Does a Love, Simon’ sequel move the con­ver­sa­tion forward? 

Hulu presents Love, Victor’

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A refreshing focus on a questioning character: Michael Cimino in ‘Love, Victor.’ (Photo courtesy of Hulu.)
A refreshing focus on a questioning character: Michael Cimino in ‘Love, Victor.’ (Photo courtesy of Hulu.)

Love, Victor, a 10-episode series now streaming on Hulu, picks up where Love, Simon left off. The 2018 film and its television sequel explore the modern coming-out story, reflecting the gradual sea change that has made it possible for many teenagers to feel safe and comfortable owning their identities at younger ages. Despite this welcome shift, both works show that accepting yourself can still be a struggle, even under the most accepting of circumstances.

Not a universal experience

After Love, Simon came out, I had several conversations with friends about the film, the first major studio release to feature an openly gay teenage character as its lead. Most of us are in our 30s and 40s now, fall somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and grew up in the time before being out in high school felt commonplace, much less celebrated. We wished a story like this had existed when we were teens and hoped it was the start of a trend.

We also recognized that Love, Simon didn’t represent a universal experience—a fact echoed by some critics. The main character, Simon Spier, is white and affluent, and has almost comically accepting parents. His friends—and actors playing them—are all cisgender, conventionally attractive, and thin.

Some accused the film of perpetuating negative attitudes toward femme gay men, while others brought up the practice of straightwashing—stories designed primarily to make the queer experience seem palatable to straight audiences. Although no work of fiction can be all things to all people, these criticisms are valid. It hurts when you don’t see yourself represented in a work that is ostensibly about your community.

Back to Creekwood

Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger—who scripted Love, Simon and developed Love, Victor—seem to have absorbed some, if not all, of the constructive criticism. The current series offers a stronger sense of organic diversity than its predecessor, and it does not attempt to simply appliqué Simon’s story onto a new protagonist.

It follows Victor Salazar (Michael Cimino), who moves with his Colombian-American family from Texas to Atlanta in the middle of his sophomore year. He ends up at Creekwood High School, where Simon was a student several years earlier. Tales of Creekwood’s popular gay graduate trickle down to Victor, who is privately conflicted about his own sexuality. (Nick Robinson, who played Simon in the film, serves as an executive producer and narrates the series.)

Whereas Simon was certain of his sexual identity but struggling to verbalize it, Victor wrestles with complicated feelings toward women and men. He begins dating Mia Brooks (Rachel Hilson), a popular classmate from a wealthy family, and simultaneously harbors a growing attraction to Benji (George Sear), an openly gay classmate. The triangle forms a tentpole of the first season’s plot.

The choice to center a questioning character is refreshing. It plays against the misinformed perception that all LGBTQ people are firmly aware of their exact identity from birth. Victor’s relationship with Mia is not presented simply as a wayside on the road to accepting his inevitable gay self; their courtship is affectionate, caring, and complicated in a recognizably real way.

Class and marriage

The series also mines class issues in a way that its predecessor did not. Victor and his best friend Felix (an appealing Anthony Turpel) live in the same modest apartment building, which Victor’s father Armando (James Martinez) manages. Their working-class experiences contrast the privileged backgrounds of Mia and her friend Lake (Bebe Wood).

Trans and nonbinary people exist everywhere, not just in New York City. (Photo courtesy of Hulu.)
Trans and nonbinary people exist everywhere, not just in New York City. (Photo courtesy of Hulu.)

In the series premiere, Victor faces ridicule at the hands of a rival when he lacks the money to join the school’s basketball team; the scene will register with anyone who grew up experiencing financial insecurity, especially within a culture of wealth. The incident—and the focus on economic status throughout the season—reflects the sometimes uncomfortable high school experience, where money often equates with social standing.

Yet some areas could stand greater reflection. A side story involving the marital troubles of Victor’s parents occasionally pulls focus—not because it’s overwrought, but because the writers don’t do enough to integrate it into Victor’s central narrative. Despite that, Martinez and Ana Ortiz turn in finely wrought performances, investing the viewer in their struggles, and making me wish more had been done to investigate the parallels between their self-realization journey and Victor’s.

Outside New York

Trans and nonbinary people also get short shrift. Although the series goes further than Love, Simon in presenting an LGBTQ picture that is less invested in white, cisgender gayness, gender-nonconforming folks appear in a single episode, in which Victor impulsively visits Simon, who now attends college in New York. (Robinson appears in a cameo, as does Keiynan Lonsdale, reprising his role as Simon’s boyfriend Bram.)

One of Simon’s Brooklyn roommates is introduced to Victor with they/them pronouns; another is played by the nonbinary actor Tommy Dorfman, thoughtful and moving in their short screen time. It’s welcome to see these characters and actors enter the narrative, but why are they siloed in New York? Trans and nonbinary people exist in communities around the country, and increasingly in high schools like Creekwood. It would be refreshing to see that acknowledged.

Much like the film that inspired it, Love, Victor moves the conversation forward, but it still leaves some voices out of the dialogue. Whether it will return for a second season remains to be seen. I hope it does, so that it can continue to explore the full complexity of the LGBTQ+ experience.

What, When, Where

Love, Victor. All episodes available for streaming on Hulu.

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