TV Review: Love, Victor

Love, Victor, the spin-off TV series of the popular LGBT film Love, Simon has finally hit Disney+. After a bit of a hoo-ha of it being exclusive to Hulu last year because of its “adult content”, despite Disney owning Hulu, it has now debuted on the extended Disney+ platform “Star”.

Set one year after the fairytale-like events of the film, it follows the new life of Victor Salazar (played by relative newcomer Michael Cimino) and his family after moving to Atlanta from Texas (city not stated) as he tries to navigate his way through a new school and discover who or what he truly is. It was a highly-anticipated spin-off that has received great critical reviews since its release in June 2020. Now that’s it available on Disney+ (one episode a week though, unfortunately), I’ve decided to give you my own views on the show. This page will be updated weekly as each episode is released and a general review will be written by the end of all ten episodes.

Episode 1 – “Welcome to Creekwood”

As with any first episode of a new show, you are introduced to each character bit by bit and their role within the series is almost immediately obvious – the new, more convenient than anything else and slightly geeky friend (Felix), the rebellious sister (Pilar), the love interest (Benji), the popular girl who’s attracted to Victor and who he’s going to mess around while he figures himself out (Mia), the school bully (Andrew) and the busybody (Lake).

Unlike the film, which focused almost solely on Simon’s outlook and personal life, Love, Victor also shifts focus to other characters’ lives that intertwines with him, particularly his family. We find out a bit more about his sister’s troubles (typical attitude-filled teenage girl who doesn’t fit in, misses her boyfriend back home and hates her parents because of it), we notice his parents are having marital problems, and it’s clear some of his new friends and foes have some history of sort between them that will no doubt come to light in future episodes.

The first episode was a good, standard start to the series that paved the way for the undoubted drama to follow. It was a predictable watch but not one that made it any less entertaining. Even the final scene where Victor walks past Benji and instead heads towards Mia to ask her to ride the Ferris wheel with him was predictable, for as much as we all would have loved him to ask Benji, there was no way this show was going to fast forward the drama that quickly. High school teen dramas such as this and countless others never stray far from the cliches and cliques, and those that feature LGBT students and themes are no different. It’s as if they all have no choice but to follow a certain curriculum criteria, but then we must realise high school itself is very much the same across the board and that for many it is simply a stepping stone to discovering yourself before you graduate and enter the real world of true trials and tribulations.

Episode 2 – “Stoplight Party”

Thanks to the social-media obsessed Lake who feels she has to capture everyone else’s “exciting” lives on camera and share it with everyone for reasons nobody else seems to understand, Victor and Mia find themselves the centre of everybody’s attention after the Ferris wheel moment. And as predicted in the previous episode’s review, we start to learn about the feelings other students harbour for each other – Felix likes Lake but she likes Andrew, who likes Mia but she of course (as was clear in episode one) likes Victor. Poor Victor, though, like many unsure, virginal teens is torn between his physical attraction to Benji and his attraction to Mia that appears to be forming. Phew! It’s like a strange love hexagon… Though with Mia it may be more of a case of growing fond of someone because you’re spending more time with them. However, looking at the times he speaks to both Benji and Mia, the difference in his facial expressions and his conversations with them show Benji makes him uncomfortable because he’s attracted to him but he’s perhaps only comfortable with Mia because he doesn’t see her in the same attractive way others do.

In this episode, the “stoplight party” (or “traffic light party”) is the main event taking place and the talk of the school. Victor is wearing a yellow top while Mia wears black (what that means isn’t clear) and Lake wears red despite not actually being with anyone. Emotions are all over the place as each character exhibits jealousy or confusion and it basically harked back to the Halloween party Simon went to in the film. In these scenes you get a little frustrated at how petty and naive some of them are, looking too deep into the colours people are wearing and what they’re doing – particularly the rather vapid Lake.

Again, there’s more focus on Victor’s family – another main difference between the show and the film, since despite two famous actors portraying Simon’s parents, they were never much more than small but important supporting characters. This perhaps stems from the characterisation of Victor’s parents who are seen as slightly stricter than Simon’s and as is mentioned several times, their religious views will no doubt be a part of Victor’s woes in upcoming episodes. Sister Pilar’s boyfriend drama takes up a chunk of the episode but you can’t help feel exasperated at her typical menial teenage life. In the next episode we are bound to get more scenes with Benji, who is mostly absent from this one, as he and Victor now conveniently work at the same place. PS – How is Benji already the Assistant Manager at, like, 16 years of age?

