Two years ago, “Love, Simon” became the first romantic comedy about a gay teenager ever released in theaters across the nation. Sweet and funny, it tugged at heartstrings as 17-year-old Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) struggled with first love and coming out of the closet.
Simon spent much of the film texting and falling in love with another gay kid at his high school, even though he didn’t find out who that other teen was until the end of the movie. In the TV series sequel “Love, Victor,” the new kid at school has heard all about Simon’s story, complete with the happy ending. And Victor Salazar (Michael Cimino) texts Simon to let him know exactly how he feels about it:
“I just want to say — screw you! 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.”
And, just like that, we’re off and running with a sequel that captures the spirit and feel of both “Love, Simon” and the novel on which it was based, “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” by Becky Albertalli. (All 10 episodes start streaming Wednesday on Hulu.)
Victor wasn’t wrong. Not that it’s easy for anyone to come out, but Simon had the benefit of a loving, supportive family, with successful parents who didn’t have religious objections to his sexuality. They lived in white privilege in a big house in the right part of town.
Victor’s family, on the other hand, has just moved to suburban Atlanta from Texas. The Salazars are blue collar. They’re Hispanic. They’re religious. They move into a not-exactly-spacious apartment in a less affluent part of town. His parents’ marriage is in trouble. And Victor is struggling.
Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, who wrote the “Love, Simon” screenplay, return as writer/producers for “Love, Victor,” which features an almost entirely new cast of characters. There are a few appearances by characters from the movie, but I won’t spoil it by telling you who.
Except to say that Victor continues to text with Simon, who becomes a mentor of sorts while he’s off at college in New York. (Robinson provides the voice of Simon, and he’s credited as a producer.)
Victor isn’t even sure he’s gay. Or, at least, he can’t admit it to himself, let alone to his family and new friends. While this notion may seem quaint to today’s out-and-proud gay teens, not everyone’s experience is the same as theirs. Victor’s experience rings true for him and for a lot of gay teens in Utah and elsewhere.
It’s worth pointing out that Victor quickly develops a crush on classmate Benjie (George Sear), who’s not only openly gay but has a steady boyfriend.
“Love, Simon” ran less than two hours; Season 1 of “Love, Victor” runs a total of almost five hours. So it makes sense that the supporting characters move more toward center stage — not just Victor’s parents (Ana Ortiz and James Martinez), sister (Isabella Ferreira) and brother (Mateo Fernandez), but his friends, too. His geeky new best friend, Felix (Anthony Turpel), has a huge crush on Lake (Bebe Wood), who yearns for popularity. And Victor sort of falls into a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship with Lake’s best friend, Mia (Rachel Naomi Hilson), who’s going through plenty of family drama of her own.
Yes, the gay boy dates a straight girl, hoping that maybe he’s not gay after all. This is fiction, but that’s still a fact of life for some young gay people.
“Love, Victor” certainly follows well-worn paths with many of its plot lines, particularly with the supporting characters. But that’s sort of the romantic comedy formula, right? If we didn’t get some happy endings, we’d be disappointed.
And there are definitely some surprises along the way. Plus, “Love, Victor” deserves credit for its lack of any cartoonish bad guys (or girls), with the possible exception of Victor’s homophobic grandparents.
“Love, Simon” very much felt like an update on a John Hughes movie — sort of like “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” or “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” with a gay teen instead of a straight teen at the center of the story. And “Love, Simon” wasn’t about sex: It was about first love and being who you are.
“Love, Victor” is a different story about that same thing. You don’t have to be gay to like it, but if you are gay — or you’re the parent of a gay teenager — it’s the sort of thing that will give you hope without delivering anything approaching a preachy message.
Disney can’t pat itself on the back too hard for “Love, Victor,” however. The series was originally slated for Disney+, but was switched to Hulu because, apparently, somebody at Disney thought it was too adult for Disney+ viewers. (Disney hasn’t confirmed, but it has not denied that was the reason for the switch.) But “Love, Victor” isn’t any less appropriate than the made-in-Utah series “Andi Mack” and “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” which are streaming on Disney+.
(The “Love, Victor” premiere is timed to Pride Month. The debut date was moved up two days so as not to conflict with Juneteenth on June 19.)
Season 1 does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, and Disney has yet to order a second season. I hope that happens.