Heartstopper season 2 review: Netflix drama fixes its biggest problem
A more confident and complex series emerges in the latest episodes.
I'll level with you: I was less enthusiastic about Heartstopper season 1 than most critics – respecting its profound importance for today's queer youth, but questioning its entertainment value for older viewers.
I stand by my (apparently) controversial opinion that the plot was stretched way too thin over those initial eight episodes, which introduced the budding romance between Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) and Nick Nelson (Kit Connor). Of course, there was never any ambiguity over whether they would get together – it is literally the premise of the show – so watching this scenario play out over a sugary sweet, but largely uneventful, four hours proved a little dull.
I caught some flack on social media for making that case, with the unnecessary aggression exhibited by die-hard fans further dampening my interest in the show as a whole. Consequently, I approached season 2 with great scepticism, but can happily report that my main critique has been admirably addressed by the creative team. Maybe it wasn't so unreasonable, after all?
In its second outing, Heartstopper is simply a more confident and complex series. Having graduated from the basic romcom set-up, creator Alice Oseman is able to delve into the difficult reality of keeping a relationship afloat, with some new conflicts and crises sending the central characters into altogether choppier waters.
Lead actors Kit Connor and Joe Locke successfully navigate this weightier material, appearing visibly more comfortable in their roles this time around. The interactions between Nick and Charlie still suffer from an overdose of cuteness at times – presumably intended to send the 'stans' into meltdown – but their charming chemistry is enough to make even the most cynical viewer (read: me) turn a blind eye.
The decision to up the dramatic stakes definitely strengthens our emotional investment in 'Narlie' (as the shippers call them), with neglectful family members, social pressure and mental health concerns being the primary means of stress testing. That said, there are more than enough playful interludes to please fans who relished the general lack of tension in season 1.
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Oseman also gives more attention to her supporting cast in this latest chapter, meaning Nick and Charlie aren't as heavily depended upon from a narrative perspective. Longtime pals Elle (Yasmin Finney) and Tao (William Gao) awkwardly try to take things to the next level, while girlfriends Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell) find themselves at a pivotal juncture.
The focus on romance does leave things feeling a tad repetitive at times, while the squealing over who kissed who acts as a firm reminder this show is primarily targeted at tweens and teenagers.
It's a point also raised by Isaac (Tobie Donovan) in one particular scene, as his much-talked-about asexuality comes to the forefront this season. With so little existing representation, it's certainly a valuable topic to spend time on, although one can't help but wish it could be explored through a better defined character. As it stands, Isaac has little personality beyond the prop he's paired with – a regularly changing book – which keeps this important subplot from achieving its potential impact.
The supporting performances remain a mixed bag. Finney and Gao are admittedly adorable when paired together, but I'm yet to see either of them really elevate a scene. Brown and Edgell are more reliable, however, while Sebastian Croft brings an intensity to returning villain Ben Hope; Charlie's abusive ex-boyfriend. In contrast, Cormac Hyde-Corrin plays fellow bully Harry Greene with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, although this might be intentional.
It's a delight to see Olivia Colman in an expanded role here, cementing her iconic ally status as she plays foil to Nick's antagonistic older brother, David (Jack Barton).
Honestly, I didn't expect to be writing a positive review of Heartstopper season 2. I'd become quite entrenched in my lukewarm opinion of the show, with the behaviour of certain fans only encouraging me to dig deeper. Given the enormous success of the first outing, the creatives involved could have easily justified delivering more of the same – which I would have inevitably reciprocated.
Instead, they went to great efforts to build on what came before. This is quite simply a more considered and better-paced season of television, which could certainly convert others who found the first outing overly simplistic (it wasn't just me!). Of course, it does remain a kids show first and foremost – a distinction more noticeable at some points than others – but the 'aww' factor is, thankfully, no longer the sole reason for tuning in.