It’s hard enough for a coming-of-age story to stand out anymore without being allowed to stand on its own. And that’s a dilemma for Love, Victor, which has the uncommon burden of being asked to live up to the high bar set by Love, Simon, the successful 2018 feature film about the coming-out of a gay teenager.
This painfully earnest 10-episode sequel, originally developed for Disney+, is as inherently sweet as its predecessor, and being built around a Latino family, it’s even more admirably diverse. But the series is often so corny, preachy and predictable it should come with eye-roll emojis. Anyone who may have thought Simon a bit schmaltzy may cringe at Victor‘s “Afterschool Special” tendencies.
Set in the same Atlanta high school Simon (Nick Robinson) attended, this Love story introduces Victor Salazar (Michael Cimino), a high-school sophomore transplant from Texas who’s struggling with his sexual orientation. You could start a drinking game—nothing stronger than Kool-Aid, please—any time Victor wonders aloud that he’s still trying to figure out just who he is. He’s almost too instantly befriended by goofy neighbor Felix (Anthony Turpel working overtime to achieve a John Hughes-era Jon Cryer sidekick vibe), whose geeky outsider status threatens to further stigmatize the shy but charismatic and athletically inclined “new kid.”
When Victor learns about local-legend Simon’s story, he’s instantly captivated and begins texting him for advice. Obsessively, one might uncharitably think. And though Simon has graduated and moved to New York, he answers back—a lot—with platitudes like “Don’t be so desperate to fit in that you betray yourself or the people you care about.” (He should have added: “And don’t show up unannounced.”)
Among those Victor worries about letting down: his family, including a sullen sister (Isabella Ferreira) and parents (Ugly Betty‘s Ana Ortiz and James Martinez) who have their own honesty and acceptance issues; and his two significant crushes: smart and lovely Mia (Rachel Naomi Hilson), who becomes his girlfriend, and co-worker barista Benji (George Sear), an openly gay hottie whose gestures of friendship leave Victor even more confused.
With enough contrived triangles to start its own geometry class, and comic relief provided by Felix’s unrequited longing for Mia’s self-obsessed social-climbing BFF Lake (Bebe Wood, a standout), Love, Victor is watchable but rarely memorable. Even when you empathize with Victor’s growing pains and want to cheer him on during his journey of discovery, you may wish it all didn’t feel so much like a life lesson.
Love, Victor, Series Premiere, Wednesday, June 17, Hulu