Review: More than A Spinoff, 'Love, Victor' Finds Its Own Voice

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday June 17, 2020

'Love, Victor'
'Love, Victor'  

Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, the team that adapted the Becky Albertalli novel "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda" to the big screen as "Love, Simon," are back with a spinoff for the small screen.

Though a hit, the film garnered some criticism since its protagonist, played by Nick Robinson, seemed to have little to lose by coming out. Loved by his liberal parents and embraced by his longtime friends, Simon seemed to some critics to have little to lose in emerging from the closet. Even so, the film's larger message - that coming out is a personal process best left to each LGTBQ individual - resonated.

From the previews, the new series - streaming on Hulu and titled "Love, Victor" - looks like it might be nothing more than a light rehash of the book and movie. Victor Salazar (Michael Cimino) is a midyear transfer to Creekwood High School, the alma mater of Simon Spier, whose gay kiss on the ferris wheel at a winter festival has, over the past few years, grown into something of a local legend - so much so that the story is one of the first things Victor hears about as he's settling into his new school.

Finding Simon's blog, Victor writes in with his response: "Screw you!"

With those words, the series sets itself firmly apart from the movie, embracing similar themes that work for the show but also striking off in totally new directions. Unlike Simon - whose opening narration in the film centered around the message "I'm just like you" - Victor is quick to point out that his life is markedly different from Simon's. His parents, Armando (James Martinez) and Isabel (Ana Ortiz), are religious, and culturally they are a little more "traditional" than Simon's more open-minded mother and father. What's more, Victor's parents have been going through a rough patch that has contributed to their move to Georgia from Texas.

The move has also been hard on Victor's sister, Pilar (Isabella Ferreira), who - being a self-admittedly "acquired taste," thanks to her caustic personality - has left behind all her friends, including her boyfriend, and is at a loss to make new ones.

That's not the case for Victor. The family's new home comes complete with a ready-made best friend, Felix (Anthony Turpel), who lives in the apartment upstairs and quickly transcends his "geeky new buddy" template. Moreover, Victor has hardly arrived in town before he's caught the eye of the "hottest girl in school," Mia (Rachel Hilson), who isn't shy about making her interest known. This new friendship, together with his skills on the basketball court, instantly vaults Victor into the school's popular set... much to the dismay of star athlete Andrew (Mason Gooding), who also happens to have had a longstanding crush on Mia.

But as much as Victor and Mia spark to each other, there's no erotic connection between them. That only happens with out gay schoolmate Benji (George Sear): The moment Victor catches sight of him, he's crushing on Benji. The problem? Victor soon learns that Benji has a boyfriend, Derek (Lukas Gage). With Benji off-limits and Mia clearly into him - with all the social status that entails - Victor finds himself thinking those same confusing thoughts many LGBTQ youths have to process: Wouldn't it just be easier to be "normal" and, presumably, happy?

The ten episodes of Season One gives the show's storylines room to breathe and sprawl, but even so, this is a series that packs a bouquet of surprises and well-paced developments, including parental drama, adolescent insecurities, high school politics, and - of course - the complicated yearnings of the human heart. In the midst of all that is the most obvious commonality between TV series and feature film: The fact that when gay men use women to fit in and avoid authenticity, it's damaging to all concerned, not to mention deeply selfish.

The series retains one borderline-unnecessary link to the film, however, and that's the ongoing series of messages between Simon and Victor. The device is a clever way of prompting story beats along; In Simon, Victor has a sympathetic ear and a confidant, and he pours his heart out weekly, reminding viewers where we are in the story while also shading in nuances of Victor's character. In another way, however, the voiceovers that narrate Victor's confessional missives and Simon's reassuring responses feel like training wheels: They help the show find its own footing and pace, but very soon it feels like the tie to the film's character is needless and maybe even a bit limiting, particularly after a key episode that puts the long-distance mentor/mentee relationship between the two front and center.

Season One fulfills everything you might want from the series: Dilemmas are resolved, knotty relationships are smoothed out, secrets are revealed and their repercussions explored, and fresh avenues prepared for Season Two. "Love Victor" completes its inaugural batch of episodes ready to sprint free along its own track, training wheels-free.

"Love, Victor" is streaming now at Hulu.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.