Friday, April 22, 2022

REVIEW: 'Heartstopper' - Charlie Quickly Forms a Crush on Nick and Their Friendship Inspires Change for Both in 'Meet'

Netflix's Heartstopper - Episode 1.01 "Meet"

Stuck in a secret relationship, shy Charlie starts to crush on Nick, the school's popular rugby star, and joins the team against his friends' advice.

"Meet" was written by Alice Oseman and directed by Euros Lyn

Charlie has a secret boyfriend and a new crush. All the shortcomings he feels with Ben, he sees as effortless with Nick. This is such a simple yet sweet premiere. It's told almost entirely from Charlie's perspective. His friends know how dangerous it can be for him to go all-in on this crush. He may only be setting himself up for failure. Kindness doesn't translate to romantic compatibility. Nor should Charlie have to change in order to achieve that goal. At secondary school, Charlie and his friends are learning who they are. Charlie came out as gay and was bullied. It took him months to feel comfortable confiding in one of his teachers. The rugby jocks were largely responsible for that torment. A new year has started. Charlie beams with excitement upon being with Ben. He is made to feel like a secret and nothing more though. They can only sneak away to capture brief moments together. They can't be out as a couple. Ben isn't comfortable with that. Instead, he is pursuing the heteronormative reality of teenage life. It's easier to have a girlfriend. He doesn't care how that makes Charlie feel. It's absolutely devastating. Charlie wants a boyfriend. He doesn't know what all he is looking for. He simply knows it has to be someone who makes him laugh and is willing to acknowledge their relationship in public. Charlie is more than understanding when it comes to figuring out one's sexual orientation. Ben can lean on him during that exploration. However, he has projected so many of his insecurities onto the boy he likes. It's a relationship meant to sustain him. It affirms his desires. However, it's nothing more than that. He wants to believe Charlie is comfortable with this dynamic as it is. Charlie wants so much more. All it takes is Nick saying hi. That interaction is so crucial when it comes to defining this new bond. It's simple. It can be completely innocuous. Charlie projects more meaning onto it than he probably should. And yet, the narrative purposefully points out these two noticing each other. That's the most crucial dynamic of this story. It's all about being seen and accepted. Charlie is made to feel like a social outcast. He is tossed aside with his friend group because they don't fit in with what's socially accepted. People have questions about what it means to have a gay friend. It doesn't have to change anything. In fact, it's uplifting to welcome Charlie into this space and encourage him to be part of the team. It happens quickly. It's also encouraging because it faces no real obstacle.

Of course, communication is also key for any relationship to survive. Charlie is comfortable talking about his issues with his secret relationship with his teacher. With Ben though, it's easier to simply end all contact. He's trying to protect himself as he wallows in his feelings. Ben doesn't understand. He doesn't see what the problem is. Even when Charlie ultimately relents and agrees to meet again, Ben believes it will happen under the exact same circumstances. Nothing has really changed. It's never given that opportunity either. Charlie expresses himself. Ben doesn't listen. That's a betrayal. It's an invasion of Charlie's space in a way he absolutely doesn't want. Ben believes he can say over and over again that this is what Charlie wants. That can justify any of his behavior. Instead, it's a burden placed directly on Charlie's shoulders. He wants to help a friend uncomfortable with his sexuality. That doesn't give Ben the right to do whatever he wants. It's all meant to champion Nick as well. He arrives as a true friend. He doesn't interrupt the moment in order to scandalize Charlie and Ben being together in a romantic way. Instead, he's protecting his friend. He could tell that something was off with Charlie. He trusted his instincts and investigated. It made Charlie feel like he was saved by the man of his dreams. Of course, he doesn't know if Nick is gay. He has no reason to believe that whatsoever. He wants it so badly though. He can have everything he has always wanted with him. The audience is given the glimpse into that potentially being true. Throughout the premiere, little animated details reflect the romantic feelings Charlie has for Nick. It's completely one-sided. However, that's a reflection of the story being predominately told from Charlie's perspective. It's only in the end that Nick is seen on his own also thinking about this relationship. The same animated details pop up which serve as the connective tissue for this bond. The show probably can't solely be focused on this one relationship. Other subplots are briefly teased here as well - mostly with Elle struggling to adapt to her new school. An expansion of the world will better inform the actions Charlie and Nick make too. It can be all-encompassing without losing the sweetness at the heart of this dynamic. This is a confident premiere that should make everyone eager to binge the rest of the story.