Unlike Simon Spier — the young, gay closeted hero of award-winning novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and its appealing film adaptation Love, Simon — high schooler Victor Salazar isn’t sure he’s gay.
While Simon had to contend with coming out before a blackmailer outed him to their entire school, Victor is still figuring out whether he likes boys or girls — or both. All he knows is that he’d like to be “happy and normal,” and, if he can, remain his family’s golden child.
Hulu’s spinoff series Love, Victor (★★★☆☆) takes advantage of its ten half-hour episodes to play out Victor’s coming-of-age as an affecting exploration and discovery. Created by Love, Simon screenwriters Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, the show locates its heart and rhythm by episode two, overcoming some forced early exposition and a generally uninspired visual style.
Love, Victor may look bare-bones compared to the blockbuster production values of streaming dramedies like Netflix’s Space Force or Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but the value is in the storytelling and direction, which develop an emotionally rich world of characters around the show’s winning lead, newcomer Michael Cimino.
As Victor, Cimino projects stability and decency stepping in as peacemaker between his often bickering parents Isabel (Ugly Betty’s amazing Ana Ortiz) and Armando (James Martinez), or taking care of pouty teenage sister Pilar (an excellent Isabella Ferreira) and younger brother Adrian (Mateo Fernandez). And he has great chemistry with both Rachel Hilson, playing Victor’s girl-crush Mia, and with George Sear, Victor’s boy-crush Benji, who’s already been down the coming-out road.
Victor’s circuitous journey towards the happy and normal he seeks takes several wrong turns. He and his family and friends, including best bud and downstairs neighbor Felix (Anthony Turpel), own up to major mistakes along the way — secrets, betrayals, a DUI, an unexpected pregnancy. Hulu’s definitely grazing teen-soapy, CW territory here. But writing and performances invested with emotional intelligence (and just plain intelligence) ensure that even the most predictable of these plotlines still offers insight or truth, and a relatable sense of dread or joy.
In fact, it’s those moments in between, when a scene might take the characters from laughter to anger, discomfort, and tears, that Love, Victor handles especially well. The show also finds a cute device for connecting Victor to Simon, who has an idea what it’s like to walk in the confused teen’s shoes and who provides moral support from his happy gay life via emails and texts (read in voiceover by Love, Simon star Nick Robinson, a producer on the show). As one character jokes, Victor’s coming-of-age or coming out might be a tale as old as time, but Love, Victor keeps it fresh with its heartfelt commitment to getting his story just right.
Love, Victor starts streaming on Wednesday, June 17, exclusively on Hulu. Visit www.hulu.com.
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