I fancy myself somewhat of a teen drama connoisseur. From Beverly Hills, 90210 to Dawson’s Creek, The O.C. to Gossip Girl and The Fosters, I’ve stayed with the genre loooong past my actual time in the target demographic.
It’s not an earth-shattering statement to announce that this genre has remained predominately white and predominantly heterosexual. As the year’s progressed, Dawson’s Creek broke ground by having the first kiss between two boys when Jack (Kerr Smith) came out. But the show wasn’t called Jack’s Creek. Not to take away from the pivotal moment this was in television history, but Jack was a supporting character who wasn’t even part of the original cast.
Love, Victor, Hulu’s new 10-episode series, finally makes a gay teen and his origin story the main storyline. Victor (Michael Cimino) isn’t the sidekick, he’s the hero. Love, Victor pays homage to all its predecessors, sharing much in common with teen dramas of yesteryear with unrequited romances, love triangles, quirky best friends, parental drama, winter carnivals with Ferris wheels, and momentous school dances. Victor is a 16-year-old boy who thinks he might be gay and is figuring out how to navigate his feelings, his conservative family, and societal pressure. The result is a series that’s poignant, funny, smart, full of fun pop-culture references (from The Breakfast Club and Billy Joel to Billie Eilish and the Ann Taylor Outlet, there’s something for everyone) and clever, believable dialogue. Honestly what more could you want in a half-hour series?
Victor and his family move from Texas to Creekwood, a suburb of Atlanta, after his father Armando (James Martinez) gets a new job as a building manager. He quickly picks up a best friend Felix (Anthony Turpel, who has a lot of Ducky from Pretty in Pink energy) and a girlfriend, popular Mia (Rachel Hilson), the daughter of the university provost. If the setting and the show’s title sound familiar, that’s because it’s set in the same world as the 2018 movie Love, Simon which followed Simon (Nick Robinson) as he came out to his friends and family. The movie’s writers Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger serve as executive producers here, infusing the show with the same charm and honesty as the movie.
Now Simon is in New York living his best life with his boyfriend Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale), and is the person Victor can confide in via text exchanges. We hear Simon in voiceovers and actually get to see him and Bram in the series’ eighth episode. It’s a chance for Victor to see how living as a gay man can be when you’re not in a small Southern suburb. “It’s all good. It’s New York. Nobody gives a shit,” Bram tells him.
As mentioned, the series uses a lot of the same tropes so often seen in teen dramas. When Simon first sees his crush Benji (George Sear) it’s the slow-motion reveal usually reserved for opposite sex attraction. Victor and Felix are from the proverbial “wrong side of the tracks” surrounded by rich kids that eat sushi for lunch, carry designer purses, and think $500 isn’t a lot of money. Star basketball player Andrew (Mason Gooding) is the big man on campus jock/jerk who barely stops short of saying, “Welcome to Creekwood, bitch.” Mia’s best friend Lake (Bebe Wood) is obsessed with appearances. The teachers and coaches are a plethora of name guest stars including Ali Wong, Natasha Rothwell, and Andy Richter who are mostly used for comic relief. Victor’s sister Pilar (Isabella Ferreira) is a sullen teen, rebel sans a lot of cause. Victor’s mom Isabel (Ana Ortiz) has some secrets of her own. School rumors get posted on “Creek Secrets” a la Gossip Girl.
Yet Victor doesn’t fit a stereotype, especially the stereotype TV so often puts gay characters in. He’s a star basketball player who is willing to stand up to bullies. But he’s still afraid of what his Columbian family will say about the fact that he’s gay. More importantly he’s not even sure if he’s gay. He thinks Mia is awesome. He likes kissing her. Her lips taste delicious. She’s funny and one of his favorite people. But what he’s discovering is that Mia does not make him feel the way Benji does. What the show emphasizes is that gay people, like all people, come in all varieties. Some love sports. Some love dressing in drag. “I wanted you to see that there’s no one way to be gay,” Bram tells him after taking him to play basketball with a gay league. Seems obvious but also seems like a message that would benefit teens and, well, basically everyone. “Turns out human sexuality is less of a straight line and more of a Cirque du Soleil show,” Benji tells him.
So while the show’s message is a great, life affirming one, Love, Victor never feels like work or a pedantic “very special episode.” The message of the show never takes over the entertainment value. It’s just a consistent hum throughout. Be yourself. Love who you are. Stand up for what you believe in. Although groundbreaking in and of itself in many way, Victor’s story is most special because of how normally the show treats it and its charismatic and adorable title character. There’s just so much here to love.
All 10 episodes of Love, Victor premiere July 17 on Hulu.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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