“Love, Victor,” the TV spin-off of the hit film “Love, Simon” — which was adapted from the YA novel, “Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda” — returned to Hulu on June 11 for Season 2. This enjoyable series improves as it focuses on family drama and love triangles.
As the season opens, Victor Salazar (Michael Cimino) has just come out to his parents Isabel (Ana Ortiz) and Armando (James Martinez) — right after they dropped their own bombshell that they are separating. Isabel is having trouble processing her son’s sexuality, which creates a real tension between them. Armando, however, joins a PFLAG group. The first session is hosted by Jack Spicer (Josh Duhamel), Simon’s father from the original film.
Victor seems empowered by his announcement, and while he is initially reluctant to tell the school that he has broken up with Mia (Rachel Hilson) to be with Benji (George Sear), he eventually does so in a big dramatic moment. “Love, Victor” gets less corny as the season progresses, though Victor and Benji are annoyingly cute. They kiss and are very affectionate in school or the café where they work. But like all the other characters in the series, they have their ups and downs. One occurs when Victor, a star basketball player, quits the team because his being openly gay upsets some of his teammates. More drama occurs as Isabel’s lack of respect towards Benji leads to fights between mother and son and causes tension between the two teens.
The series certainly gets soap-operatic with these plotlines, but “Love, Victor” also addresses teenage sexuality in an episode where Victor and his friends go to Benji’s family’s cabin hoping to lose their virginity. Victor texts Simon (series producer Nick Robinson) for advice, but he ends up having to navigate on his own. Likewise, Victor’s best friend and neighbor, Felix (Anthony Turpel), is hoping to sleep with his girlfriend Lake (Bebe Wood). The show is sweetest when Victor and Felix talk about their respective troubles.
Other involving mini-dramas develop over the course of the season. Mia briefly dates a college guy, but really wants Andrew (Mason Gooding). She also has some family drama involving her father (Mekhi Phifer) and her absent mother. Felix’s mother (Betsy Brandt) has some mental health issues, causing him and Lake to take a break, during which Felix bonds with Victor’s sister, Pilar (Isabella Ferreira), who has been harboring a crush on him. And Victor learns one of Benji’s secrets during an awkward birthday dinner. These exchanges lead to several discussions where characters talk about wanting to fit in or show how they evolve and grow.
“Love, Victor” also introduces another gay character this season in the form of Rahim (Anthony Keyvan), a closeted Iranian classmate who wears fingernail polish and asks Victor for help coming out — much like Victor asked Simon. Rahim’s presence is a not unwelcome addition to the series. Although Isabel is wary of Benji, she embraces Rahim, who spends time at the Salazar’s house to avoid conflicts at his home. Rahim and Victor become friendly, and the timing, of course, coincides with Victor’s relationship with Benji becoming strained following a series of fights. There is a real connection between these two non-white characters, especially in an episode where they play hooky from school one day.
“Love, Victor” also shows how Felix handles Lake and Pilar, which is akin to Victor’s situation with Benji and Rahim. And when Armando meets a woman at his PFLAG meetings, it suggests he may be moving on from his crumbling marriage. The series certainly milks these romantic dramas, where many a well-meaning act is construed as betrayal. Everything is magnified for these teens (and their families), but even at its most contrived — as when Victor and Rahim sneak into to a gay bar and perform a fabulous karaoke number — the show remains endearing.
The cast leans into the material. Michael Cimino is strongest when Victor acts with confidence, expressing his opinions and demanding respect. He displays appropriate vulnerability and anxiety, too, but it is nice to see him getting wiser even though he often makes foolish or impulsive decisions. The scenes between Victor and his mother are quite strong, in part because Ana Ortiz makes Isabel’s struggle palpable. It is satisfying that her character has some trouble with Victor’s sexuality and that she acknowledges the work she has to do to deal with it. And George Sear, as Benji, lends fine support as the initially patient boyfriend who eventually becomes justifiably angry with Victor and concerned about Rahim. Although Anthony Keyvan plays Rahim as a gay stereotype — with deep knowledge of fashion and Jennifer Lopez films — it does serve a purpose when Rahim is rejected by a guy for being effeminate.
“Love, Victor” raises several issues of importance to queer teens (and adults), and while they may only be touched on in each half-hour episode, they go down smoothly. Of course, the show ends with a cliffhanger, but this binge-worthy season will likely leave viewers wanting more.