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‘Heartstopper’ Celebrates Platonic Relationships, Too

By Allyson Johnson | TV | August 11, 2023 |

By Allyson Johnson | TV | August 11, 2023 |


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Heartstopper, based on the popular graphic novel by Alice Oseman, recently premiered its second season. Like the first, the series captures the picturesque vibrancy of falling in love, embracing a storybook aesthetic perfectly aligned with the tone and magic of the adaptation. While the story explores some darker themes such as troubled, emotionally abusive homes and eating disorders, Heartstopper never succumbs to despair, instead infusing even the most tragic moments with the bright-eyed optimism of youth and the camaraderie that comes from having a loving, understanding partner and friends who rally at the slightest sign of trouble. Radiant and bursting with color and charm, the season excels in telling a complete and engaging story about this phase in these teens’ lives. But while the love stories are integral to the show, featuring not only Charlie and Nick but also Tao, Elle, Darcy, and Tara, one of its greatest strengths is the appreciation of queer spaces and the genuine love arising from platonic friendships.

There’s a scene in the second season’s fifth episode, “Heat,” that stands out for its endearing sweetness. Charlie is comforting a lovesick Tao, who is worried things won’t work out between him and Elle, defaulting to self-deprecation and claiming he ruins everything—including Charlie’s life. He believes it’s his fault Charlie was outed and subsequently bullied because students overheard him talking about it to their mutual friend, Isaac. Charlie, already facing teasing and questions in this episode due to the hickey Nick left on his neck, demonstrates patience and kindness in line with the show’s theme. He reassures Tao that despite any mistakes, he is a good person deserving of love, before writing their names on the “padlock of love” to be left in Paris, initially intended for him and Nick.

The dialogue is direct, and the message is clear. Yet subtlety be damned when it conveys a moment of emotional strength that illustrates the significant ways in which friendships transform and enrich our lives. Tao and Charlie are as vital to each other as Elle and Nick are, both having weathered triumphs and great losses throughout.

This is particularly true in Heartstopper, where the safe space of Nick and Charlie’s friend group forms a small family of its own. Not only does Nick find acceptance as he continues to struggle with coming out but Darcy finds comfort and affirmation. At home, she faces a mother who criticizes her appearance and questions her sexuality aggressively. Meanwhile, in one of the series’ most touching moments, her friends contribute spare change to help her buy a suit that makes her feel wonderful for prom, a silent gesture that allows her to feel truly seen.

Even the character Imogen, who spent much of season one infatuated with Nick, is moved by being included in a group gathering. As much as romance often symbolizes transformation in coming-of-age stories, friendships are equally influential. I attribute value to my life through the friends I’ve been fortunate to have, those who have unequivocally shaped my existence through their support and presence.

Heartstopper is hardly the only show to depict this, although many comedies overlook the fact that these friends should actually like one another. Shows like the underrated Please Like Me, Edgar Wright’s Spaced, and virtually any sports anime recognize the importance of platonic friendships. Films such as Blue Jean and Pride also acknowledge that the visibility of queer groups is vital for those growing up.

Heartstopper, with its whimsical charm, fondness for sweetness, and airy indie pop songs, recognizes the importance of these relationships and why they make for equally compelling storytelling as romance. Nick and Charlie may be the central relationship of the story—and the writing for them remains outstanding—but the series never loses sight of all the other friendships and dynamics that help shape a person as they navigate the turbulent coming-of-age period of being a teenager.