This Love, Victor review contains no spoilers.
And while its made strides in updating its queer representation to the modern context, there are still some significant oversights. As a Pride month offering Love, Victor is something of a complicated one, as Love, Simon was before it, though the writers have clearly learned at least some of their lessons this time around.
Nick Robinson reprises his role as Simon Spier (largely via voiceover) in a much larger part than expected, messaging Victor in long paragraphs at least once an episode. Their messages frame the episodes but, unlike typical voiceover (since they’re being sent to another character) the contrast between Victor’s intentions and actions serves as further characterization rather than merely a weak device. Still, it’s hard not to spend much of this time thinking Victor would benefit from speaking to a queer man of color (like, say, Simon’s boyfriend, Keiynan Lonsdale as Bram). When they do finally spend time together, it’s a high point that helps Simon see that there’s no one way to be gay.
Michael Cimino is adorable as Victor, and it’s nice to see a teenage character onscreenwho actually looks like a teenagere. Isabella Ferreira is excellent as Victor’s sister Pilar, though the script never gives her quite enough to do. She’s so good that she almost ekes out a love triangle on chemistry and talent alone. Anthony Turpel is an absolute knockout and one to watch as offbeat neighbor kid Felix. He take’s Victor under his wing on day one and worms his way into the entire family, but by the end of the season it’s hard to believe he’s meant to be an oddball and not a romantic lead.
Rachel Hilson shines as popular girl Mia, who has a homelife more complicated than anyone knows. Victor thinks he likes her and could see a simple, straight future with Mia. That’s a tricky line to walk, and the show is careful to develop Mia fully herself and to continually acknowledge how painful this all could be for her. Meanwhile, Victor gets to use Simon to tease out how a person could wish to be straight – or more likely in this case, given all the loving slow-mo shows of Benji, not yet know if they might be pan or queer or bi – without the show pushing a homophobic agenda.
Bebe Wood brings depth to Lake, Mia’s best friend who starts the season as a shallow gossip hound and ends it in a far more interesting place, like so many of the characters, including Mason Gooding as bully/rival Andrew. Truly, the biggest strength of Love, Victor is its ability to depart from the tired stereotypes that cheapen media meant for young adults, while still using genre tropes – like the road trip, or the found letter – deliberately.
In many ways, Love, Victor comes in response to some of the biggest criticisms to Love, Simon. The lead is a kid of color whose family struggles with money, rather than a white, middle (or let’s be real: upper or upper-middle) class kid. Victor has to work to pay the uniform fee to be on the football team, while Simon and his friends all seem to have cars, giant rooms, and no concern about how to fill up the gas tank or pay for college. The show reconciles this by making the class differential a point of friction for Victor, though he’s not the only one struggling with it.
Another bit of realism that grounds the show (and contrasts it with its predecessor) is that there are out teens in Victor’s world. We meet Benji (George Sear) in the first episode, and it’s clear that everyone thinks he’s both hot and cool in the way that only teenagers can be, but that doesn’t prevent other classmates from warning Victor about paying Benji too much attention, so he doesn’t come off “the wrong way.”
One of the biggest points of contention of Love, Simon is that some folks simply think the closet doesn’t exist anymore or that it’s not that big of a deal. Maybe not for some, but the vague notion that marriage equality ended discrimination and even casual anti-LGBTQ sentiment is incorrect and actively harmful to the continued struggle for full equality. Like Love, Simon before it, Love, Victor positions itself as an assimilationist love story. It irks in some moments more than others.
Benji’s boyfriend tries to make a point about how LGBTQ couples don’t have to act like straight ones, but so poorly that it feels intentional, especially since he’s the bad guy of the moment. Victor spends quite a few episodes dating a girl, hoping he could be straight, and planning to gear himself up for some good old-fashioned hetero sex.There’s an obvious tension between the reality of having a character expressing ideas that are true to himself and realistic to some people’s experience – but ultimately stem from a homophobic society – and the show tacitly endorsing those ideas.
Victor astutely grounds its protagonist in a family where he has almost no reassurance of the kind of picture-perfect coming out that Jen Garner provided for Simon. One of the realest moments of the first episode is Victor’s jealous, frustrated anger that causes him to reach out to Simon in the first place. Victor’s father continually worries that his little brother won’t be macho enough, and the family’s home life is disrupted by their recent move to town and the secrets that precipitated it. Victor, the eldest and the peacemaker, is both genuinely fearful of not receiving support, but also worried that his questioning will be one more “disruption,” than his family’s fragile ecosystem can take. For those who wonder why a movie like Love, Simon or the follow-up show Love, Victor even needed to be made, Victor’s fear makes the case for him.
If you’re someone who thought Love, Simon was clearly written by someone who came of age in the 90s and did little to update the cadence of its dialogue or cultural reference, I have some bad news for you – that hasn’t exactly improved here. The titular letters to Simon are sent via Insta DM, which the youths have assured me is good and correct, but other than that, the show joins Simon in that it has some of the least relatable teen-speak of Berlanti’s work. That wasn’t a dealbreaker for this writer by a longshot, but your mileage may vary.
It’s worth examining why, above and beyond Victor’s realistic fears as a baby gay, Love, Victor retains the assimilationist, even bland affect that marked Love, Simon as what critics called a straight love story but for a rich, white, gay kid? There is a charming Latinx teen finding their way in a conservative culture with a decidedly more queer bent over on One Day at a Time, where the Alvarez family lovingly teases Elena (an out lesbian dating a nonbinary teen) for her social justice warrior status, which is often conflated with her queer cultural markers, just as in real life.
As Victor learns, not everyone needs to be that kind of gay – whatever that means – but does that mean the show needs to be quite so buttoned up? Perhaps the best episode sees Victor in New York, learning from his “elders” and coming to not only accept but enjoy the more femme and flamboyant side of life. Love, Victor would do well to lean into this and keep providing other teens who live in conservative areas or far away from fellow queer folks a sense of community and a whole pantheon of futures they can dream of.