During the deepest, darkest depths of Melbourne’s lockdown(s), the first season of Ted Lasso was the refreshing breath of unadulterated “awww” I (we all?) needed. But even as the endless days of mainlining streaming services ever-expanded, I found myself drifting off halfway through season two. Is it possible to be too cute? Or is my heart actually frozen in eternal cynicism?
I mention this because I went into the second season of Netflix dreamboat Heartstopper with a certain degree of trepidation. Was it simply too sweet and low-stakes to sustain my attention, even as I recognised the powerful salve of teenage openness I never got to experience in very different (shitter, nastier) times, and the joy of this existing for younger queer and questioning folks?
I needn’t have worried. Season two’s eight-episode run, adapted by Alice Oseman from her graphic novel series and directed by Euros Lyn (Doctor Who), is as lush as the first. Keeping a close hold on the tip-toeing romance between in-the-closet Nick (Kit Connor) and new boyfriend Charlie (Joe Locke), an opening comic book panel montage of their wholesome courting melted away any fear of frost. There’s plenty left to say in their story.
Nice touches include Nick’s constant refrain that he’s ‘bisexual, actually,’ doing the good work of combatting an all-too-common erasure even within the umbrella community. A later-half season development that delicately broaches an underlying challenge quietly faced by Charlie is also very welcome. They’re understandably nervy about going public, but pinning that milestone to the upcoming school trip to gay Paree. Leave it to the taciturn gothdom of Charlie’s brill big sis Tori (Jenny Walser) to underline how much Nick better watch his step – ‘Look after him or you die.’
Heartstopper ensures we’re in this romance for the long haul, with Oseman wisely rounding out the blooming lovely circle gleaming around Charlie and Nick. If, like me, your only real niggle with the sublime first season was the sidelining of bookworm Isaac (Tobie Donovan), the best mate who was often absent in key scenes and barely said a word, your patience will be rewarded. I won’t spoil where his story goes, suffice it to say that the show’s clearly keen to up its LGBTIQA+ representation. Not that this feels tokenistic. This is a fantasy, after all and, after decades of heteronormative romcoms, why the hell can’t we celebrate the glorious rainbow spectrum?
So it’s fab to see Elle (Yasmin Finney), edging towards art school for sixth form, meet Naomi (Bel Priestley), a fellow creative young woman fed up with being the only trans person at school, and Felix (Ash Self), who uses a wheelchair. We see how that drift impacts the confidence of William Gao’s Tao. He and Elle wrestling with the friend zone and the pressures of possibly moving into another space is one of the season’s strongest arcs. Amid this “who are we to each other?” hormonal chaos, Tao shares some beautiful moments with his widower mum Yan (Momo Yeung).
On the adult front, it’s a hoot to see Call My Agent!’s Thibault De Montalembert pop up as Nick’s absentee dad – don’t worry, none of his schoolmates knew he was half-French either. But the real find is Nima Taleghani, spotted on the edges of fantastic MIFF movie Femme, as surly teacher Mr Farouk. He’s a great comic foil to Fisayo Akinade’s returning Mr Ajayi, with their unexpected double act one of this season’s shining highlights. Of course, Olivia Colman, who even made Marvel’s snoozy Secret Invasion bearable, is as sublime as ever, especially when cutting short the sniping of Nick’s suddenly materialised older, douchey brother David (Jack Barton). Stephen Fry, once more, is only heard, never seen, as Headmaster Barnes.
There are complications, too, in the burgeoning romance between emotionally attuned Tara (Corinna Brown) and L-word avoiding goofball Darcy (Kizzy Edgell), and a welcome layering of “it’s complicated” antagonist Ben (Sebastian Croft). Imogen (Rhea Norwood) has taken Nick’s rejection in her stride and is embracing “ally”. This world, as simple and contained as it is, grows in dramatically rewarding ways, all without resorting to too much trauma. That’s a credit to Oseman and Lyn’s guiding hands all over Heartstopper, much like the luminous doodles of animator Anna Peronetto. This is a safe space in the very best way, where even dudebro rugby jock Harry (Cormac Hyde-Corrin) is edging slowly towards enlightenment.
It makes me feel like dancing. While there’s no leap-out-the-seat needle drop banger to match Tara and Darcy’s dance floor kiss to Chvrches’ ‘Clearest Blue’ on this year’s soundtrack, you’ll still Shazam like crazy, collecting tunes from the likes of returning act Baby Queen. Vive le French-infused picks for the adorable Paris outing, too, including Christine and the Queens’ ‘Doesn’t matter (voleur de soleil)’ and Hervé’s ‘Trésor’.
As Charlie and Nick dance towards the realisation that coming out may not be the be-all and end-all in a rapidly evolving world, this old queer found himself bubbling up with great big happy tears. Being seen is everything, but it’s up to you if and how you embrace that, and you can do it any damn way you want. Heartstopper gets this, and you can’t stop the beat.