Friends, a couple of months ago this show pulled me out of a total streaming funk. Oh, sure I have a long list of promising movies and shows, but everything I started watching made my eyeballs roll and my brain drift. I just couldn’t settle, and within five minutes I’d start looking for something new. That is, until I decided to give Love, Victor a shot. The show had been popping up in my algorithmically determined recommendations for months but, for whatever reason, I didn’t think it was for me. How wrong I was! Once I started watching, my eyeballs and my brain were completely focused on this half-hour teen dramedy that, over the course of a ten-episode season, gently and sensitively explores self-discovery, sexuality, friendship, and family relationships.
Before we dig in, you should know that Love, Victor takes place in the same universe as the movie Love, Simon, but you don’t need to have seen the movie to get the show. (I haven’t watched the movie yet, and maybe that’s why I put off starting the show.)
Victor Salazar (Michael Cimino) is initially very excited when his father Armando (James Martinez) gets a new job and their family makes a mid-school-year move from their home in Texas to Atlanta, GA. It’s an opportunity, he thinks, for a fresh start. A chance to be open, at least at school, about the fact that he thinks he’s gay. But then, on his first day at Creekwood High, his fantasy comes head to head with reality. First, the assistant principal waxes poetic about Simon, a gay kid with very accepting parents who spent a year messaging with another secretly gay kid before finally making a declaration of love, and having his first kiss on the ferris wheel during the school’s Winter Carnival in front of cheering classmates. I mean, it’s a great story, but you can imagine how daunting it would to have that as the benchmark against which your peers are going to measure other gay love stories. Not that people should be comparing, but teenagers are definitely going to teenage.
Anyway, on top of that, Victor encounters enough casual homophobia at school—kids calling each other gay in the locker room—that when the opportunity to out himself as gay or questioning presents itself, he punts and lets people continue to assume he’s straight. Fair enough. Plus, his basketball skills and flirtation with Mia (Rachel Hilson), who is extremely wealthy, popular, and kind, draws the attention of Andrew (Mason Gooding), the leader of the jocks who is well-known for also being an asshole. When Andrew hears that Victor is thrown by the $500 fee to join the basketball team, Andrew starts a GoFundMe in his name, thus making Victor a charity-case in the eyes of many of his far wealthier classmates. When Victor publicly confronts Andrew about it, Lake (Bebe Wood), Mia’s best friend, daughter of a local news anchor celebrity, and keeper of the “Creek Secrets” gossip blog, writes a hit piece titled “The New Kid’s Got a Short Fuse.” When he gets home, Victor pours out his frustrations with school, his very religious and conservative parents, and his own insecurities about his sexuality into a message to Simon (who he finds on Instagram). Much to Victor’s surprise, though not to ours, Simon responds and the two begin a correspondence where Simon becomes Victor’s confidante and sounding board, which we hear via voiceovers.
Victor talks a lot about how he just wants to be normal, by which he mostly means straight. He comes from an incredibly close-knit, deeply religious Latino family. His parents are incredibly loving and supportive, but they definitely hope and expect that all three of their children will fit their expectations of normal. In an early scene, his father makes an off-hand comment about another man seeming a little flojito, which he says with a slight lisp and limp wrist. His mother, Isabela (Ana Ortiz) laughs off the comment while Victor reamains silent and uncomfortable.
For them, Victor’s younger sister Pilar (Isabella Ferreira) is about as boundary-pushing as they can imagine. Pilar, in her ripped Nirvana t-shirts, loud music, and angry outbursts about being torn away from the love of her life is the embodiment of teen angst. She gets detention on her first day at Creekwood for fighting girls who, among other things, tell her that she looks like “Dora, if she shopped at a thrift store,” When this happens, Isabela tells Victor that she’s so thankful that he’s her rock and she never has to worry about him. Oof. She means so well, but it’s a lot to put on anyone’s shoulders.
It’s obvious from Isabela and Armando’s constant arguing and hushed conversations that something more complicated and emotional than just a new job precipitated their sudden move to Atlanta, which is devastating to all three children. Although he worries they won’t accept his sexuality, it’s clear that Victor’s family is the emotional center of his world. They are, generally speaking, incredibly open and honest with each other. Isabela and Armando listen to their children and treat them with respect, and the kids in turn have always looked up to them as partners in an ideal marriage. (Though, soon enough, a betrayal will challenge that ideal.) So you can understand how, as much as Victor wants to be his true self, he also wants to do everything he can to ensure nothing he does hurts his family. You know, it’s not an easy thing to present characters as positive and loving but also homophobic and intolerant. It’s a credit to the show that they manage to find that delicate balance.
