Heartstopper Review: A Poor Adaptation
In this review, there are slight spoilers for the TV show, Heartstopper.
The graphic novel series, Heartstopper, is without a doubt one of my favourite series of all time. Ever since my friend lent me the first two volumes back in 2019, I’ve been hooked on the coming-of-age tale that tells the story of Nick and Charlie. While it shows the heart-warming romance that blossoms between them, it tackles an array of important issues, such as coming out, assault, and self-harm, to name a few, and never once loses its uplifting spirit. So, when it was announced that a live-action adaptation was coming to Netflix, naturally I’d been counting down the days till its release. But I’m sad to say that after binging the show, it doesn’t come anywhere close to the magic of the graphic novels.
With screen adaptations, most criticism from fans is about its deviation from the original source. Mine is the exact opposite; its main fault lied in its inadequate recreation of most of the scenes between Nick and Charlie. This blatant fan service stifled their chemistry to the point of non-existence and missed the crucial process needed when going from a novel to the screen - adaption.
This fault doesn’t surprise me given that the author of Heartstopper, Alice Oseman, wrote the scripts, despite the fact they had no prior experience. Scenes kept from the novels had clunky dialogue and actions that made it painful to watch playout on screen, there were whiplash cuts between scenes that weren’t connected, and the pacing of Nick and Charlie’s relationship was abysmal. At the time I was meant to be rooting for their first kiss in episode three, I was bored and couldn’t wait to get back to the storylines Alice had adapted successfully: that of the beloved graphic novel side characters, Elle, Tara, and Darcy.
Personally, I was indifferent to them when reading the graphic novels. None of them had enough of an active storyline for me to root and care for them in the same way I did for Nick and Charlie. Their narratives were briefly touched upon in mini comics though, which gave Alice something to explore without having to do the same amount of fan service. Instead of being out at the beginning, Tara and Darcy come out as a couple during the show, with almost an entire episode being dedicated to exploring lesbiphobia. This was an aspect that wasn’t explored in the graphic novels, and it was easily the best episode by far. Then we have Elle, a trans girl struggling to make friends after transferring to an all-girls school, and who over the course of the eight episodes slowly falls for her best friend, Tao. This slow build-up of Elle and Tao’s relationship had me on the edge of my seat in the final episode, where I hoped with my entire being that they would finally kiss. This was the only time during the entire show I felt anything close to how the graphic novels made me feel, and the only reason I’ll be watching a potential season two is to see how their relationship pans out.
I’m highly aware that I’m part of a minority here. Old fans and new alike have adored the show, and are eagerly awaiting the announcement of a second season; all of the reviews I’ve come across are raving about it, with many older, queer reviewers writing how ground-breaking it is, and how they wished they had a show like this growing up. And while I do agree with the sentiment praising its diverse LGBTQ+ representation and its wider impact, this doesn’t mean the show was necessarily well-written. Sometimes I think because queer-focused stories on screen are still so lacking, people can forgive a lot of mediocrity.
Overall, my criticism lies with the writing. Replicating visually almost the entirety of Nick and Charlie’s relationship from the novel while completely losing the spirit of the scenes, and running it alongside adapted storylines for the side characters makes for a second-rate watch. So, while I am glad it exists, because ultimately it will help a lot of queer people, I’m disappointed by the poor adaptation. It really could have been a phenomenal queer show, but I guess I’ll just stick to reading the graphic novels instead.