Once upon a time (in 2018) there was a little movie called Love, Simon about a closeted gay teen named – you guessed it – Simon, who’s struggling to come out to his family and friends at Creekwood High School in Atlanta, Georgia. There’s a ray of hope when he learns about the online confessions of an anonymous gay student who goes by the name “Blue.” They become “pen” pals and exchange details about their struggles. Simon spends the rest of the movie looking for “Blue” (and avoiding being blackmailed by the person who found their emails. Teen bullies are legit).
Desperate for his own love story, he decides to stay on the Ferris wheel at the school carnival for god knows how long until “Blue” comes to meet him, which of course he does and they share a passionate kiss (raising the expectations of teens everywhere and setting them up for disappointment). Everyone roots for them. The rest is history.
Forward to now and there’s a spin off of Love, Simon called Love, Victor.
It’s a Hulu Original series about Victor Salazar (Michael Cimino), who’s recently moved from Texas to Atlanta with his simp dad, Bible-thumper mom, Olivia Rodrigo-esque sister Pilar, and precocious little brother Adrian. It’s still set at Creekwood High, but Simon is off to college now (still with his Ferris Wheel boyfriend. I don’t know about that but OK).
In two seasons, Love, Victor has managed to not only get into the struggle of being a closeted teen from Texas with conservative-ish Latin parents, but also the aftermath of coming out for many young teens of color.
For the most part, the series and the original film have a lot in common; it’s the same city, same high school, around the same time. Both the film and spin off have a wholesome vibe (not enough for Disney+ apparently, where it was originally supposed to stream). Victor is a very good kid, like too good. He’s the dream son. He’s a kind, good student, a star basketball player, in love with his mom (like I expect my son to be). He’s the kind of kid who apologizes for “cussing” when he says “shitty.”
But the twist here is – I guess not much of a twist, but a different perspective- Victor is from a religious Latin family who are not as liberal and progressive as Simon’s parents were. This is a huge game changer. It becomes not just a matter of coming out to his new friends and the rest of the school, but to his family who has no precedent on how to integrate a gay family member into their lives.
While Simon knew he was gay and it was more about finding a way to come out and experience the kind of love story he wanted, Victor – having had a more machismo upbringing – really doesn’t know what he is until a dreamboat named Benji comes into the picture. But even then, he denies his feelings and tries to be a “normal” straight guy.
Love, Simon was a hit (and for good reason) but Love, Victor takes it to the next level by really taking the time to get into the heart of how someone’s ethnic or religious upbringing affects their personal lives. We all (I’m speaking to my fellow brown people) experience that to some extent, but homosexuality for many of our family members, no matter how assimilated we think they are, is still very taboo. And this is what Victor struggles with.
So what happens? Glad you asked. (SPOILERS!)
Season 1 starts with Victor moving to Atlanta. He’s been there for two minutes and already makes a loyal best friend, Felix (Anthony Turpel), accidentally seduces the “hottest girl in school” with just his dazzling toothpaste ad smile and cute but awkward banter, and does so well during PE class that the coach basically begs him to join the basketball team.
Enter Benji, Creekwood’s hottest boy in school. Good news, he’s openly gay. Bad news, he’s taken. Worse news, none of that matters because Victor is pretending to be very straight.
When the Vice Principal breaks down the legend of Simon Spier’s epic Ferris wheel love story, Victor reaches out to Simon for help. Screw you for having the world’s most perfect, accepting parents. The world’s most supportive friends. Because for some of us, it’s not that easy.
Throughout the first season, Victor attempts to fake it ’til he makes it, hoping that dating Mia Brooks (Rachel Hilson) will help him realize he’s straight. They strike up a real friendship, which he mistakes for romantic love, and convinces himself this is his true self; a straight, handsome, star basketball player with smooth, velvety European milk chocolate skin. Happy and normal. I can do that.
But considering how horny teens are, it’s only a matter of time before Mia wants to move to the next level, and that’s where his hetero delusion starts to unravel and he realizes he’s thirsty for Benji (who isn’t, though, amirite?)
Confused and fed up with dealing with the question of his sexuality alone, Victor books a last-minute trip to New York to visit Simon and his group of eclectic LGBTQ friends, who show him how freeing it is to live life as the person you truly are.
