Review: ‘Love, Victor’ wants pat on the back for half-hearted representation

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Via Wikimedia Commons

“Love, Victor” is a web television series inspired by the 2018 film “Love, Simon.”

By Nadiya Greaser, Staff Writer

It feels like the showrunners of “Love, Victor” read a bad review of “Love, Simon” and decided the solution to a boring movie about a white, wealthy, gay guy was a boring TV show about a nonwhite, working class, maybe-gay guy.

The low-stakes mediocrity would be surprising, but it is the direct-to-Hulu sequel of a low-stakes, mediocre movie. It superficially overcorrects the faults and missteps of its 2018 predecessor, “Love, Simon,” without actually addressing the film’s real issues.

“Love, Simon” had all the components of a good movie — it’s a gay coming-of-age rom-com story with Jennifer Garner — but it doesn’t use them to build a good movie. It feels gay-adjacent, down to the casting of Simon — Nick Robinson, a straight actor, as Simon comes across as straight, and is mostly there to appeal to straight female audiences.

The titular character in “Love, Simon” is a closeted teenager in a liberal household in Creekwood, a wealthy suburb of Atlanta. When another gay student posts anonymously on the high school’s unregulated gossip blog, Simon starts emailing him, and the film becomes a Hallmark knockoff of “You’ve Got Mail,” until another student finds Simon’s emails and threatens him with them.

Blackmail is never a great look, but threatening to out a closeted gay kid takes it to a whole new level of iffy-icky badness. The main tension is manufactured through this classic, super problematic ’80s trope, but “Love, Simon” never creates believable conflict or resolution. Instead, it leans into the mediocrity of the worst high school movies and ignores the things that could make it great.

“Love, Victor” is definitely the sequel to “Love, Simon.” It corrects the legitimate criticisms of its predecessor — that it ignores issues of race and class — in a way that doesn’t go beyond the surface. It makes Victor Latinx and working class, but doesn’t meaningfully address how those identities impact his coming out.

Victor is a new student at Creekwood High, figuring out how to fit in and navigate his attraction to both male and female peers. Almost immediately, someone posts about him on the school gossip blog, which becomes a big deal for half of an episode. Then it isn’t, and he becomes a basketball star who is well on his way to locking down a relationship with another popular student.

Even the awareness of Victor’s class identity lasts one episode, long enough to point it out, but superficial enough that Victor’s apartment looks like a HomeGoods ad in every episode after. Instead of authentically addressing Victor’s identity, the show creates cheap, low-stakes and very predictable high school drama.

Nothing about “Love, Victor” feels original, or even like a new spin on old tropes. The best part of the show is the satisfaction of predicting the beats of every episode before they play out. I won’t spoil it for anyone who’s still inclined to watch, but the surprises aren’t exactly surprising.

The overused tropes are a holdover of “Love, Simon,” including the unaware parents and bad teachers. Multiple teachers call a student “lone stone,” in reference to a rumor that he has one testicle. Administrators talking about a student’s genitals is cringey for a show made this year — it feels straight out of “Glee,” which was cringey in 2009.

Beyond the creepy administrators, Creekwood High School isn’t that interesting. There is “Creek Secrets” — a holdover from “Love, Simon” that feels like a Gen Z attempt at “Gossip Girl.” What kind of high school has an unregulated, crowdsourced gossip blog that harasses and outs other students? That seems like something any half-decent principal would shut down, but Creekwood High is a joke.

“Love, Victor” doesn’t put effort into making the manufactured conflicts or their too-easy solutions believable. During a pivotal scene between the main character and one of his love interests, all I could think was, “How did they rent a hotel room, they’re 16?” And seriously, who rented a room to two high school sophomores?

The show gets closest to something resembling authentic queer identity in the eighth episode, when Victor pulls a Ferris Bueller and spends the weekend in New York with Simon’s roommates, figuring out what it means to be gay. The episode isn’t perfect — it feels convenient that the other characters buy his terrible excuse to go to New York — but it is a microcosm of what the show coulda-woulda-shoulda done to represent gay teens and young adults authentically.

They take 16-year-old Victor to a nightclub, which is super sketchy, but it expands an identity that he didn’t have access to at home. He plays basketball with a gay league, he talks to other people who understand his experiences and he actually gets to see what it could look like to be out in the world.

If the show runners had spent the first eight episodes doing what it does — imperfectly, but with effort — in this episode, “Love, Victor” would be a completely different show — one I would want to watch.

Mostly, “Love, Victor” made me want to rewatch “Sex Education,” which had more — and better — queer representation. “Sex Education” has complicated and believable teenagers, who look, act and kiss like teenagers. They’re awkward, and their dialogue isn’t an endless volley of quippy one-liners and references to pop culture that will make the show feel dated 10 years from now.

“Love, Victor” suffers from the “Gilmore Girls” effect, where writers make up for weak character development with a barrage of quick clever commentary. It leans so heavily on the overused tropes of straight TV that it doesn’t leave an impression — if the goal is good representation for queer teens, it fails.

If you’re gay, looking for more than “Love, Simon” or “Love, Victor,” can I point you literally anywhere else? Seriously, try “The Half of It” on Netflix. It’s is an intimate portrait of being closeted, nonwhite and working class, and it feels authentic — an earned expression of queer joy. The entire movie feels lived in, like a well-loved sweater or a favorite book.

Still, if your only criteria for what to watch next is that it has some gay representation, try “Love, Victor.” It definitely has some, even though it can’t offer much else.

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