As the (much anticipated) international release for season one of Love, Victor approaches, the press for both that and the upcoming second season have amped out! Check out this piece from The Guardian from February 15:
‘There’s no wrong way to be gay’: Behind the scenes of Love, Victor
The cast of the Love, Simon spin-off series discuss its tortuous road to release on Disney+ and the need for more diverse TV
The road to Love, Victor’s release has not been smooth sailing. The show – a spin-off of Love, Simon, a quietly groundbreaking film about a closeted gay teenager, based on a bestselling young adult novel by Becky Albertalli – was originally meant to be a part of the Disney+ slate of original programming. Telling a new story set in the same universe as the film, it focuses on a teenager, Victor, played by the newcomer Michael Cimino. Victor, like Simon, is unsure about his sexual identity. Unlike Simon, however, Victor’s coming out does not prove simple. After hearing about Simon’s story, Victor reaches out to him via social media and the two strike up a pen-pal relationship, with Simon guiding his younger charge through the highs and lows of high school.
Yet when Disney+ launched in the US in 2019, Love, Victor was missing. It was later announced that the show had moved to another Disney-owned streaming service, Hulu. According to a report by Variety, Disney, always fearful of controversy, felt that “many issues explored on the show, including alcohol use and sexual exploration, would not fit in with the family-friendly content on Disney+”. This meant that Love, Victor was also missing when Disney+ launched in the UK.
Now, a year on, it is finally making its way to the UK as part of the launch of Star, a “content vertical” on Disney+ that includes more adult-oriented films and television.
You have to wonder what all the fuss was about: unlike HBO’s graphic series Euphoria, Love, Victor is about as controversial as sliced white bread. As sweet, safe and subtle as its source material, the show is a warm, gentle story about teenagers figuring themselves out.
That said, it is not simply a rehash of Love, Simon. Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, the creators and showrunners who also wrote the script for the film, have attempted to fix some of the problems with the original, most notably the criticisms of Simon’s privilege. Victor comes from a Latinx background and his family is working class, unlike Simon, who is wealthy and white. His parents are also deeply religious and unlikely to give him the support received by Simon.
“The very first thing that [Aptaker and Berger] pitched to me was that this new character would reach out to Simon from the film and basically say to him that Simon’s experience was not like his own,” says Brian Tanen, a writer on the show who has been involved since its genesis. “This idealised, happy ending that Simon had gone through in the movie was not everyone’s experience. In fact, Victor was calling bullshit on it, because his life was so much harder. I just thought that was such a brilliant take: here was someone who had a certain amount of anger and frustration about this representation of a coming-out experience when he knew in his heart that his would not be so easy.”
Victor’s mother, Isabel, is played by Ana Ortiz, who many will recognise from her role as Hilda in Ugly Betty. “Most of my characters, when I get to play the mom of a gay son, have been their champions – that’s a much more familiar road for me,” she says. “Usually, especially in a Latinx family, the intolerance is going to come from the dad. It’s always going to be the disappointing father who doesn’t think that homosexuality is OK. That’s very true in our culture; the Latinx culture is very ‘machismo’ and it’s still taboo to be different.
“So, I think it’s really cool that they made it the mom: she loves her son more than anything on the planet, but she has this complex that she thinks he’s going to go to hell and that he’s a sinner.”
The show’s Latinx representation was an appealing part of the role for Cimino, too. “There is definitely more pressure on people who are LGBTQ+ in the Latinx community, where there’s this stereotype of being machismo and strong and masculine,” he says of how he hopes the show might break barriers. “In reality, there is no right way to be masculine, there is no right or wrong way to be gay and there is no right or wrong way to be a human being.”
Victor is not sure of his sexuality: as he settles into his new school, he strikes up a relationship with the school’s popular girl, Mia (Rachel Hilson), and they start dating. “Mia definitely gets caught in the middle of Victor’s uncertainty,” Hilson says. “A lot of people have been on both ends, but they have a really wonderful relationship at the core of it. They really connect as humans, honestly, and I think it was really good and important for the show to explore the fact that you can connect on an emotional level and things can get a little tricky from there.”
Indeed, the supporting cast in Love, Victor are some of the show’s best assets. Mia, for example, is going through her own issues: her mother is no longer in the picture and her father is distracted with a new girlfriend. She is also black – “and I rarely saw the ‘popular’ high-school girl who was black,” says Hilson. “I think the way that she subverts that archetype is really cool: she’s a kind person and not mean. She’s going through her things and she’s not perfect, but she really does care about people.”
Then there is Benji, Victor’s oh-so-adorable and, most importantly, out gay crush, played by the British actor George Sear. Benji gets tied up in Victor’s quest for self-discovery, too, which leads to some of the show’s most honest and emotionally affecting moments. Neither Cimino nor Sear is gay – and they are aware of the discourse around straight actors playing gay roles.
“It’s a very nuanced conversation,” Cimino says. “It hasn’t made me change the way I think about Victor, but the discussion does put into perspective how important a show like this is for people: it portrays an important thing that people have to live through every single day. People just want their stories to be told accurately and I understand that 100%.
“But, by the same token, I think that, as long as an actor really does their research and does their hardest to represent whatever community they’re portraying on screen as accurately as possible, [that’s OK]. If they don’t, they’re doing their art a disservice and they’re doing the people a disservice.”
The fact that the show had a predominantly straight cast was one of the criticisms levied at Love, Simon, as was the version of gay life – sexless and fairly heteronormative – that the film portrayed. Yet, despite casting straight actors in its lead gay roles, Love, Victor does attempt to right some wrongs, especially later in the series. Still, there will be complaints that the show is too vanilla in its presentation of queerness, a fact that Tanen is aware of.
“It’s important to show all sorts of different LGBTQ+ representation within the show,” he says. “I think one of the things that young LGBTQ+ people deal with is that they’re afraid of being perceived as gay, so they reject things that feel overtly gay. So, I don’t think we really 100% know what Victor’s identity is going to be as he figures out his place in the world. That’s the story we really want to dive into in future seasons. We want to meet different types of queer people and have Victor figure out who he is.”
Tanen promises that season two, which is in production, will offer up more diverse LGBTQ+ representation, as well as a less neutered approach to sex and sexuality. The show is also no longer tied to the “family-friendly” parameters of the main strand of Disney+, which Tanen has said makes it easier to tell stories that feel authentic.
There is still a shameful lack of television centred around LGBTQ+ lives; there should be more representation across the board. But there is something revelatory in the gentleness of Love, Victor. “In 15 years of working in this industry, I’ve never worked on a show that had a gay main character,” says Tanen. “It’s just different. It’s a different lens through which you’re telling a story. It’s a different sensibility and I think it’s really important for gay audiences, especially young gay audiences, to see themselves as the centre of the story.”