The gift of Netflix’s beloved “Heartstopper” lies in how it showcases queer storytelling in a way that feels joyous, heartwarming and tender to watch.
That’s not to say there isn’t room in the television landscape for more mature representations of queer youth (“Sex Education,” for example). But at the heart of “Heartstopper” is a utopian vision of queer high school life, a rarely represented freedom to simply be and love who you are meant to during those formative high school years.
Here, the emphasis isn’t on bullying or the trauma that queer teens face, like on “13 Reasons Why.” Rather, we get to follow characters leaning into their identity and trying to find joy and community. It is arguably radical storytelling in the canon of queer representation, and feels necessary in a world where any progress for queer people is met with repressive backlash.
Thankfully, “Heartstopper” returns more compelling and fizzy than ever in its second season. The show is still committed to celebrating queer love and is sure to delight fans of the Alice Oseman webcomics. Plus, expect another phenomenal, bubblegum pop soundtrack (including a perfect Carly Rae Jepsen needle drop).
The show picks up where we left off, with Nick Nelson (Kit Connor) and Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) officially declaring their relationship as boyfriends. Their honeymoon phase includes at least a dozen makeout scenes as they spend more time sneaking around to kiss than focusing on their coursework.
But coming out is complicated: Nick faces the inevitability of coming out as a series of never-ending contentious conversations. Some are relatively simple, like coming out to Imogen Heaney (Rhea Norwood); and others are thornier and vulnerable, like coming out to his homophobic rugby team or extended family members, who aren’t as wondrously warm as his mother. Kit Connor’s own experience with being pressured to come out by online trolls — and feeling empowered by the experience, in the end — creates a meaningful parallel to Nick’s on-screen arc.
And for those wondering: Yes, the always perfect Olivia Colman returns as Nick’s mother with even more screen time than last season, elevating scenes by radiating warmth and support for her son in more Emmy-worthy moments for the actress.
The stress of Nick’s coming-out journey starts to bring up some past trauma for Charlie. How this manifests becomes a central conflict of their relationship and introduces more serious subject matters for the series to tackle going forward. It’s here, and in references to sex (hickeys!) throughout the season, where the show begins to feel like it’s growing up beyond its wholesome reputation — towards storytelling that could get darker as we proceed further into the series.
It is also apparent, from how the show brings up these more complicated themes, that the writers know how to broach these hard conversations in ways that don’t feel traumatizing or exploitative. That said, with its vibrancy and young spirit, it won’t be excluded from the Children and Family Emmy Awards any time soon (it won five Emmys at the inaugural ceremony last year).
“Heartstopper” also breathes more life into its supporting cast this season. Tao Xu (William Gao) grows closer to Elle Argent (Yasmin Finney), and they initially fumble over how to express their mutual feelings and navigate a friendship that turns into a relationship — particularly as Elle sets her sights on a future in art school. We also get more welcomed depth from Tara Jones (Corinna Brown) and Darcy Olsson’s (Kizzy Edgell) loving relationship, as the couple struggles to communicate their needs with each other.
Couples aside, the show expands its shades of queerness with Isaac Henderson (Tobie Donovan) as he explores his identity, plus a growing cast of other queer supporting characters, including insight into the love lives of the school’s teachers. The show feels more committed than ever to explore the multi-dimensionality of queerness, and the cast continues to sparkle in their dedication to bringing this safe universe to life.
There is a particularly strong handful of episodes chronicling a school trip to Paris that get to the core of these dynamics and solidify the mostly queer friend group (with a newly added Imogen as the token ally) as a safe and supportive space for identity expression. The episodes also provide the young couples with a chance to be publicly affectionate in one of the most romantic cities in the world, away from the probing eyes of classmates and teachers back home. It’s also where some of the roadblocks in each of the relationships become clear.
In the time since “Heartstopper” aired its first season on Netflix, its cast has shot into dizzying levels of stardom. Connor trends on Twitter every other week, Locke is set to star in the “WandaVision” follow-up “Agatha: Coven of Chaos,” and Finney will join the “Doctor Who” universe later this year. But regardless of its popularity, the show is as grounded and authentic as ever, successfully avoiding the sophomore slump.
Already renewed for a third season, viewers won’t have to bite their nails in anticipation of the ever-dreaded cancellation announcement that have befell many queer shows just in the last year. Until then, let’s celebrate queer joy while we’ve got it.
“Heartstopper” Season 2 premieres Thursday, Aug. 3, on Netflix.