In Hulu’s pleasing but predictable ‘Love, Victor,’ even the bully pulls punches
Greg Berlanti’s 2018 coming-out teen film “Love, Simon” has given birth to a pleasing television series, Hulu’s “Love, Victor,” which is both a sequel and a kind of spiritual remake.
As in the movie and the YA novel that inspired it, Becky Albertalli’s “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” the main character is a gay high school student grappling with his sexual identity. An epistolary subplot — there’s one in the film too — links Victor (Michael Cimino) with Simon, a recent alumnus of the high school that Victor, transplanted from Texas to suburban Atlanta, is beginning to attend. Having looked him up on social media — Simon is a kind of local celebrity, for the dramatic manner of his coming out — Victor enlists him, via text, as a kind of sounding board and mentor.
As a high school comedy, it is very much on the light side. There is no mean-girl squad, the nominal jock-bully (Mason Gooding as Andrew) is nearly a pussycat — a single scene of light hazing at a party early in the series pretty much discharges that trope — and Victor is almost immediately popular. He’s good at basketball, has the attention of the school’s anointed cool girl, Mia (Rachel Naomi Hilson), and acquires a sidekick, Anthony Turpel as Felix, even before he reaches his new front door. Mia’s own sidekick, Lake (Bebe Wood), is overly concerned with her image, but once you meet her mother you will understand. They are all desperate to be seen and afraid of being really seen. Been there.
In dating Mia, which happens with no effort on his part, Victor experiments with the idea that he might be straight. He likes her, but does he like like her? (“I thought I might be like you,” he writes Simon, in narrated voice-over, “but I’ve been hanging out with Mia [and] doing research. ... Some guys like guys, some guys like girls, some guys like both, and some guys like — feet?”) Yet he can’t stop thinking about classmate and co-worker Benji (George Sear), who is out, capable, smoking hot and sings in a band: the complete package. As dilemmas go, it is serious without being quite critical — a rom-com pickle, a little like Rosalind Russell being engaged to Ralph Bellamy when it’s obvious she’s in love with Cary Grant.
Sweet, funny and disarming, “Love, Simon” features not one but two daringly public declarations of love.
Indeed, anyone with a little experience of such stories can see how things are going to shake out among them, and there are only a few feints to distract you from what you know you know. What remains in question are the when, where and how, never seriously the who, what or why. Apart from the main theme, which itself has come up on television before, none of the plotlines feel especially original; but that also never feels particularly like a problem, as the characters are likable, the series is good-hearted and, although the dialogue sounds forced at times, the more serious exchanges feel emotionally true. If it is a little on point at times, the points — various versions of “be yourself” — are worth making.
Revelations are put off through the season, in part to fit the season. It will take any given character a while to come clean with other characters and themselves, and nearly every one of them has some sort of secret, including Victor’s somewhat conservative parents, Armando (James Martinez) and Isabel (Ana Ortiz, real as ever and always worth watching). But none will suffer seriously, end up depressed, dishonored, disowned or on the street. Even the hard, upsetting choices will be made from a position of love. Deeper issues — class, for instance — are skirted, and set aside. If it is less a slice of life than it is a TV show, a comedy of situations, it is closer to life as most people know it than, say, “Riverdale.” It is also — unrealistically or not — remarkably chaste: No one is going beyond first base here, and one character who has in the past characterizes it as “too soon and awkward and a total mistake.” Which is, you know, a nice change.
Appearances by Andy Richter as a coach desperate for a win, and Ali Wong as a teacher with a tendency to overshare, add some nice weirdness. And mention should also be made of Isabella Ferreira, as Victor’s younger sister Pilar; angry at their parents for moving them to Atlanta, among other things she’ll find to be angry about, she is required to fume and sulk quite a bit, but it’s a centered, grounded performance that comes off as charming. She and Ortiz, whose gifts are similar, are especially good together. If “Love, Victor” has a failing it is not giving her more and different things to do. Season 2, step up.
When: Any time
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with an advisory for coarse language)
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