For its largely LGBT writers room, ‘Love, Victor’s’ queerest episode was personal
Brian Tanen wishes that a TV show like “Love, Victor” had existed when he was younger, especially with a few Hollywood touches for good measure — like a drag show emceed by his favorite queen, Katya Zamolodchikova, and a pickup basketball game with the first openly gay NBA player, Jason Collins.
For Tanen, the writer of the Hulu spinoff series’ eighth episode, “Boys’ Trip,” the experience was a deeply personal one.
“I remember feeling emotional while pitching the idea, because it felt to me like exactly the sort of episode that I wished I’d been able to see when I was a teenager,” Tanen told The Times in a recent phone interview. “The fact that you could go to a place and be surrounded by like-minded people and be welcomed into their community. And to have those people tell you that your life was going to be amazing. Those are exactly the sorts of things you need to hear when you’re struggling with that.”
In the episode, the series’ protagonist, Victor (Michael Cimino), escapes the bubble of his small town and strained relationships by fleeing to New York to meet up with Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), an openly gay teen from the 2018 film “Love, Simon” whom Victor has been messaging for advice about his sexual orientation and identity.
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“A lot of the events from the episode are inspired by the experiences of our largely LGBT writers room, talking about the formative first experiences they had in coming out,” Tanen said. “So for example, the moment where Bram [Simon’s boyfriend, played by Keiynan Lonsdale] first kisses Victor on the street was reflective of when I was first coming out in New York City. I remembered noticing and being surprised that other gay people always greeted each other with a kiss. This felt just alien to me. And then that first experience of going into a gay bar was something that we’d all felt.”
Tanen saw “Boys’ Trip” as the opportunity to capture an experience that Victor has outside the Creekwood universe, one he gets to take back to his everyday life once he returns to Atlanta.
“We wanted [Victor] to see what it might be like to go to New York and see just an array of different queer people living their best lives, thriving and being and living the fun, exciting life of a young person in New York,” he said. “So we knew we wanted to cast it with a group of young actors that were not only racially diverse but also encapsulated the entire umbrella of LGBTQIA identities.”
In addition to Simon and Bram, familiar from the movie, and Victor himself, the series introduces three queer roommates, including Justin (Tommy Dorfman), whose parents are strictly religious, and Kim (River Gallo), who introduces themselves with they/them pronouns. Compared to “Love, Simon,” then, “Love, Victor” not only increases the number of queer characters — see also: Victor’s crush, Benji, and Benji’s boyfriend — but also expands the range of queer identities, personalities, styles and backgrounds, reflecting the diversity of the queer community. (The queer world of “Boys’ Trip” grows further when the gang brings Victor to the Messy Boots drag show, his first.)
“I’d say the casting of that episode was really important, because we wanted to create this group of friends at NYU that Victor goes and visits that hopefully cover a bit more of the spectrum of the LGBTQ+ community than we were able to show in our conservative suburban Atlanta high school,” said the series’ cocreator and the film’s cowriter, Isaac Aptaker, via video conference.
In meeting this new support system that he didn’t know he had — the roommates had secretly been discussing Victor’s messages with Simon and Bram and offering their advice — Victor, while reluctant at first, learns to accept not only their “differences” but also his own “different” identity. But it doesn’t come easily.
“You’ve been seeing Simon give advice to Victor for the whole season, so it felt like it would be a sort of fun twist to all of a sudden have him thrown in with these people he didn’t know that well,” Aptaker said. “He just shows up in New York unannounced, and that felt a little bit neat and clean to us that that would just all work out and Simon would be there waiting to meet him with open arms. So we like that right away, [meeting Bram and the roommates] threw a wrench in his plan, and he got a chance to sort of see that there are so many other LGBTQ people in this college, in this big city, that he can form a bond with.”
When Victor finally does meet Simon, the excitement of the two actors meeting for the first time in real life shows through. Just as Victor does not meet Simon until Episode 8, actors Cimino and Robinson hadn’t met until they got together to film scenes for “Boys’ Trip.”
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“You had these two guys who have played such a pivotal role in this Creekwood universe coming together and meeting each other,” said the series’ cocreator and the film’s cowriter, Elizabeth Berger. “It felt truly magical and like Nick was passing Michael the torch and saying, ‘Here, this is up to you now to continue this journey,’ so it worked both on a show level and on a human level.”
“Their meeting for the first time similarly looms large, especially for Michael, who had really been a giant fan of Nick’s and loved the movie, and was so excited to meet him,” Tanen said. “In a way, that’s totally parallel to Victor’s excitement to meet Simon.”
In addition to calling on his and his fellow writers’ personal experiences to write “Boys’ Trip,” Tanen also made sure to consider those who would come after him, seeing the episode as way to communicate with the rising generation of LGBTQ youth.
“As a gay writer, I have rarely had the opportunity in my career to speak so directly from the heart to young gay teenagers who are struggling with the same things that I went through when I was their age,” he said. “Victor is really worried that being gay is going to make his life harder — and now in retrospect, as an adult, truly all the best parts of my life have come from being gay. And we really wanted this episode to tell that story, the idea that not only is it something that you should accept about yourself, it’s something that is going to be the great joy of your life.”
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