Coming Out in Modern Suburbia Is Further Explored in Hulu’s ‘Love, Victor’
Hulu’s “Love, Victor” betrays little of what it promises to be. It looks and talks like a teen drama, full of the kind of angst and twists common to most young adult TV series. That also happens to be why it stands out and works rather well. It is a spinoff from the 2018 movie “Love, Simon,” which was based on a YA book about a suburban kid dealing with coming out as gay. Set within the same universe but with new characters, “Love, Victor” utilizes all those teen drama standards like nervous spring flings, complicated crushes and impulsive kisses to be a little more daring.
We are back at Creekwood High School where a new student named Victor Salazar (Michael Cimino) arrives after moving with his family from Texas. Along with sister Pilar (Isabella Ferreira) and little brother Adrian (Mateo Fernandez), Victor has to adjust to a new landscape and friends. It’s not clear what prompted parents Armando (James Martinez) and Isabel (Ana Ortiz) to move the family except that Armando was offered a really good supervising job. For the Salazar kids, who come from a lower middle class Latinx background, Creekwood is a strange terrain full of privileged suburban teens. But Victor at least makes some quick friends in chatty nerd and neighbor Felix (Anthony Turpel) and popular girl Mia (Rachel Hilson). He also becomes a standout in the school basketball team. Sparks soon begin to fly with Mia, but Victor is trying to process the growing bond while keeping secret his emerging realization that he is gay. To try and find guidance he begins messaging Simon from the “Love, Simon” storyline, who has become a local legend for how he came out while messaging with a secret admirer and meeting him one night on a Ferris wheel before the whole town. It’s a complicated road for Victor to maneuver as his exploration of identity comes into conflict with the biases in his family.
There is some rumbling controversy over how “Love, Victor” was originally produced as a Disney Plus show and was then transferred to Hulu, where apparently the studio felt it would fit better outside of the Mouse’s more “wholesome” service. It is a very strange move considering this series is beyond safe in its sexuality, never even coming close to the steaminess you would get on a CW show. Of course it should also not be slighted for that approach. Anyone who watched “Love, Simon” knows what to expect from a spinoff. Creators Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger were also the writers who adapted the original Becky Albertalli book into the movie. Admirably they do not simply recycle the plot into some expanded serial. While keeping the world of the story they also reach beyond into new themes, all the while keeping intact its YA spirit. The Salazars bring more and welcome diversity, written as Colombian-Puerto Rican immigrants but not straddled with too many Latinx stereotypes. Victor and Pilar rarely speak Spanish (which irks their grandparents), and are typical Gen-Z students. But the writing also touches on that rare issue of class. When Victor is informed he has to pay a $500 entry fee to join the basketball team it comes as a shock. He is a working class kid in a suburban high school where his peers never think twice about lunching on pricey sushi. In most YA movies or shows economics are an afterthought.
Typically in this genre the aesthetic shimmers with a clean tone punctuated by lights, like suburbia itself. But “Love, Victor,” while safe and approachable, still understands that beneath the most perfect images there are harder truths. Victor gets a job at a coffee shop and is instantly attracted to his gay manager, Benji (George Sear). But Benji already has a boyfriend, so Victor will try dating Mia and test the waters. The culture is quickly turning non-binary, so there should be no rules as to who one should love. But what if his feelings for Mia are simply platonic? Dating Mia would offer a safe route anyway considering Victor’s parents are loving but also traditional and religious, at least when it comes to the subject of being gay. Latinx homophobia is dealt with in a way you never see in any YA series. Victor invites Benji and his boyfriend to a party at his home, but Victor’s grandparents also attend with their hardened prejudices. When he practically begs Benji to pretend to be straight it’s an uncomfortable but necessary moment to portray. “Love, Victor” becomes a drama about the nerve-wrecking experience of being a teenager afraid to open up and preferring to keep important truths hidden. As the season progresses Victor weaves ever more complicated entanglements that can hurt several loved ones. He leads Mia on, even as he remains confused about how he feels. Refreshingly no one is perfect in this pristine-looking world. Even happy parents Armando and Isabel, who were high school sweethearts, harbor a painful secret Pilar discovers through the random act of helping Isabel set up her own Facebook account. Mia lives in a mansion with her father, the head of a university, but they were abandoned by her alcoholic mother and it casts a shadow over the new girlfriend dad brings home.
One of the essentials in a teen drama is to have a whole gallery of supporting roles providing their own mini-sagas. “Love, Victor” offers the required jock, Andrew (Mason Gooding), who likes Mia and grows jealous of Victor. But he’s also not written as a shallow villain. Felix harbors his own longing crush on Lake (Bebe Wood), a wannabe popular girl who masks her deep insecurities with a hilarious know-it-all, bratty attitude. You can guess all these storylines must come to a head at some kind of high school event. The season finale is where it all comes together at the annual spring fling. But the question is how “Love, Victor” uses these standards. Instead of being cheap entertainment it manages to say something. It adds enough complexity to make the drama pose more challenging questions than a show like “Roswell.” When Mia sees Victor kiss another guy who should we feel bad for? Her or him? Is there a right answer?
“Love, Victor” is not seeking to reinvent the wheel of YA entertainment. What it should be commended for is how it uses the genre to touch on themes these kinds of shows would have fled from 20 years ago. It isn’t playing it safe so much as using a safe style to delve into more complex territory. Teenage life is by nature always going to feel more melodramatic, but the final shot of the season finale, when Victor utters a phrase that will change everything, touches on how even in these more seemingly progressive times, being yourself rarely feels easy or safe.
“Love, Victor” season one begins streaming June 17 on Hulu.