It’s a cold, blustery day in January and you’re in a bookstore. You search the shelves, pondering over which book to take home, all the while wondering if you should stop spending money at bookstores— when you see it: Heartstopper. It’s the cutest graphic novel you’ve ever seen and, without a second thought, you buy it. Then you buy the rest of the series and, before you know it, you’ve read them twice. Now imagine scrolling through the internet one day and finding out your favorite graphic novel series is going to be made into a Netflix show.
This is what happened to me. I’m a big fan of sappy, romantic stories and Heartstopper was just that. When I heard that it was being adapted into a TV show on Netflix, I had pretty high expectations. With the author of the series, Alice Oseman, contributing greatly to the production, and the perfect cast to tie the plot together, Heartstopper season one was the Netflix show equivalent to snuggling with your pets on a relaxing day off.
Charlie and the Rugby Lad
One of the best parts of Oseman’s graphic novels are the characters. They’re sweet, unique, and extremely lovable; taken right off the page and transformed into living, breathing characters. The series consists of six main characters. There’s Nick (Kit Connor) and Charlie(Joe Locke), two boys who are huge romantics for each other. There’s Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell), two girls who are dating in secret and trying to decide whether or not to come out to their all-girls secondary school. Finally, there’s Tao (William Gao) and Elle (Yasmin Finney). Tao is Charlie’s very protective best friend, and Elle is a trans woman struggling to find her place at her new school (and they’re also clearly crushing on each other).
While their personalities are similar to their book versions, the characters in this show are people of all different races, sexualities, and gender identities; just like the books as well. From their sweet and enjoyable personalities to maintaining the diverse cast of characters, these book-to-screen replicas are perfectly recreated. Not only that, but the characters are played by actors of actual high school age. Connor and Locke were both only eighteen at the time of the show’s release, just a few years older than their characters. This was a really nice change of pace from seeing a 29-year-old adult pretending to be a 16-year-old child, which many young adult television shows employ.
As an homage to the graphic novels, the show included cartoon elements. Oftentimes, cartoon hearts or leaves would encircle the characters as they glanced at each other across the rugby field or while reading a cute text message from their crush. It really added to the comfort feature that the show heavily relied on.
The “cutesy” cartoon aspect was perfect for the plot as well. Charlie would often imagine how important events might occur in his life, his imagination producing bright pink tones or dark, cracking shadows, depending on whatever situation he was imagining at the time. When I first saw the trailer for season one of Heartstopper, I thought the cartoonish characteristics were misplaced and odd. I understood the reference to the books, but I just couldn’t see how that would work within the show. But it did. Feeling light and comforting was such an important part of this show and those small comic-like details did a surprisingly great job of helping achieve that.
A Blessing of an Adaptation
While the characters and the style were incredibly important to the show, there was one thing that Heartstopper season one did perfectly and that was sticking to the graphic novels. Oseman not only wrote the script for the show, but was also involved throughout the entire creative process. Euros Lyn, the director, would use shots from the novels to make sure they were the exact same in the show. Clearly, the crew knew their audience. And, fortunately, they decided to stay with what said audience wanted: a television-version of the graphic novels readers fell in love with.
While the show avoids a Percy Jackson movie fiasco, it does add some changes from the book to the Netflix series. There’s no ‘sports day’ in the novels, Elle and Tao aren’t nearly as obviously in love as they are in the show until later, and Aled, one of Charlie’s best friends in the books, is replaced by a boy named Isaac. Yet, these were all welcome changes that made sense within the show. Sports day added excitement and a reason for the two schools, and all of the characters, to merge together for an episode. The faster romance of Elle and Tao provided more plotlines for these characters, giving them more screen time and therefore more time to flesh out their personalities, goals, and what they find important. While I missed Aled, Isaac was a fun addition to the group. He blended in nicely with Charlie and his friends and complimented the sweet-nature of the show. For fans of Oseman’s other books, not including Aled may have even been a good thing. Oseman tweeted that putting Aled in the Netflix show would “be a disservice to his character,” as they would have to change his backstory and they would never be able to adapt her other book, Radio Silence, where Aled has a much more prominent role. She didn’t give much explanation other than that; however, the implication was clear that Oseman did not believe Aled could be adapted into the Heartstopper Netflix show.
This show was wonderful. It stuck to the books, gave us great characters and interesting plotlines, and included stylized elements. Heartstopper season one pushed the comfort show to a whole new level, prioritizing its audience to create something fans of the book could cherish.
Featured Image: IMDb
Contact Riley Nower with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @rileynower.