The mission and shortcomings of “Love, Simon” were laid bare in its very first line. “I’m just like you,” says Simon (Nick Robinson), an affable white high school kid who promptly introduces us to his happily married parents and upper middle-class home. The thing that sets him apart, he continues, is that he’s secretly gay. What he doesn’t say, or even fully realize, is that the reason he can be secretly gay is because everything else about him reads as straight. With one exception (that he often notes ultimately won’t be a problem for his liberal friends and family to accept), he’s living life at its lowest difficulty level. That doesn’t make his story unworthy of a movie (and not for nothing, a movie about any other kind of queer teen maybe couldn’t have happened on the scale it did without intervention from wary studios). But it does make “I’m just like you” awfully telling of the audience Simon believes he’s speaking to.
New spinoff series “Love, Victor” addresses this issue head-on, kinda. Victor (Michael Cimino) is also closeted, but as he writes to the now legendary Simon via Instagram DM, they are not the same. He’s new in town after moving to Creekwood from Texas, he’s Latino, his parents (Ana Ortiz and James Martinez) are religious (and on the rocks), and his family lives in a modest apartment complex rather than a modest mansion. The way Victor unveils this information, it seems like the show’s going down a checklist of things that could address criticism of Simon’s WonderBread story and make Victor’s different. So it’s weird, then, that “Love, Victor” ends up feeling so similar to “Love, Simon,” anyway.
Over the course of 10 episodes, the show — made for Disney Plus before migrating to Hulu for the sin of alluding to sex and alcohol — follows Victor’s struggle to make a life for himself in Creekwood while figuring out his own confusing desires. He gets along so well with cool girl Mia (Rachel Hilson) that, for a while, he convinces himself he’s attracted to her, too. All the while, though, his feelings for Benji, the sweet guy he works with at the coffee shop, keep growing until he can’t ignore them anymore. That Victor comes from a relatively poorer, vaguely religious Latino family barely registers beyond someone calling his sister “Dora” — as in, the Explorer — in the first episode.
As a season of TV, “Love, Victor” has the advantage of getting to put Victor’s coming-out process into slower motion. His relationship with Mia, though based on an increasingly uncomfortable lie, really does bloom into a friendship that he treasures. Victor’s rival, unlike Simon’s straight up blackmailer, slowly but surely reveals that he is actually a human being under the macho bravado he dishes out between classes. Given more time, everyone gets a bit more depth to them, including Mia, her best friend Lake (Bebe Wood), Victor’s fracturing family, and his eccentric new friend Felix (Anthony Turpel, serving nerdy teen Christian Slater). As for Victor himself, he’s about as much of a blank canvas as Simon, but Cimino’s ability to unfurl a genuine smile at every turn nonetheless makes it easy to understand why people like Mia are so drawn to him.
Central to the conceit of a straight-passing guy trying desperately to keep his secret under wraps, Victor, like Simon before him, wrinkles his nose at the idea of being “too gay.” He eventually visits Simon and his boyfriend Bram (Keinyan Lonsdale) in New York City, where they’ve been a bit freer to express themselves, but it’s only when Victor meets a group of hyper-masculine gay basketball players that he feels comfortable. This clash of societal expectations and personal insecurities could make for a rich area of exploration for “Love, Victor,” but instead, what happens in New York City stays in New York City. For as much as the show clearly aimed to parallel the movie, it’s hard not to wonder what a “Love, [X]” series might look like if, say, it were about a gay person whose coming out wasn’t about blowing everyone’s minds about the fact that some gay people are traditionally masculine, too.
All told, “Love, Victor” ambles along, deliberately bland and pleasantly toothless. Having seen the whole season, it’s completely appropriate for its young adult audience and therefore downright ridiculous that Disney Plus punted “Love, Victor” to Hulu for sensitive content concerns. (If “Euphoria” is a rollercoaster, “Love, Victor” is barely a paddleboat.) And as with “Love, Simon,” your interest in it may depend on whether or not you can count yourself as part of that target demo. Victor and the show itself — complete with sensitive jocks, sparkly school dances, and painfully earnest handwritten love letters — just want to be your sweet, and ultimately palatable, teenage dream.
“Love, Victor” premieres June 17 on Hulu.