoria, you might think it would turn out to be two circles. Ted Lasso, after all, it’s a heartwarming fish-out-of-water story of a chronically heartbreaking American coaching a struggling English football team. Euphoria, meanwhile, is the extremely glitter-dipped online tale that makes us wonder if we’re more afraid of Gen Z than they are of us.
But the overlap, however slight, exists and Netflix’s new series Heart stroke resides firmly and gently in this ribbon.
Based on Alice Osmanthe self-published webcomic of (and now New York Times best-selling graphic novel series), the series follows Charlie (Joe Locke), a 14-year-old and soon-to-be 15-year-old at a British all-boys school. He’s a fag, and coming out wasn’t his choice, but things are going pretty well, all things considered. Then he meets Nick (Kit Connor), a classmate in the year above him – a rugby player with the demeanor of a golden retriever who is presumed to be more upright than upright. Spoiler: viewers – and Nick himself – find out that he is, well, do not.
The show, which premiered in late April on Netflix, has a 100% rarefied rating with reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. The viewers streamed it for nearly 24 million hours in the week between April 25 and May 1, a number that doesn’t even count those who streamed the show between its April 22 and April 25 release. There is no doubt that Heart stroke logged in. But why has this show about queer British teenagers captured an audience that isn’t necessarily queer or British, or teens?
What Heart stroke posits, far beyond the scope of a teen romance, is this: What if the Kids Were All Right? The show combines the reality of today’s children Euphoria but colors it with Ted Lasso– optimism. According to Heart stroke, people are good at heart, even when they behave badly. The show is also part of the recent wave of tele-rom-com, joining surprisingly sweet stories like Our flag means death. Just as this pirate comedy exudes sweetness despite the number of lives and limbs lost at swordpoint in the series, Heart stroke stays positive as it tackles potentially traumatic issues like bullying, homophobia, coming out, and the age-old general anxiety of being a teenager. When Charlie’s friend Elle (Yasmine Finney) transfers to the all-girls school after she transitions, for example, she worries not about whether her new classmates will “find out,” but about the loneliness that comes with being the new kid – and suspects she’s catching feelings for her friend Tao (Guillaume Gao).
That Heart stroke so closely in tone and content to the original comic is no doubt thanks to Oseman’s involvement. She’s the credited creator and writer of all eight episodes of Season 1, a role she’s had since picking up the show for See-Saw Films in 2019.
“I’m not the kind of author who could just tell my story and let people do what they want with it,” she said. Vanity Room. And Heart stroke is unmistakably its story, from the animated leaves that sometimes blow through the frame – a comic book signature – to the shots that carefully recreate the panels of the comic. This spirit of hope, the idea that characters can bear burdens and not crumble under them, is also a trademark of Oseman.
“[It’s] sort of basic concept of what Heart stroke is, and it’s exactly the same in the comics,” she says. “It’s always about exploring real issues that can be dark issues – real, serious things that happen to people – while keeping such a positive, upbeat tone. It’s really hard to get that balance.
Yasmin Finney, who plays Elle on the show, is 18 herself. “I literally screamed when I saw [the casting call], because I was like, what’s going on? It’s like a trans girl of color, she’s brunette, she’s in school, that’s me, basically,” she says. The actor “really fell in love” with the material during his auditions, which were all on Zoom until the final chemistry reading.
“It was just an overwhelming feeling of like, This is my time. This is the time for the trans community to have someone they can look up to in the media,” she says.