Warning: this review contains spoilers for Season 2 of Love, Victor.
When I first watched Love, Simon (2018), the film predecessor to its television spin-off Love, Victor (2020), I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. For most of the LBTQIA+ community, it was huge. It was the first gay rom-com in mainstream Hollywood, the main couple was mixed race, and it offered a fresh perspective on identity, belonging, and first love—themes that for years have been exclusive to straight movies.
But it’s not much more than a white liberal fantasy—Simon endures bullying and ostracism at school for a short time before being embraced by his parents without question and, within thirty minutes, the same classmates who gave him a hard time cheer him on as he kisses his crush on the Ferris wheel. As the audience, we applaud with them but ultimately, his whiteness and upper-middle-class status are what save Simon and keep the film from delving too deep into reality.
Love, Victor attempts to rectify those failings. Centering a half-Puerto Rican, half-Colombian family as its main protagonists, the show elevates the queer experience to the tenth degree. Victor is forced to navigate his father’s ignorant machismo and not-too-subtle homophobic comments, as well as his mother’s steadfast Catholic beliefs, both of which push him deeper into the closet. And through Victor’s friends Felix, Lake, and Mia, the show isn’t afraid to address issues of poverty, mental health, body image, divorce, and abandonment.
That said, the first season wasn’t without its problems.
The guy who cheats on his straight girlfriend with another guy and comes out as gay is one of the oldest stereotypes in media but not one that needs repeating. Cheating is bad in any context but when it makes gay men (and subsequently anyone who falls under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella) look like hypersexual manipulators, it’s a trope I find myself turning away from, especially as someone who identifies as bisexual. I’m no stranger to us being painted as people who can’t make up their minds or disguise infidelity as experimentation or refuse to commit to one relationship at a time.
So what does Victor do for the majority of his storyline? He dates his straight girlfriend Mia while emotionally and physically cheating on her with his other love interest Benji. And he doesn’t even fess up until after he’s been caught.
There’s nothing wrong with Victor exploring his sexuality; in fact, it’s encouraging to see his uncertainty normalized and depicted as something that he can take his time figuring out. But I’m tired of seeing such a unique and meaningful journey taken at the expense of someone else. When Victor finally comes out to his family in the last episode of the season, it’s moving but not enough to forget how he arrived at that place.
Still, Season 2 intrigued me. While Victor’s first season problem felt very familiar—how would he find the courage to come out?—his story arc this time around was something not many other shows have addressed—what would happen when he did?
The show isn’t afraid to get ugly in answering this question. Unlike Simon, Victor doesn’t receive cheering or support from anyone other than his sister, his father, and closest friends. His basketball teammates ostracize him in the locker room and bully the coach into asking if he’ll change somewhere else. His mother Isabel asks him not to come out at school or to his brother, makes faces every time Victor mentions his sexuality, and treats Benji with disapproval and cruelty. It wasn’t easy to watch, but the show’s acknowledgment of other kinds of coming out experiences felt like validation rather than exploitation.
I also appreciated how deeply every character changed over the course of the season. In the beginning, I watched Victor’s mother lash out at Benji every time he touched Victor but, by episode eight, she tells off a priest for condemning her son to hell (which is even more extraordinary considering she caught the boys having sex the previous night). When Lake betrays Felix’s trust, he and Victor’s sister Pilar grow closer, forming common ground over their shared love of game shows and coffee dates in the park. And Lake, far from feeling heartbroken over the split, shares a sweet moment with a female classmate at a party, throwing some speculation on her own sexuality.
I’m sure many won’t be enthused that Victor finds himself caught in yet another love triangle but this time, his new love interest Rahim feels like a solution rather than the problem. Because of Victor’s mother, his insecurities about being the “right kind” of gay, the fact that everything is new for him, and his unique struggles as a lower-income person of color, he and Benji, who is white, rich, liberal-parented, and more experienced, have dozens of reasons to fight and disagree nearly every episode.
To be honest, Benji and Victor didn’t make sense to me even in the first season. The first time Victor sees him, Benji is walking down the hall in slow motion with background music fit for a cheesy teen rom-com. It’s not always clear why they’re attracted to each other besides the physical stuff – Victor seems to see Benji as a fantasy, rather than a real person with flaws of his own.
When he and Benji take a break, Victor finds solace in Pilar’s friend Rahim, who comes from a devout Muslim family and is struggling with coming out himself. Part of me was hoping Victor wouldn’t fall for the very next gay guy he came across, but they actually make a lot of sense. As two gay people of color, it’s startling to see how similar they are and how much they connect in ways Benji and Victor never can. When they talk to each other about racism and their religious parents, it’s not an educational opportunity, the way it would be if they were talking to white people—Victor and Rahim may not have identical experiences but they don’t have to explain everything in order to be understood without judgment or confusion. And that’s rare in any kind of relationship.
Yet I do wish that the show could spend more time on other queer expressions and experiences. We got glimpses of nonbinary and trans characters in the first season when Victor and Simon met, and again in the second season when Victor meets the members of Benji’s band. But in both cases, they either boost Victor’s confidence without any deeper character development of their own or bring him down for not being gay enough because he’s a basketball jock.
And so often, Victor’s problems are overshadowed by his straight friends and family members’ who expect applause every time they do something decent, like their allyship earns them a parade. They’re integral and complex people in their own right but if Love, Victor is the gay show it claims to be, his sexuality and other LGBTQIA+ experiences need to be more centered and explored with the same care with which they treat their cis straight characters.
So while it’s not the perfect show, I admire all the issues it addresses without feeling forced, the experiences it depicts that feel both real and honest, and the representation it offers to people of intersectional identities, especially if you’re both LGBTQIA+ and Latinx. Despite all of Love, Victor’s shortcomings, I feel a little more seen in my culture and queerness. And that, ultimately, is something worth celebrating.