Hulu’s spinoff of Love, Simon has a shaky start, but ultimately offers value to queer youth searching for guidance.
Like any good young adult series, Love, Victor plays with the grammar of its title. In the 10-episode series, we move through every possible permutation: Love, Victor. Love, Victor? Love, Victor! And back again and sometimes more than one at once.
Hulu’s new series is an extension of the world created by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger for their 2018 film Love, Simon, which told Simon’s journey to coming out and falling in love for the first time. Love, Victor follows Victor Salazar (Michael Cimino) during his early days at Creekwood High after moving to town suddenly with his mom, Isabel (Ana Ortiz), dad Armando (James Martinez), angsty sister Pilar (Isabella Ferreira), and precocious little brother Adrian (Mateo Fernandez).
Following Simon before him, Victor feels different from the other kids at school and doesn’t quite know how to name his difference or what naming it would do for his life. But, unlike Simon, Victor is pulled in more than one direction. He’s enamored with cool-girl Mia (Rachel Hilson), but also has the frothy hots for Barrista Benji (George Sear).
Aptake and Berger have created perhaps too clean of a look for the series. I’ve never seen a high school look so ordered and polished. Luckily, the series does not play into the trope of high school being some golden time; instead, it plays off the natural tones befitting a town called Creekwood. This will look great for small-screen viewing, which YA series like these are rightly embracing, rather than chiding its target demographic for how they access the media made for them.
The showrunners treat their teens with respect by giving them mature conversations and realizations that make each character feel lived-in and intelligent. Even the goofy sidekicks Felix (Anthony Turpel) and Lake (Bebe Wood) are wise fools with something to contribute. Yet while the series has these mature conversations, it’s clear the actors lack the experience to deliver the lines with an understanding to support them. Many of the series’ emotional moments seem well structured on the page, but the performances can at times feel vacant. Hopefully, as the series goes on and the actors themselves mature, this will get filled in.
Part of the series’ tonal uneasiness at the start comes from the growing pains of moving beyond the comfort and tidiness of the world created in Love, Simon. The film ends on a note that all but resonates: homophobia, solved. To extend the world for the series, Aptake and Berger are forced to un-solve the homophobia.
The showrunners treat their teens with respect by giving them mature conversations and realizations that make each character feel lived-in and intelligent.
They accomplish this by opening the series with Victor calling out Simon in a DM for how easy and privileged his coming out story was. This forms a bond between the two characters and Simon becomes a mentor to Victor – one somehow magically oblivious to the spectrum of queerness.
Then the showrunners introduce strawman bullies at school and Victor’s dad as empty caricatures of bigotry and machismo. This accomplishes little more than making us feel good about our own moralities, while creating just enough tension for a 30 minute episode. Everyone seems somewhat clueless despite the journey made in Love, Simon.
Given that Creekwood High is already established as a place where queerness is more-or-less accepted, the series puts Victor through a series of comings-out. As a newly middle class Latinx queer person, Victor is outed or must out himself as economically underserved, racially othered, and good at sports (?) before any question of queerness can be articulated. And once it does, the conflict it creates results in micro-conflicts between friends and parents rather than against society.
Though marketed as a story about a bisexual protagonist, the series leans heavily into the misconception that same-sex desire is the dominating or consuming desire for bisexual people. Bisexuality is not a pitstop on the road to homosexuality. The showrunners curb the radical potential of a truly bisexual character by making him decidedly un-kinky (why can’t Victor like feet?!) and ultimately tying coming-out and being in a monogamous same-sex relationship as the culmination of Victor’s self-exploration.
The showrunners will have to be careful as they write further seasons. It’s far too easy to write bisexual people, especially bisexual teens in a television series, into a state of perpetual sexual drama. Hopefully in future seasons, Victor will be allowed to be a more complex human being than just a ball of undifferentiated desire. The showrunners will have to be creative going forward because if you remove the sexual drama, there’s not much there.
Yet there are two places outside of Victor that give hope to the show’s future potential to realize interesting queer-informed relationships. The first is with Victor’s parents Isabel and Armando: as the series opens, their relationship is in a fragile state of reparation that presents the opportunity to reconstitute itself in progressive and queer ways, such as having a more open marriage. I doubt this will happen, but it’s there if the showrunners want to add a richer complexity. It would be a radically queer show if everyone involved has more porous definitions of relationships.
But what’s most exciting to watch as a queer viewer is the relationship between Victor and Simon. Sure, I personally would have told Victor to piss right off if he came in hot to my DMs like he does, but it does serve a necessary function. The opening exchange between Victor and Simon critiques the film for its privilege and tidiness of its story. It’s a quick and narratively dirty way to shoehorn self-critique, but it’s right and necessary for Aptake and Berger to do.
Hopefully, Victor will be allowed to be a more complex human being than just a ball of undifferentiated desire.
After the initial hiccup, we see how remarkable their relationship is. The series gives us a queer youth reaching out of a predecessor for guidance. Here we have an endearing bit of queer tutelage, a platonic initiation into what it means to be queer. Very rarely do we get to see this kind of queer kinship on-screen — that it begins online makes it feel doubly queer and contemporary.
The AIDS crisis largely wiped out the possibility for this kind of mentor/mentee relationship for a generation and a half. But Love, Victor suggests there’s a spring coming, one where queer youths guide and help each other through a still difficult world. Hopefully as the show goes on, this queer community will grow on and off the screen.
Love, Victor is currently streaming on Hulu.