Hulu decided the world needed some wholesome, hilarious, totally binge-worthy teen angst during these trying times, so they dropped the gift that is Love, Victor on us this month. And here we thought we couldn't possibly love anything more than the movie this series was based on, Love, Simon!
Love, Victor is a sequel series to Greg Berlanti's box office hit set in the same town and at the same school as the original film. A few years after Simon's (Nick Robinson) story unfolded, Victor (Michael Cimino) arrives at Creekwood with his own big-ass secret, but what unfolds is actually a more complex and deeply relatable story about finding yourself, your sexuality, and your voice -- and all the bumps in the road you can experience along the way.
TV Guide talked to showrunner Brian Tanen about developing this Love, Simon spin-off, why Victor's unique coming-out story is still so relevant, and his hopes for Season 2 after dropping that huge finale cliffhanger on us.
Knowing this was a spin-off of Love, Simon, how much did you guys want to follow the style and story of the movie and how much did you want to deviate and create something entirely new?
Brian Tanen: Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger wrote the film and are also the creators of this series and I co-run it with them. For them, right from the start, they wanted to show to have a lot the same DNA as the film -- the style, the charm, the connection to the characters from the movie -- so that the fans would have something to latch onto. But it was also super important to them and to our writing staff that this be a different story; that we tell the story of a different LGBTQ teenager. And you notice those changes right off the bat when he tells Simon that his story is a little too easy for Victor to swallow, and that he's going to have a much bumpier ride.
Why was it important for you guys to show that Victor has a much more homophobic family than Simon did?
Tanen: I think it was really important to our writing staff, which was over half LGBTQ writers, to represent the sort of casual homophobia that can permeate a young person's life even in a family that is otherwise warm and loving. I think a lot of us have gone through journeys where well-meaning people just haven't embraced this topic yet and aren't fully comfortable with it. Or they maybe are OK with the idea of gay people, but haven't really considered it or wouldn't feel happy about it if it happened within their own family. So we wanted this family to feel authentic, and I think especially within a religious family, people can be loving without being fully accepting. And they'll have their own journey to go on as well.
For a pretty good portion of Season 1, Victor seems to be struggling to put a label on his own sexuality. Can you talk a little bit about that journey for him?
Tanen: Yeah, one of the big differences between the film and the TV show is that this character is a few years younger and he's further behind on the journey of figuring out his sexuality. And that resonated with a lot of gay writers on staff. The idea of when you're first exploring those topics, even if you've been having those feelings since childhood, when you first start to put a name to them, they can be very scary. And you can be your own worst enemy when it comes to these issues because your own internalized homophobia, your own fear of being recognized for who you are prevents you from being your honest self. So that's part of Victor's journey in Season 1, realizing who he is and what love looks like and whether there's a difference between platonic love and a sexualized, maybe more adult form of love.
That cliffhanger ending was a pretty major way to end Season 1. How confident were you that you're getting a Season 2 to leave us hanging like that?
Tanen: I think we were always very optimistic and hopeful about a Season 2. I understand it absolutely feels like a giant cliffhanger, but to me, it also feels like the conclusion of a journey. That's been the thing that you are rooting for all season long — for him to make a realization about who he is and have the courage to say it out loud. So for me, it was a really fitting end to the season to make that moment about him and his declaration rather than about the reactions of other people. I think so much of a coming-out journey is about getting over your own internal hurdles. So it felt right to me that that moment is singularly about him. And in Season 2, hopefully, you'll get to see what the fallout from that declaration is and how people react. But for now, this is his moment.
Is there any one of his family members' reactions in Season 2 that you're particularly excited to explore?
Tanen: Yeah, I love the idea of seeing how a brother-sister relationship is affected by a revelation like this. I know I'm very close with my sister, and it really improved our relationship when I came out, this sort of deepening of our friendship and our sibling bond. And I think that's something we can look forward to with Victor and Pilar (Isabella Ferreira) who is a sort of an outsider in her own right… and I'm also excited to tell a story where the parents may have to go on a journey, where they may have to challenge themselves and their beliefs to accept their son.
Obviously we know religion plays a very big part in this family. Is that going to be part of both Victor and his parents' journey moving forward?
Tanen: Yeah… There's just a rich area of places to go in Season 2. We've set up so many relationships that are going to be affected by a coming-out. And so what Victor and Mia (Rachel Naomi Hilson) have, for example, is really a best friendship, but what happens when she realizes that she was in a completely different relationship with Victor than he was with her? And here we have a young student-athlete who is suddenly going to be out, and how does that ripple across that traditionally macho world of athletics in high school? I just feel like there's so many places for our story to go in Season 2, and it's really fun to start thinking about and writing the story of someone who is finally starting to live their authentic life.
I was also really pleasantly surprised to not only have Simon's letters with Victor to keep him in the story, but also to get appearances from him and Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale). Do you want to continue that in Season 2 and even possibly get more characters from the film involved?
Yes! Oh my god, on our wish list all season was the ability to see characters from the film, and so many of the wonderful actors from the movie are doing other projects now. They're growing up. They are, of course, successful in Hollywood, and they've got other things going on. So we were not a hundred percent sure who we would be able to get and what amount of those characters we'd be able to get. But we were so thrilled that Nick Robinson was able to narrate the series and then of course the episode where Victor got to visit Simon and Bram in New York. It was always something we wanted to incorporate into the show. I think it's great for fans of the film to see that those characters are out there living their best lives beyond the world of the film. These kids have moved on, grown up, continued their relationships, and blossomed. I think, to us, that was really exciting. It encapsulated the "it gets better" idea.
There are obviously so many young people watching this show, so if you could pick one message from the show for them to come away from it with, what would that be?
Tanen: For the first half of the season, Victor's journey is largely influenced by his fear. And in the second part of the season, he becomes braver and more accepting of who he is. And that to me was an incredibly relatable idea. When I was a teenager, I was starting to understand that I was gay, but it was the topic that really terrified me. I didn't want to admit this about myself. I didn't want my life to be harder, and I had so many worries about how my friendships, my relationships with my family, how everything was going to change if I was gay. And as I grew up, all the very best parts of my life were from being gay. My relationship with my partner, the life we've built together, my friendships and the deepening of relationships with my family. If I could share anything with our young, LGBTQ audiences watching this, it would be that it is understandable to be afraid of coming out, but there will come a time when you are not only no longer afraid, but also incredibly proud and joyful about the idea of being an out, gay person.
Love, Victor is currently streaming on Hulu.