Episode 3 – “Battle of the Bands”

Episode 3 continues to throw more spanners in the works for Victor as he actively looks to start dating Mia while his clear attraction to and chemistry with Benji continues to grow. This drama is further fuelled when he and Mia kiss and we later realise Benji has a boyfriend (but let’s be honest, we know this isn’t going to last much longer). Elsewhere in the world of Creekwood, Lake is delighted when Andrew suggests they go see the Battle of the Bands competition and double date with Victor and Mia but it’s soon made obvious he only went with her in the hope of Mia being there. Yep, definitely a wanker. Though Lake whining that she’s tired of waiting for someone to realise how awesome she is hammers home the idea of love and sex-obsessed teenagers having no real ambitions – honey, you’re about 16 years old, not a 40-year-old virgin!

In the Salazar household, Victor’s parents go on a dinner date but Pilar suspects her mother of having an affair when she does the millennial teenage daughter thing and helps set up a Facebook account for her mum, and we know this is subplot is going to be dragged out for a while.

What is interesting about this episode is that it explores the sexuality spectrum. Simon knew he was gay but had trouble plucking up the courage to come out, while Victor wonders whether he is bisexual or pansexual instead of gay and as many teenagers do, decides to try things out and see what happens. However, while we are rooting for Victor to figure out what he is and for him to eventually get with Benji, he and Mia do actually seem to have something between them as well. Whether it’s because they both simply have a strong platonic friendship to build things up from or whether there is a true romantic attraction between them has yet to come to light. Although, what the revelations of this episode scream out is that Victor is simply – on a subconscious level, at least – trying to not be gay, as he does his best to make something between him and Mia happen (the kiss, while a romantic setting, was brief and spark-free) while it is painfully easy to see Benji is the true path he should follow.

Episode 4 – “The Truth Hurts”

Episode 4 moves away from the Victor’s confused emotions and focuses almost solely on his family’s drama. We learn the reason – as was hinted in the previous episode – why the family had to move a thousand miles away from Texas to Atlanta (still an overly long journey though it seems); his mother had an affair with his dad’s boss… Juicy! Victor does bond a bit more with Mia as she comes to terms with her quite absent father dating another new woman but Benji is once again quite absent from this episode so we don’t get much of a chance to know what Benji’s feelings are after we discovered he’s already taken.

Sorry, but I’m still not shipping “Victormia” – I already feel sorry for poor Mia knowing she is going to get tossed aside like a failed experiment. The question remains though, will she take it well and understand or not? Victor has so far shown no signs he is not interested in her one way or another when he’s with her – she just so far hasn’t clocked his face when Benji is nearby. Victor himself at the start even says Benji having a boyfriend is a relief and therefore means he’s off the table so he can focus on Mia – not a good road to travel down!

This episode was like a filler – it fleshed out the other characters a bit more as you would expect in a series (something Love, Simon couldn’t do due to its shorter length) but ultimately added very little to the main story.

Episode 5 – “Sweet Sixteen”

As we get to the halfway point of the series, things start to get very interesting during Victor’s 16th birthday. There’s rudeness of different levels being spouted left, right and centre from a number of people; Pilar still despises her mother, Lake unintentionally stirs the pot by inviting Benji to Victor’s party without asking who in turn invites his boyfriend Derek along, Victor’s grandparents are – sorry to say – ice cold assholes, then Victor consciously calls Derek Benji’s “bandmate” to his grandpa, and Felix basically commits daylight robbery in a bakery which for some bizarre reason suddenly makes Lake see him in a whole different new, attractive light.

The focus is on Victor’s grandparents’ old-fashioned attitude – particularly his grandpa – as they criticise everything, but most notably youngest child Adrian’s love of twirling around with his Elsa wand and then explosively, Benji and Derek kissing. But valiant Victor snaps and stands up for them, probably feeling very guilty after his silence earlier. Mia makes a good impression on his parents and they – alas – officially declare themselves an item, but their short little kisses are either because they’re still young, nervous and giddy or because Victor truly isn’t into it…

However, it’s the final bittersweet scene of the episode that gets us going “ooh, this will be good!” even though it probably won’t be. Benji has given Victor a drawing of him as his present – a slightly strange but extremely thoughtful gift which we all know means much more than just platonic friendship, and then his dad exhibits the typical “I’m not homophobic, but…” attitude when he specifically says he doesn’t care what “boys in your school get up to” but “hopes” Adrian doesn’t turn out that way. Little does he know! The ugly beauty of this episode is that it depicted more of how too many people still view gay people and especially gay family members. Love, Simon portrayed an overly romanticised scenario that for the vast majority of people just isn’t anywhere near realistic, while Love, Victor tries to prove that is does the opposite.

