When I saw “Love, Simon” in 2018, I wanted to wrap my arms around the movie and give it a great big hug. This was a sweet, knowing, funny and emotionally involving 21st century take on a John Hughes high school movie — only this time the romantic lead was a closeted gay teen searching for his soulmate, known only as “Blue” to him online.
Yes, Simon was living in upper-middle-class comfort and he had the most understanding parents in the world and eventually the support of pretty much the entire school when he set up a meeting with Blue at the Ferris wheel — but it’s not as if “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” or “Mean Girls” or any other beloved favorites of the genre were any grittier, right? “Love, Simon” was still a groundbreaking and lovely gem.
Now comes the Hulu series “Love, Victor,” a spiritual sequel featuring a whole new cast of characters — although Simon remains in the picture, sort of. We pick up the story with Creekwood High School still buzzing about the magical night when Simon learned Blue was in fact a classmate named Bram whom he had a crush on. They’re still a couple, but they’ve moved on to college in New York City.
Enter Latino high school sophomore Victor (Michael Cimino), who has just moved from Texas with his parents Isabel (Ana Ortiz) and Armando (James Martinez), his younger sister Pilar (Isabella Ferreira) and little brother Adrian (Mateo Fernandez). Victor is unsure of his sexuality (or at least he tells himself that), but he knows if and when he does come out, it will come as a shock to his religious parents and even more religious grandparents. He connects with Simon on Instagram, saying: “Dear Simon … I just want to say, screw you. Screw you for having the world’s most perfect, accepting parents, the world’s most supportive friends. Because for some of us, it’s not that easy.”
Throughout the 10 episodes (each about a half-hour), Victor pours his heart out to Simon (with Nick Robinson of “Love, Simon” providing the voiceover for his replies). There’s even a road trip to New York City in which we reconnect with a couple of main characters from the film. Mostly, though, “Love, Victor” is a sequel that almost plays as a reboot, despite the cultural and economic differences between Simon and Victor. (Whereas Simon lived in a beautifully appointed suburban home, Victor’s family is in a cozy apartment on the “other” side of town.)
On Victor’s very first day of school, he strikes a connection with Rachel Naomi Hilson’s Mia, a beautiful and popular and kind rich girl who swoons the moment she sets eyes on him. Victor likes Mia — who wouldn’t, she’s a spectacular kid — but HE swoons when he catches a glimpse of the handsome Benji (George Sear), who looks like Edward Cullen from “Twilight” only a little less pale, and has come out relatively recently. Not only that, Victor already has a new best friend in his geeky upstairs neighbor Felix (Anthony Turpel), who’s doing a modern take on Jon Cryer’s Ducky from “Pretty in Pink,” AND he cringes when he hears casual homophobic comments in the locker room AND he’s bullied by the macho jock Andrew (Mason Gooding), who publicly humiliates Victor and mocks his financial situation.
Shew. What a first day!
With fade-outs and fade-ins reminiscent of an old-fashioned broadcast program, “Love, Victor” follows multiple storylines, from the increasing tension between Victor’s parents; to Felix secretly hooking up with Mia’s wisecracking and social media-fixated best friend Lake (Bebe Wood), who is too embarrassed by Felix to be seen with him in public; to the budding romance between Victor and Mia, even as Victor dreams of connecting with Benji, to Mia’s wealthy, single father (Mekhi Phifer) getting serious with his new girlfriend (Sophia Bush).
At times characters talk as if they’ve been scripted by adults trying to sound like teenagers, but for the most part “Love, Victor” has a breezy, likable vibe. (When Victor writes to Simon, “I am what you think I am but I hate it. I don’t want my life to be this hard,” Simon responds, “Even with parents so liberal they have special sneakers just for protesting, it was hard.”) There’s even a nice little “Breakfast Club” homage when some of the main characters have to serve detention.
As was the case with “Love, Simon,” we feel for the protagonist but we’re ticked at him for not considering how much he’s hurting others by living a lie. The most likable character in “Love, Victor” isn’t Victor (though he’s a good guy and we’re rooting for him) — it’s Mia, who falls in love with a boy who knows he can’t love her back in the same way but allows her heart to shatter.
“Love, Victor” ends on a cliffhanger note that makes it all but certain it’ll be back for a second season. We wish Victor the best, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing if Season Two made room for a “Love, Mia” storyline as well.