Fri. Oct 30th, 2020

TV Review: ‘Love, Victor’ is a charming and heartfelt, if somewhat flawed, coming out story

Love, Simon, Greg Berlanti’s 2018 gay teen rom-com based on Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda book, did not by any means break new ground when it comes to the coming-of-age genre. It fits into all the criteria that have defined teen dramedy for ages, both familiar and heartwarming at the same time. But on the other hand, Love, Simon was also revelatory as it was one of the first, if not the first, motion pictures from a major studio that focused on a gay character’s coming out journey. The result was far from flawless, and at times cliche, but still, seeing a character like Simon gets the treatment that’s so far only given to straight characters was a huge progressive step in mainstream cinema. And now with the arrival of Love, Victor, the spinoff series created by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, Simon’s legacy is continued.

Like its predecessor, Love, Victor focuses on the titular’s character self-discovery journey as he’s experiencing the ups and downs of being a teenager who struggles to make sense of his sexuality. But where Simon already knows that he’s gay from the beginning of the movie, Victor (Michael Cimino) is still confused both about himself and his sexual identity. He’s open to the possibility that he might be gay, but at the same time, he also thinks that there’s still part of him that likes girls. So, in an attempt to know what it is that he really wants, Victor does two opposite things at once: First, he starts to seek guidance from Simon through Instagram, hoping that he could help him understand his struggle. Second, he begins to date the most popular girl in his school, Mia (Rachel Hilson), assuming that dating her would help him feel a little more normal.

Throughout ten episodes, the show follows Victor as he’s living this double life, both as a closeted gay teenager and someone who desperate for some kind of normalcy, while also facing some personal challenges at home. His parents, Armando (James Martinez) and Isabel (Ana Ortiz), are currently dealing with serious marital issues —so serious that they have to move the whole family from Texas to Atlanta. His younger sister Pilar (Isabella Ferreira) is angry all the time because of that decision. And to make things more complicated, unlike Simon’s parents who are supportive and liberal, Victor’s working-class Latin family is pretty conservative, especially his grandpa and grandma who make it clear that a boy kissing another boy is wrong.

This family subplot seems like it’s only meant to give the supporting characters more depth at first. But upon closer examination, it’s actually bigger than that as it also drills home the show’s notion that not all coming out process is as easy as Simon’s was. Some teenagers, like Victor, aren’t privileged to have parents that are open with their kids being gay. Victor says it better in episode one when he first DMs Simon. “Screw you for having the world’s most perfect, accepting parents and the world’s most supportive friends,” Simon says frustratedly in a voice-over. “For some of us, it’s not that easy.”

Indeed, coming out is a different journey for every gay teenager, and it’s never an easy process. There are fear and anxiety, as well as doubt and insecurity. Love, Victor understands these difficulties really well, portraying Victor’s journey with enough nuance and empathy while slowly pushing him to start accepting who he really is at the same time. Though this deliberate approach can get a little frustrating at times, especially knowing that for the majority of the season, Victor is in a relationship with a girl, the show’s depiction of Victor’s inner struggle is always on-point, with Chimino’s likable performance driving most of the show’s dramatic moments. It also shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Love, Victor doesn’t necessarily say something new that Love, Simon hasn’t said before. But it doesn’t make it any less impactful. If anything, the show actually benefits from its serialized format to capture Victor’s journey in a way that is more compelling than the movie.

At the very core of Love, Victor is a story about how hard it is to fit in and be yourself. And it’s not just about Victor’s struggle of coming to terms with him being gay. Every character in the show, perfect as they are on the outside, is also dealing with the same kind of problems. For Victor’s best friend Felix (Anthony Turpel), it’s loneliness and being misunderstood. For Victor’s “girlfriend” Mia, who seems like she has everything, it’s her absent parents. For her best friend Lake (Bebe Wood, in an endearing breakthrough performance), it’s deep-rooted insecurity caused by an unhealthy relationship with her demanding mom (Leslie Grossman). The only character who seems to have no significant problems is Victor’s crush Benji (George Sear), but that’s because Sear has not much to do aside from being hot throughout all ten episodes.

All these challenges involving the supporting characters are what eventually make Love, Victor so emotionally resonant regardless of what your sexual orientation is. You don’t have to share the same struggle as Victor to like this show. Everyone can certainly take something from it by simply watching it all unfold in ten episodes.

In the end, Love, Victor may not rock the boat when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation on TV. Nor does it wrestle with real, serious issues that gay people are dealing with in real-life. Other shows like Showtime’s Queer as Folk and HBO’s brilliant Looking have all previously offered more nuanced depictions of gay relationships. But that doesn’t necessarily make Love, Victor a bad show. There’s still a lot of joy to be found throughout. It’s fun and moving, binge-able and genuine, poignant and funny —everything you could possibly ask for from a coming-of-age show. Just don’t expect too much though.

Hulu will exclusively stream all 10 episodes Love, Victor on Hulu June 17 [updated].

Reyzando Nawara is a passionate film and TV writer based in Indonesia. He’s a big fan of Mia Hansen-Løve, Alex Ross Perry, and Noah Baumbach. When he’s not busy telling people to watch Halt and Catch Fire, or at work, he likes to spend his days making sorbet and cooking.

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