Love, Victor, the TV spin-off of the 2018 film Love, Simon, opens up with a sequence designed equally for those who have seen the movie and for those (like me) who haven’t. The show’s title character, high school student Victor Salazar (Michael Cimino), summarizes the plot of the movie — in which teenager Simon (Nick Robinson) comes out to his friends and family and kisses Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale) on the Ferris wheel at a carnival — after reading about it on Instagram. He is writing a DM to Simon, and at first sounds excited that a boy who once went to his school had such a triumphant coming-out experience. But then Victor concludes his message far more harshly than you might expect, telling Simon, “And I just want to say… screw you. Screw you for having the world’s most perfect, accepting parents, the world’s most supportive friends. Because for some of us, it’s not that easy.”
The series was created by Love, Simon screenwriters Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, and this prologue serves both potential audiences well. It’s an efficient synopsis of the movie for newbies, even though Love, Victor for the most part is telling its own story with its own characters. And it’s also an acknowledgment by Aptaker and Berger that some of the criticisms of the film — specifically, that Simon’s life was too privileged, and his coming-out too much a conflict-free fantasy — may have been fair.
So Love, Victor is simultaneously an expanded remake of the film and something of a corrective to it. Victor is Latinx, from a family of modest means — they live in an apartment building, and Victor’s mother Isabel (Ana Ortiz) has to teach piano lessons to help pay the bills — and his parents and grandparents’ Catholicism renders homosexuality a mostly taboo subject. Newly transplanted from Texas to the same Atlanta suburb where Love, Simon took place, Victor thinks the fresh start will give him a chance to be open about a fact he’s come to understand about himself: He’s gay.
Because Simon’s story was too easy, but also because this is a TV season with five hours of time to fill, rather than the movie’s two, things prove more difficult for Victor. His first day at Simon’s alma mater makes him more nervous about coming out, rather than less, and soon he begins dating popular girl Mia (Rachel Naomi Hilson), as much to lie to himself as to lie to the people around him.
Victor continues DM-ing Simon about his experience — and Simon replies (with Robinson’s voice), always seeming saintly, wise, and patient with this stranger — suggesting that his sexuality is more fluid than the traditional gay/straight binary. But the show largely treats it as him deceiving Mia, who falls hard for him, while he also does sketchy things involving Benjie (George Sear), the very cute — and very out — boy he develops an instant crush on. The show mostly gets away with it, though, because Cimino is appealingly vulnerable in the lead role, and also because Victor is invested with much more nuance and humanity than any of the other characters, all of whom seem like thinly-sketched renderings of their counterparts on other teen shows(*). Victor, for instance, immediately picks up a nerdy sidekick, Felix (Anthony Turpel), who has been nursing a lifelong crush on Mia’s best friend Lake (Bebe Wood). All the moves in their story are borrowed from Seth and Summer on The O.C., but thrown together so hastily that no one in the creative team seems aware of how badly all parties wind up coming off at various points. (There’s also a Breakfast Club homage episode, which now seems mandatory on all streaming teen dramedies. See also Sex Education and I Am Not Okay With This, among others.)
(*) Victor’s conservative father Armando is even played by James Martinez, who basically filled the same role in a similar storyline in the first season of the One Day at a Time remake.
Some of Victor’s lack of awareness regarding how his choices affect others can perhaps also be written off as part of the series’ bumpy origins. The show was developed for Disney+, but wound up moving to Hulu after all the episodes were finished, and after the powers that be at Disney began getting cold about about exactly what the “all-ages” part of the Disney+ brand meant. Never mind that the service includes a lot of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, plus The Simpsons, nor even that Love, Victor itself is incredibly mild for a teen show. (If a kid stumbled across it unsupervised, they might learn of the existence of foot fetishes, and that sometimes grown-ups aren’t faithful to their spouses, but that’s as risqué as things get.) A cynic might suggest that Disney+ simply grew worried that any queer-friendly show, even an innocuous one like this, would open the service up to attacks from homophobes and/or religious extremists. Whatever the reason, the show’s young-skewing roots are visible in how ignorant Victor seems about the entire LGBTQ world, particularly in an episode where he gets advice about the many different ways gay men can present themselves. (It has never occurred to aspiring basketball star Victor, for instance, that athletes can be gay.) The show keeps trying to wave this off by suggesting that things are just different in Texas, but Texas has both queer kids and the internet. A lot of Victor’s journey of self-discovery seems designed more as a way to gently explain certain concepts to what might once have been a younger audience. On Hulu, which has a lot of queer characters — including teens, on shows like Runaways and Little Fires Everywhere — he comes across as extremely naive in spots, even for a kid who’s only 15 when the show begins.
But for all the mistakes that both Victor and the TV show named for him make, both are ultimately… nice? There are some tugs at the heartstrings that work as designed (particularly a couple of hugs that happen late in the season), and adding a host of socioeconomic wrinkles to the movie’s basic story mostly feels worth it, rather than shameless padding. It could engage with the material and the other characters much more deeply than it does, but it keeps good track of Victor’s emotional journey. And it feels like the creators heard the response to the movie, gave real thought to the meaning of it, and tried to do more with their second chance at it. There are much better TV seasons involving gay teens figuring out when, how, and why to speak their truth to the people they love — the first years of My So-Called Life, One Day at a Time, and Everything Sucks, to name just three, are all available to binge this weekend — but this one’s heart is largely in the right place, and sometimes, sincerity’s enough.
Hulu is releasing the entire first season of Love, Victor on June 17th. I’ve seen all 10 episodes.