Usually, my “gay” breakdown reviews spotlight a movie or show that perhaps has passed people by without them knowing it. Then there are my “three episode thoughts” where I review a new show after having viewed their first three episodes. Now I’m about to do both.
Following in the footsteps of the breakout movie Love, Simon, the new Hulu series Love, Victor takes place one year after the events of Love, Simon at the same city and high school where Simon lived and attended. Simon’s historic first kiss during a winter carnival has become the stuff of legend, and that is a lot for Victor Salazar to take in. The Salazar family has just relocated from Texas to Atlanta GA and the two older Salazar kids, Victor and Pilar, are the new kids at the high school. Pilar simply doesn’t fit in because she doesn’t wear the trendy clothes. Victor, on the other hand, doesn’t know who he is, so trying to fit in is at first an impossibility. He has confusing feelings that he keeps pushed down. It’s not all bad. From the moment he arrives at his new home he is befriended by a neighbor named Felix (roughly the same age and grade in high school) and immediately is befriended by a girl named Mia, as well as prove himself to the P.E. teacher as a capable basketball player. He’s already making positive waves. There is one problem. He sees a fellow student named Benji (who is gay) and every time he looks at or interacts with him he gets all emotionally messed up inside.
However, if that isn’t enough for him to deal with, his home life isn’t as wonderful as Simon’s was. His parents are quite religious and there isn’t a very happy dynamic between his parents, with each one taking the occasional accusatory stab at the other. Then, in what seems to be a moment of shining clarity, his life is turned upside down when he sees that Benji apparently has a boyfriend.
What looked like a second take on the already popular Love, Simon, this series immediately sets itself apart by establishing some noticeable differences. This is easy enough to do given that this series has 10 episodes for its first season allowing for the multiple storylines to each have their own “slow-burn,” whereas Love, Simon had to compress much of that into a feature-length movie. However, there are some common elements between the two, namely the types of characters who make up the central core of both properties. Victor (Michael Cimino) has his new goofy friend Felix (Anthony Turpel), who has a thing for the über popular girl Lake (Bebe Wood), but she doesn’t give him the time of day. Victor is becoming good friends with Mia (Rachel Hilson) as he tries to understand his own emotions during this awkward time, while at the same time Mia appears to be developing some strong feelings for Victor. Much of that little game parallels the complicated relationships and friendships seen in Love, Simon. Where this all changes is how Victor is characterized. Because his family life has gone through some upheaval he promptly became “the strong one” in the family. He’s the one his parents can trust and he will always put the needs of his family over his well-being. What we see is a character who is slowly starting to spiral into an all too familiar form of teenaged insanity. As for the rest of the main characters, by the end of the third episode, we get a glimpse into their backgrounds that inform who they have become by the time we meet them, and they are all believable. Victor wants to be strong for his entire family. Mia has absent parents. Lake is the daughter of a local news anchor and feels invisible because of her. Felix is the goofy kid who wants to be accepted, but his outgoing personality makes him an outcast. Writing high-school-age characters can be challenging under any circumstance, but these are believable. Being a teenager is one of the most difficult periods of a person’s life as they try to understand who they are and what their role in society is to be. Love, Victor also shows how growing up, along with out of control emotions, can easily cloud one’s judgment and make them do some incredibly stupid things.
On a personal note, this series pushed so many buttons in me, just as Love, Simon did, but for entirely different reasons. Where Love, Simon brought me back to that period in my life where I was wildly crushing on another student (who was ridiculously straight), Love, Victor is addressing the other element I was going through at that time and that is denial. I wasn’t denying who I was as a gay teenager. I was denying myself the opportunity to explore and learn about myself and what I was starting to feel. Growing up I felt the need to be the strong one in my family, which sadly had the opposite effect as my emotional life went spiraling out of control landing me into full-blown depression, which has been a constant part of my life ever since. The need for Victor to be the strong one is addressed in the very first episode and it left me in tears.
After three episodes I can say that I think the cast is pretty solid, starting with Cimino as Victor. He has that sweet, innocent face that the character needs to make him immediately sympathetic, and for an actor of his age, he shows a great deal of subtlety as we see a wide range of emotions pass over Victor’s face.
Turpel as Felix is such a goofy joy to watch. He’s the kind of friend that we all deserve to have, and Turpel makes it look so very easy. Brooks as Mia shows a quiet strength and vulnerability to her character that makes people want to like her, and Wood as Lake is the greatest surprise of them all. In the first episode, she immediately comes off as your cliché shallow student, but by the end of the third episode, we see that she has so much more depth to her personality. She has a great moment where she confronts someone and expresses her desires to be seen by others as a real person, and that she is awesome. Brooks doesn’t deliver that line in a way that comes off as grandiose, but as confident and self-assured. When that third episode was over I found myself regretting that I, as a viewer, had misjudged Lake.
Lastly, there are Victor’s parents, James Martinez as the dad Armando, and Ana Ortiz (Hilda in Ugly Betty) as the mom Isabel. Their on-screen chemistry can only be described as fiery, whether it’s a moment where they are contentious towards each other, or if they are showing a new-found love in their marriage. While Love, Simon pretty much focused on the character of Simon (who does make “appearances” throughout the series as he corresponds with Victor instant messaging), this series can focus on the ancillary characters as well showing that people from all walks of life have their difficulties and challenges. The parents are going through a difficult, but very realistically portrayed, rough patch, which adds to the layers to all of the characters. Victor is affected, who then affects both Mia and Felix, which then affects Mia. Even Benji (George Sear) will ultimately be affected, although by the third episode his interactions with Victor have been downplayed.
June is Pride Month, and what better series to celebrate Pride than with this marvelous series. I know there are many more stories to watch as we see these amazing characters grow and develop but after only three episodes I would say that Love, Victor is a great series that not only celebrates what it means to be LGBTQ+ but also reminds us of the challenges that we, and the people around us, are going through as we try to get through this thing called life.