Being the dutiful critic that I am, I spent an evening recently with Love, Simon, the thoroughly delightful 2018 film about the titular young man coming out of both his shell and the closet during a momentous year in high school. While it had a host of narrative issues, it was as cute and charming as any good romantic comedy from the past 30 years and was given the right crackle of energy by its lead, Nick Robinson.
As my wife and I basked in the afterglow of the film’s happy ending, our straight selves began to wonder if the LGBTQ+ community was as delighted by the film as we were. To find out, I did what any modern man would: I asked my Twitter followers.
The response was resoundingly in the affirmative, with my favorite comment coming from Next Portland writer Iain MacKenzie:
I thought it was lovely.
I often think about a quote from the 1995 doc ‘The Celluloid Closet’: “it remains to be seen whether Hollywood can make a movie about a gay hero who lives”. Just having that is so important, and I wish I’d had that as a teenager.
— iain (@maccoinnich) June 15, 2020
I thought about Iain’s tweet a lot while watching Love, Victor, the new series that debuted on Hulu this week. Created by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, the screenwriters of Love, Simon and showrunners of beloved NBC series This Is Us, the series is, like the film it is based on, far from perfect, hampered by the treacly sentiment that mars most episodic TV. But when most LGBTQ+ characters are relegated to supporting roles in in series about teen life, the existence of a show with a young lead that is as mixed up and hormonal as the kids in Euphoria and Stranger Things, but free of the intrusions of drug trauma and supernatural creatures, feels like a major victory.
The series is less of a remake of the film than it is an extension of the Simon-verse in that it takes place in the same Atlanta suburb as the movie but a few years after Simon has graduated from high school. It also moves the story away from the luxe homes of the film and into the blue collar lives of the Salazars, a Latinx family who just moved to the area from Texas.
In true TV fashion, everything happens fast for their eldest child Victor (Michael Cimino): he finds a buddy in the geeky Felix (Anthony Turpal); attracts the interest of Mia (Rachel Naomi Hilson), the school’s hottest yet most unattainable gal; and gets a major crush on Benji (George Sear), the proudly out gay kid with smoky eyes. And through it all, he’s conversing with Simon via Instagram DM, an outlet that he uses to express his confusion about his sexuality. He thinks Mia’s great and loves tasting the blue raspberry lip gloss when they kiss, but he can’t get his mind off of Benji.
If you know the beats of a traditional high school dramedy, you can likely guess where things in Love, Victor’s first season are headed. Aptaker, Berger, and their writing team do a fine job expanding the story out to include some rising tensions between Victor’s parents and a burgeoning romance between Felix and the status obsessed Lake (Bebe Wood). Otherwise, these 10 episodes feature the same miscommunication, missed connections, and heartache that has been part of young adult fare for decades.
That alone feels like a huge leap forward. Thirty years ago, this appearance of this series would have dominated the headlines and been argued about on news shows for weeks leading up to its premiere. In 2020, it’s just another TV series in a media landscape full of them. It’s been talked about, sure, but not in the furious or wondrous tones that might have been in another time.
On the other hand, the main plot of a gay teen trying to accept his sexuality is the only thing that really distinguishes Love, Victor from the rest of the pack. The look and feel of the series is entirely vanilla, and outside of the occasional guest spot from comedians Ali Wong and Andy Richter, almost none of the acting is worth shouting about. That goes double for Cimino. He’s a total cutie with zero charm, making it hard to understand why both Mia and Benji would fall so hard for his character. Cimino looks especially lost in the episode when Victor takes off to visit Simon in New York for his first taste of big city gay culture. Not even an appearance by Katya, the drag performer best known as a contestant on season seven of RuPaul’s Drag Race, can break Cimino from his “Aw, shucks” blankness.
The only time that Cimino hooked me was when he finally came out to Felix late in the season. It was the tender and heartfelt moment that Victor deserved. And the fact that I stuck with the show enough to get to the ninth episode when it happens should be enough to tell you that, with all its flaws, Love, Victor is still gripping and worth a weekend binge. It’s not the stuff that’s going to walk away with a slew of major awards. But it is the kind of show that will hopefully make some teens going through the same inner turmoil feel a little less alone and a lot more seen.
All 10 episodes of Love, Victor are available to stream on Hulu.