“Screw you, Simon!” By opening with these three words, Love, Victor might seem anything but loving, but in truth, this was the best possible way to kick things off. Although Hulu’s new series is a direct spin-off from the Love, Simon film, Victor quickly points out to Simon that “My story is nothing like yours” – and that can only be a good thing.
By exploring queer love through a fairly ordinary lens, Love, Simon set itself apart as anything but ordinary back when it hit cinemas in 2018. Greg Berlanti’s film fought to subvert teen tropes by prioritising gay love in the mainstream, but despite its good intentions, Love, Simon came under fire from members of the very community it strove to represent.
Although the film broke new ground for queer storytelling, daring to imagine a gay love story with a happy ending, some felt that Simon’s story was still far from universal. Sure, mainstream studios had never made a film like this before, but even so, Love Simon still peddled the predominantly white, middle-class stories we’re used to seeing from Hollywood.
Queerness isn’t exclusive to the privileged, and so queer representation shouldn’t be either. Even with Nick Robinson’s involvement as narrator, Love, Simon screenwriters Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger seem acutely aware of this now in their attempt to tell a whole new kind of queer story in Love, Victor.
Unlike Simon, Victor (Michael Cimino) is from a religious, working-class Latino family, and unlike Simon, Victor isn’t even sure if he’s gay or just curious. This awakening begins when the Salazar family move from Texas to Simon’s old stomping grounds in Atlanta where Creekwood High School is based.
On Victor’s first day of school, a new friend called Felix (Anthony Turpel) explains how this could be a chance to redefine himself: “So, who are you, Victor?”
Unfortunately, Victor isn’t too comfortable with his feelings just yet, so he keeps them hidden at first. So starts a voyage of self-discovery where Victor explores queerness in real time, negotiating how his connection with a girl called Mia relates to his feelings for Benji, all set against a backdrop of religious guilt and the need to belong.
While Simon struggled to keep his identity secret, Victor struggles to even figure out what his identity might be. That key distinction creates a number of insightful moments which are all too relatable for queer viewers watching at home.
Whether you hear family members unknowingly discriminate against you when you’re in earshot or whether you don’t want to seem queer so you avoid spending time with other queer people, many closeted teens will connect with Victor in ways that they couldn’t with Simon.
There’s a nuance to this journey that’s all too rarely seen on TV still, and Love, Victor excels here in particular by acknowledging these complexities without judgement. Victor makes mistakes, but all teens do, and these bumps along the way make his story far more relatable, regardless of what your own sexual identity might be.
That’s not to say Love, Victor is overly complicated or mature. Like Love, Simon before it, this TV spin-off is also made specifically with teens in mind. Love, Victor is more concerned with make-out sessions and high-school dances than the kind of adult storylines seen on something like Euphoria, and that in itself is groundbreaking in its own way too.
For decades now, teen-movie tropes have been filtered almost exclusively through a heteronormative lens. We’ve lost count of how many times a teen boy has gazed starstruck at a girl from afar while she walks in slow motion. That makes all the cute moments when Victor gawks at Benji far more defiant and subversive than they might seem at first.
After all this time, there’s still something radical about seeing two boys flirt over a coffee machine, particularly in such a mainstream venture, and it’s also here that Love, Victor improves on the film, physically showing gay love in ways we didn’t see right up until the very end of Love, Simon.
It’s important to note though that some of the criticism levelled at Love, Simon might have been a tad unfair at points. Sure, Berlanti’s film could have tried harder to represent more diverse forms of queerness, but then again, no story can explore all types of queerness at once. (What we can’t defend though is how Love, Simon femme-shamed Ethan, a problem Love, Victor thankfully avoids repeating).
If more films and shows prioritised queer leads in the mainstream, then Love, Simon, and by extension, Love, Victor wouldn’t have to shoulder so much responsibility all at once. Still, it’s reassuring to see that Love, Victor has now made a conscious effort to push diversity forward within the franchise, even if there’s still more work to be done in future seasons.
Love, Simon starts with the line, “I’m just like you,” but it’s vital we remember that this isn’t always true. After all, Simon’s story is nothing like Victor’s, and Victor’s story might be nothing like yours either, but telling these kind of stories is a huge step in the right direction. Let’s just hope future episodes maintain this momentum and go on to inspire others to share all kinds of other queer stories in the mainstream.