So it’s not a huge surprise when Victor decides perhaps he’s bisexual and starts a relationship with Mia, who he finds easy to talk to and be around. Plus, he likes that her lips are very soft when they kiss. But, it’s clear from the start that his feelings for her are nothing compared to what he feels for Benji (George Sear), his openly gay classmate and coffee shop coworker. Whenever Benji shows up, Victor’s eyes glaze over, his jaw goes slack, and he loses track of everything else. Whenever Victor is watching him, Benji—who has the floppy hair that every teenage boy crush with straight hair has had since time immemorial—is filmed in a glorious soft-focus slo-mo that perfectly conveys exactly how electrifying and wondrous his presence is to Victor. (There’s a moment when Benji is showing Victor how to pull an espresso and froth milk. Victor is barely able to concentrate because he is so distracted by things like Benji biting his lower lip, but it’s all going more or less okay until Victor tries to froth the milk—good gracious that sounds extremely dirty—and gets a little ahead of himself, causing hot milk to erupt all over both of them. I guffawed at the very obvious visual symbolism of what was likely going on inside Victor’s body.) Over the course of the season, we watch Victor, sometimes helped by Simon but mostly on his own, gradually come to terms with his own feelings and become more open to discussing sexuality in general.
Of the many things I enjoyed about this show is that while it centers on Victor and his family, it also sensitively follows the stories of the friends that he makes at Creekwood. Obviously, all of them have secret parts of themselves, and I really enjoyed the way the show spun those out and eventually had the characters share them with someone else. Mia, who spends much of her time alone in a huge mansion while her university president father travels, is still coming to terms with her mother abandoning her when she was twelve. And, of course, she’s trying to make sense of why Victor is kind, attentive, and generous, but extremely hesitant to do more than kiss her. Her best friend Lake (for ONCE it’s the white girl who is the best friend), who is obsessed with popularity and dating the right person, has her own insecurities that we eventually learn about. Andrew has the adorable crinkling raised eyebrow that every attractive but obnoxiously egotistical teenage jock has had since time immemorial. I swear in parts he is channeling Steff from Pretty In Pink (if Steff actually had a soul). Anyway, at first he is nothing more than a posturing jock, but he eventually opens up into a more nuanced character who I kind of ended up rooting for. And then there is Felix (Anthony Turpel), who lives in the apartment above Victor and immediately adopts him as his best friend. Felix is goofy, strange, and silly, but also so loyal, devoted, flawed, intelligent, attentive, and caring that I love him the best of all. (Even if he does insist on giving long-winded talks on how to play Settlers of Catan.) And yes, Felix warns Victor that he shouldn’t get too close to Benji lest people “get the wrong idea,” which is far less than ideal, but I think it’s less explicit homophobia and more about his own insecurities when it comes to other people’s opinions. He’s spent most of his life being known as “Lone Stone” (a name that Andrew bestowed on him after starting a rumor that Felix only has one testicle) and being socially ostracized because of his interests and social class, while desperately wanting to have intimate friendships. It seems that Victor is the first real friend who is willing to stand up to the popular kids’ taunting.
Of course, no teenage show worth anything is complete without a love triangle. And this one has a doozy! Felix has a crush on Lake who doesn’t know he exists and who has a crush on Andrew who finds Lake annoying and who has a crush on Mia who only has eyes for Victor, except she might have a secret smooching history with someone else. (It’s pretty obvious who it is once you start to watch.) Did I just write all that so I could tell you that Felix confides in Victor that he’s writing a romance novel set in 1875 where he is a sheriff and Lake is a widowed candlemaker? Uh, yeah. It absolutely made me squeal with joy!
The most awkward characters in the series are the teachers, of which there are few. But the acting vice principal (Natasha Rothwell) and the health teacher (Ali Wong) feel like caricatures of over-sharing, jaded adults. It’s such a contrast to the rest of the characters (both teen and adult) that it stood out and irked me. Perhaps they’ll hit differently for you. I mean, it’s Ali Wong, for goodness sakes! I really, really wanted to like her character. And, since I’m kvetching, while I understand how the correspondence between Victor and Simon helps to anchor the story and drive it forward, I hope that, as Victor opens up to more people, it will become less a part of the show. It would make sense that as he matures and has a better community he would rely less and less on Simon. May it be so!
This show, like its protagonist, is sweet, vulnerable, and earnest with just enough comedy, drama, and subterfuge to keep everything engaging. There are definitely more critically-acclaimed shows, maybe better written shows, and certainly more boundary-pushing shows that demonstrate more sides of queerness, but this series is well-written, well-produced, incredibly emotionally intelligent, touching, sensitive, and delightful to watch. The characters are interesting and empathetic. The plot lines are comfortably predictable, but with enough surprises to your eyes focused and your mind engaged. It’s a series that seems to openly recognize its debt to 80s rom-coms while effectively recreating the genre in the form of a gradually emerging queer coming-of-age story.