This is life changing for Victor, especially when he meets a group of gay basketball players who completely shatter his perception of masculinity and homosexuality, a common misconception even the most woke among us can have. (Think the latest news about openly gay NFL player Carl Nassib.) “He’s a basketball player, so I guess I never saw that coming,” Victor’s dad confides in a friend over drinks, trying to wrap his head around his son’s new identity.
Feeling invincible after his gaycation, Victor decides it’s time. He comes out to Felix first, then as his parents announce their separation (they’re a hot mess), he comes out to them as well. His father Armando, more confused than hurt, is cautious but kind… but then there’s his mom, Isabel, who for someone who had an affair with her husband’s boss is kind of judgey about other people’s “sins.”
I want to be patient with Isabel because I know women like her who’ve been so conditioned from childhood by religion or cultural biases that all the rainbow tulle skirts from Target and “Love is Love” bumper stickers in the world can’t get them to change their minds. And Benji is no help either, and needs to shut that beautiful pouty mouth of his when it comes to understanding Victor’s family dynamics.
I don’t know if the show meant to do this on purpose, but Victor’s exchanges with Benji (who’s a good guy, don’t get me wrong) really conveyed how cultural barriers can’t allow you to see why someone deals with their family the way they do. Victor is not being a coward when he tries to calm his mom down about catching him and Benji in bed together, but Benji, with his “this is a free country” upbringing, does not understand why Victor’s mom is not totally on board with “gay sex.”
So season 2 deals a lot with Victor actually in a gay relationship and how he navigates that with a mother who’s at best ambivalent–until the bigoted priest she confides in tells Adrian that his brother is basically going to hell for being gay. And that’s when Isabel slowly comes to see the rainbow light. As much as I disliked her, I felt for her and appreciated the show giving her the time and space to come to terms with how she really feels about her son rather than what she’s been conditioned to feel about homosexuality.
In Season 2, we also meet Pilar’s friend, Rahim (Anthony Keyvan), another closeted student at Creekwood High who’s inspired by Victor to come out to his devout Muslim Iranian parents. (So there’s a spinoff of the spinoff sort of like a Russian nesting doll of gay teens coming out.) It’s not obvious right away whether or not Rahim and Victor are gonna get it on, but given they both have religious immigrant parents, it’s obvious that Victor will connect with Rahim in a way he can’t with someone like Benji. But what do I know.
Watching Love, Victor, I thought about my high school and how many kids in the late 90s/early 2000s were suffering inside because they were hiding their sexuality and didn’t have shows like this to lure them safely out of the closet and their peers and parents out of their ignorance.
I also thought about my high school because the show was filmed at my actual high school. Rahim would have been with us on the Persian Hill where we didn’t need to make up fake Muslim holidays (Festival of a Thousand Pistachios) to ditch school. We’d just drive out of the parking lot or get out of the man-sized hole in the fence by the football field. (The Los Angeles Unified School District did not have the funds to keep tabs on anyone.)
Those were simpler times, though, when no one knew where you were because social media didn’t exist and Mekhi Phifer was the hot f*ck boy in the Brandy and Monica “The Boy is Mine” music video and not Mia’s “old” dad who still writes checks.
At first glance, Love, Victor seems like an after school special trying to force an agenda down our throats. Sure, it is doing some of that. (Which I’m not mad about, because what is the point if it isn’t trying to convey a perspective?) But the stories of Victor and his friends’ lives become real dark and unsentimental despite the show’s humor and levity.
Besides getting their love lives and horniness in order, the Creekwood High teens have home lives that are also a mess. Felix and his bipolar mom, Mia and her absent workaholic father, Lake and her image-obsessed TV mom, and of course Victor and Pilar, whose parents–despite moving across the country to start fresh–cannot rebuild what they lost after the infidelity. (Hope it was worth it, Isabel!)
There’s enough drama to go around and I’m literally invested in all of it.
Season 2 ends with Victor having an epiphany about who he wants to be with (for now–who knows with these kids). He rings the bell, the door opens, he says hi and that’s it. Now I’m just supposed to sit here like an idiot reading theories on Twitter about who’s behind the door. I’m shocked and disappointed at all the Vengi fans though. I’m not hating on Benji, but I hope it’s Rahim.
Just watch them here sucking at karaoke by nailing this cover of Justin Bieber’s “Holy” on stage at a gay club (in the middle of the day? How?). They clearly belong together.