When Love, Simonpremiered in 2018, it was hailed as an important step forward in queer representation. For the first time in a major studio movie, there was a gay teen love story told through familiar -- and effective -- romcom tropes. Love, Simon didn't depend on queer tragedy to hit emotional beats; in that sense, the film was a traditional romcom with a guaranteed happily ever after. That guarantee provided to a community that doesn't often see its joy onscreen was enough to mark Love, Simon as a standout, but in doing so, the film also became a non-confrontational coming out story meant for easy consumption by straight viewers.
Love, Victor, Hulu's series spin-off of the film, is an attempt to prove that coming out stories are not one-size-fits-all. Where Simon (Nick Robinson) was a well-off white teen with parents who accepted his sexuality, the show is about Victor (Michael Cimino), the new kid in town who comes from a lower middle class Colombian American family, and the particular cultural obstacles that result from his background. Where Love, Simon is solely focused on Simon's coming out story, Love, Victor builds out complex and delightful romantic relationships between the teens of Creekwood High. Where Simon's parents function mainly as powerful plot devices for acceptance, Victor's family are all struggling with their own identities in dramatically different ways. But despite all the depth Love, Victor adds, the series is ultimately limited by the same issues as the movie. While it's important marker of queer representation onscreen, it doesn't quite manage to advance or elucidate conversations happening within the community it's trying to represent.
When Victor starts his first day of school at Creekwood High, the halls are still buzzing about Simon's great love story even though he's off at college. Victor, a gentle peacemaker at heart, is excited at the possibility that now, in a more accepting school, he might have a chance to discover who he is and what he wants. But throughout the day Victor discovers that homophobia and toxic masculinity are alive and well at Creekwood. Between the jocks deriding each other by calling each other gay and warnings to stay away from the only other out boy in school unless he wants a reputation, Victor realizes his story is nothing like Simon's. In fact, he goes so far as to angrily DM Simon on Instagram -- a clever way to tie in to the film -- to tell him exactly that. What he's not expecting is a reply. But as Simon and Victor begin to chat, Victor realizes he can survive, maybe even thrive, at Creekwood.
However, Victor's mild success in the agonizing popularity contest that is high school mostly stems from dating Mia (Rachel Naomi Hilson), a rich, beautiful, kind girl whose friendship he truly appreciates. Mia and Victor's relationship -- in which Victor genuinely believes he could be happy -- takes up a majority of the season despite his lingering feelings for Benji (George Spears), his coffee shop coworker. The series begins to explore a spectrum of queerness when Victor starts researching bisexuality, but doesn't manage to do more than simply bring the topic up. The nuances of questioning one's identity, experiencing a romantic and sexual spectrum, are flattened by catering to the same audience that drew Love, Simon to theaters in droves -- queer folks, of course, but also straight audiences who aren't necessarily looking to engage in the myriad of identities and communities lumped together under one neatly packaged rainbow flag.
Love, Victor engages best with the idea that not all coming out stories are the same when the series shifts away from Victor's rote romantic complications and focuses on his family life. It's in the juxtaposition of his religious grandparents, his father's machismo, his mother's secrets, and his sister's isolation that Victor begins to reckon with the realization that he's asking a much bigger question than "Who do I really like?" He begins to ask himself how he can be the person he wants if the love, warmth, and comfort his family provides is not guaranteed. When Victor commits to communicating with his loved ones instead of taking the path of least resistance, the series shines, finally revealing depth to a character who rarely expresses his true feelings outside of covert DMs. Victor's journey to acceptance is much more powerful than Simon's because of it.
But unlike the film, the series has stiff competition when it comes to delving into the social politics of being a queer first gen kid from an immigrant family. Sex Education has a devastatingly beautiful reckoning between Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and his father as Eric goes to prom decked in a suit, high heels, a Nigerian gele, and a full face of glittery makeup. Vida is a series that deals explicitly with intersectional queer identities and how hiding yourself can poison everything you hold dear in life. Gentefied takes a blissful look at how a supportive grandfather's love can uplift a young woman whose community is determined to silence her. The Bisexual delves into the nitty gritty of which kinds of brown people get to have the freedom of not defining themselves. Ana Ortiz and James Martinez, who play Victor's parents, struggling to understand how to raise their son, have both played similar roles on Ugly Betty and One Day at a Time. The list goes on, and while Love, Victor is a heartfelt addition to the ongoing conversation, it also feels like the series is holding back from truly engaging in the way these other series are.
On the whole, Love, Victor is an easy, breezy romcom that makes for a delightful weekend binge. The movie's romantic tropes are well trod and Love, Victor deploys them charmingly. (There's a particularly adorable cover of "Call Me Maybe" that Victor's crush Benji plays at a coffee shop open mic night that's basically a fanfic writer's dream come true.) The cast has a natural chemistry that buoys the already lighthearted source material. The series simply has a soothing energy many viewers are desperately seeking to escape to. And despite the fact that it's a coming out story we've heard before, maybe right now, the fact that it puts a smile on your face is enough.
TV Guide rating: 3/5
Love, Victor premieres Wednesday, June 17 on Hulu.