There’s an earnestness to Love, Victor that feels almost old-fashioned. Like Love, Simon the film it’s loosely connected to, Hulu’s latest teen drama aims to serve both as an entertaining coming of age story and a tender coming out tale. If it sometimes teeters on the edge of becoming a PSA, it does so clearly by design. Love, Victor wants to help audiences better understand not just its central character (a teenager who’s struggling with whether and if to come out to himself and his family) and his Latinx family (whose own views on LGBTQ issues are unquestionably conservative).
For Ana Ortiz, who plays Victor’s mother, Isabel, the show was an exciting opportunity to show this story from a Latinx perspective. “I don’t think we see that enough,” she tells Remezcla. “I know so many young kids who were terrified of telling their parents they were gay because the culture of machismo is still so prevalent in our community.”
Throughout the show’s first season Victor (Michael Cimino) opts to bury his budding desires, knowing how his own coming out could never match Simon’s now infamous experience, which has since become part of Creekwood High School’s lore. As the new student in town he knows there’s a chance for reinvention but he finds it dashed almost immediately. Victor is much too shy and much too afraid of confrontation to do anything to destabilize his family’s fragile ecosystem. They may be a modern kind of family proud of both their Colombian and Puerto Rican roots but there’s still plenty of work ahead.
From Victor’s initial voice-over, it’s obvious this spinoff series will serve as a corrective and as an addendum to Love, Simon. Where Simon was met with open arms (and the chance to exhale) when he comes out to his mom, Victor fears his parents won’t be as understanding, especially given how they respond to his out gay friends from school. For Ortiz, who’s best remembered for playing the very supportive Hilda Suárez in Ugly Betty, taking on a role like Isabel was a chance to play against type.
She loved getting a chance “to play a character I disagree with on so many levels and find out why she feels that way. To understand her and try to communicate her without making a caricature of evil, Bible-thumping non-acceptance. Ugly Betty was so long ago but Hilda was so accepting. She would have fought anybody who came for Justin for being gay — even before he knew he was gay. She was a fierce protector. As Ana, that was something I was able to tap into. That spoke to who I am. So to play Isabel and to flip that was what you want to do as an actor.”
In Cimino’s case, his desire to take on this role was driven by a chance to represent his cousin’s own story. “That’s the biggest honor ever,” he told Remezcla, while he shared that his cousin had burst into tears when the two watched the show’s trailer a few weeks back.
— Love, Victor (@LoveVictorHulu) June 17, 2020
That sense of family is at the heart of the show, especially when it explicitly deals with homophobia within the Latinx community. During a heated exchange at Victor’s birthday party, when his Colombian grandfather asks him to tell his gay friends to leave their open displays of affection outside (what if Victor’s younger brother sees them?), the tension isn’t broken by the young man’s decision to stand up to his grandfather or by his own parents’ admission that such a stance was a brave one. All melts always, instead, by his younger brother’s playful antics, which make the uncomfortable conversation all but disappear, best left aside for another time.
If Love, Victor‘s message feels rather quaint, aimed at an audience who’s ready to indulge in its earnestly romantic storyline that happily smooths over its more prickly implications, it nevertheless captures a lightness that may well be welcome amid so much current unrest. For Ortiz, the show arrives at a time when its sunny optimism feels almost necessary.
“I have a glimmer of hope,” she shared. “These protests that are happening in the streets — I feel like we can turn this around. I’ve been so despondent and sad for so long and with everything coming to a head and Love, Victor coming out at the time that it is, maybe I’m being too pie in the sky, but I really sense a change and an awareness coming. And it starts with these young folks.”
Love, Victor is now streaming on Hulu.