Episode 6 – “Creekwood Nights”

So we’ve passed the halfway point and it’s potentially breaking point for Victor and Mia as she – like most young teenagers – wants to take it the next level and have sex with him, but he – unlike most – isn’t sure. Quelle surprise! It’s also definitely breaking point for Benji and Derek (finally!) as Benji wants to be romantic for their one-year anniversary and Derek just isn’t interested in celebrating it, equating the idea to conforming to heterosexual norms… uh, say what?! You’d have thought after a year together they would have already come to a head about those differences in opinion already, but apparently not.

Lake, being the continuously self-obsessed teen girl that she is, tries to fish for attention on the Creekwood Secrets site, pokes her nose into Mia’s business, throws out the question of whether Victor is seeing someone else or even GAY because he seems to be tiptoeing around the idea of getting intimate with her, and in a desperate attempt for validation, kisses Felix but begs him to not tell anyone. Classic, vapid Lake!

We also, as eluded to and suspected in earlier episodes, realise Mia and Andrew actually have history together and she appears to ponder getting back together or getting with him properly after Victor leaves her cold and unwanted. Victor eventually confesses that he’s “not ready”, which I guess is technically true, but certainly as we know, not the whole truth. Hopefully next episode will actually finally start to work out the way we know it’s going to end…

Episode 7 – What Happens in Willacoochee”

Ok, so in this episode it finally gets exciting! Lake is still being a self-obsessed bitch towards poor, obsessed with her Felix but at least that means he can bond with Pilar – and then we’re suddenly shipping these two getting together… Will they?

For some bizarre reason Victor and Benji need to drive to Willacoochee (why they can’t get the coffee machine that’s broken repaired in Atlanta, I don’t know. Is it a special coffee machine that can only be fixed in some random little place two hours away? And it begs the question how and why two barely sixteen-year-olds can get licenses to drive cars in America?! Also they keep saying it’s “work” and their “job” but is it really? Are they being paid per hour plus the expenses?) And that’s when things get interesting. Victor blows off attending Mia’s fundraising event at her house to meet her dad and lies to Benji about the coffee machine not being ready just so they can stay in a motel for the night where they KISS! Well, it’s actually Victor who kisses him but instantly regrets it and runs away into the corridor. And the next day it makes you wonder whether he slept out there?

Anyway, as much I was relieved things were going in the right direction (i.e. not “straight” ahead – geddit?), it now leaves the drama open to turn any which way. What next for Victor and Mia? Will he finally dump her and will she finally get with Andrew (again, after the one “bad mistake” – you actually feel a little sorry for the dickhead because she’s very off with him sometimes)? And will Benji finally dump his boyfriend, which we had hoped he would after his rudeness in the previous episode but clearly hasn’t so that him and Victor can discuss THAT kiss and move forward? Up until now I was honestly not that eager to watch the next episode but now I am!

Episode 8 – “Boys’ Trip”

Episode 8 is a little less drama-filled and more fun-filled as Victor escapes to New York to see Simon, who is out of town – I mean, who turns up announced until the last minute like that?! There, after a little awkwardness meeting Simon’s boyfriend Bram and their diverse group of LGBTQ friends and being amongst so many gay people everywhere (which seems to shock him), Victor starts to feel comfortable and relaxed. However, that’s not before lying to his parents about his trip saying it’s a basketball team outing and to Mia saying he’s on a last minute boys trip getaway with his dad and having a little tiff with Simon and his friends over their knowledge of his Benji dilemma.

While it was almost expected Victor’s parents and Mia would realise Victor lied to them, this didn’t happen but may soon come to light. Meanwhile Mia is jealous of Andrew and Lake’s friendship which she assumes is something more and Lake continues to be a vapid cow towards poor Felix, who hates Andrew because of his constant teasing throughout school. Both, however, start to have a change of perspective after Felix and Mia confront them about their behaviour.

It’s a change of pace for the series in this episode as it re-introduces Nick Robinson and Keiynan Lonsdale from Love, Simon and allows Victor to take his mind off his troubles even though he and we know they’re waiting for him back home and are clearly about to get even more complicated and dramatic. It does, however, certainly open up doors for a possible spin-off of the film that could focus on Simon and Bram’s openly gay and proud life in New York with their quirky friends… If the idea sprouts after I’ve written this, I want royalties! The question the episode did beg for an answer to though was how on earth Victor was allowed to enter the bar when he’s literally just turned 16 and looks it as well?! What lax laws they must have there…

Episode 9 – “Who the Hell is B?”

The penultimate episode continues the drama Victor escaped from in the episode 7. In a touching scene he comes out to Felix who is luckily very supportive, but as he says, Felix is “the easy one”. Benji decides to chicken out of facing Victor and is transferring to another branch at work, still desperate to hang on to Derek and saying he feels guilty about what happened – just be honest and say it’s because you also like Victor, please! And Victor has the difficult mission of coming out to Mia and basically dumping her to do.

Lake is STILL trying to keep her “relationship” (or whatever it is) with Felix on the DL and it’s revealed her mum is an overbearing, also very vain, woman which has helped shape Lake’s outlook on life. Despite his attempts to make her feel better by showing her the hectic, hoarder flat he lives in, she STILL doesn’t change his mind because she admits to caring too much about what other people think, including her mother! JESUS! He does the right thing and breaks it off with her but we all know she’ll finally see sense in the next episode and all will be well. Meanwhile, Victor’s plan (or half-thought out idea) to tell Mia the truth gets thrown off track by her dad’s announcement to marry his girlfriend who’s pregnant. Of course it wasn’t going to be that simple!

This episode is a little slow but we know it’s just to build us up for the big finale. Victor’s parents drop the final bombshell detail of why they had to move and Pilar finds Victor’s note to “B” because she’s a nosy little bitch. So how will this end? Well, we know, but it’s still engaging enough to keep us hooked on all the little tidbits in between.

Episode 10 – “Spring Fling”

And so we finally come to the end of season 1 of Love, Victor. As with any standard high school drama it of course ends with the finale taking place at a dance. First we have Lake and Felix pretending they’re not upset about the “break up” but as we all knew, she finally comes round in the end and professes how happy he makes her feel. Pilar gets funny after reading Victor’s letter to “B” and goes around throwing shade at Victor and interrogating Felix and then even Benji, which leads to the truth being revealed.

Victor is still trying to do the nice guy thing and not hurt Mia after her family woes and let her enjoy one last worry-free night but in doing so, does more harm than good – especially when he and Benji obviously kiss and she – quelle surprise – sees them! As I’ve mentioned before, while we all knew the outcome of what was going to happen, you’re made to really feel bad for Mia because she’s such a nice girl who definitely deserves a better boyfriend who is more sure of himself as a person and more openly honest with her… Could the awful Andrew actually be that guy and stop being a douche? Only season 2 will tell (hopefully)!

The episode ends the season on a cliffhanger as Victor comes out to his parents right after their emotional announcement to him and Pilar that they are separating. We’ll have to see what that means for the Salazars in season 2, but it certainly keeps us on edge about how they’ll react to his courageous statement. Judging by their previous attitudes and their relationship with Victor, my guess is Armando will flip but Isabel will be more supportive, however, we may be surprised…

It was great to see Victor finally genuinely looking happy that him and Benji can potentially be together or at least happy that things are working out for him as he figures himself out (bar the whole unfortunately upsetting Mia and angering his sister bit), even if we did know the end of the road before the path took us there. Love, Victor was by no means a groundbreaking game-changer in LGBT TV but it was nice to see a different “teen coming out” story that was almost a polar opposite to Simon’s.

What Love, Victor does do is, like the film, allow likeminded people in similar situations now or at some point in the past for those of us no longer of school age, to relate to it. With many schools these days not teaching LGBT history or issues, LGBT children or those who are not sure what they identify as yet, struggle to find acceptance or know what to do. Love, Victor of course, does not have the answers and nor does it make itself out to, but as a form of escapism, entertainment and even education to some extent, it is a heartfelt show featuring a rollercoaster of emotions. It was also nice to see a coming out story told from the perspective of a non-White family, to highlight some of the cultural differences. This may have only been touched on slightly in Victor’s Sweet Sixteen episode but again, but I do hope it’s explored more in season 2: it’s as if the creators of Love, Victor only wanted to test the waters of this diversity line and not overstep it.

The creators, don’t however, make a attempt at righting the straight-washing of an LGBT show. The cast are great and play their parts well, there’s no denying that but Victor and Benji are both played by straight actors, and through some digging but no concrete answer it appears the actor who plays Derek is too. While this is an age-old argument of whether straight actors should play gay characters (Russell T Davies previously said when promoting It’s A Sin that they shouldn’t yet actually cast straight actors in Queer as Folk), it does continue to unfortunately marginalise perfectly good gay actors who could have fulfilled the roles just as well and been given this amazing opportunity to work on a top-rated and acclaimed show. Instead, most famous gay actors have become famous through playing straight roles and many did not come out until well into their careers. Then other gay actors are so under the radar because of minor roles they get or the only main roles they manage to nab are niche-produced LGBT films and shows that are not given mainstream releases. The cast was racially diverse just as the creators wanted it to be, but it failed at being truly diverse and if diversity is something they want to portray (and it must be for an LGBT show, right? This isn’t just a normal teen show), I honestly believe you’ve got to make the full efforts to do so.

Rating: 3.5/5 – A good, if predictable watch with some great little twists that don’t deviate from the known ending and make it a relatable and emotional viewing for many. But it’s a show that does it’s best to hit the mark and unfortunately still falls short on some aspects.

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