Arts and Entertainment

“Love, Victor”: An Imperfect Story, Imperfectly Told

While “Love, Victor” represented a major step forward for LGBTQ+ diversity, the show had major flaws and was too straight-pleasing for most LGBTQ+ audiences.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“Endearing,” “compelling,” and “must-watch” are just a few words used by critics to describe Hulu’s pride-month release, “Love, Victor.” Centered around Victor Salazar (Michael Cimino), a Colombian-American high school student struggling with his sexual identity, the show struck big not just among critics but among audiences too. The show’s first season introduces Victor’s imperfect world centered mostly around his relationships, whether that be with his family, new friends and girlfriend, or himself and his sexuality. Building on this, the second season, released in the summer of 2021, follows Victor as he fights for acceptance from everyone else. Through Victor’s many arguments with his parents, audiences learn that not every coming-out story is as easy as the one seen in “Love, Simon” (2018)—the prequel movie to this show. Victor, now dating his boyfriend Benji (George Sear), navigates the conflict between the traditional beliefs of his Colombian parents and his progressive boyfriend while also being the only gay kid on the basketball team. The second season not only opens up Victor’s external struggles with being gay but also sheds light on the importance of family and friendships, especially in a period of confusion and uncertainty.

“Love, Victor,” like many of today’s high school shows, is centered around moments in time rather than a strict narrative plot structure. The intent of the show is to focus on character development––Victor’s especially, but also the entirety of the main cast––and dive deep into the conflicts between Victor’s identity, relationships, and social life. Because of the focus on character development, the audience is able to see Victor’s close friends not only as integral parts of his life, but also as individual characters.

The largest impact of “Love, Victor” lies in the uniqueness of its message. The show’s second season displays that the coming-out process is often difficult and that immediate acceptance, as seen in “Love, Simon,” is not always the norm for gay teens. “Love, Victor” is symbolic of a major step forward in the entertainment world, as it thrusts LGBTQ+ narratives and characters into the spotlight, a significant development in an industry that has a rocky history with the LGBTQ+ community. Yet, “Love, Victor,” like Victor’s own world, has its imperfections.

Though audiences expressed primarily positive reviews of the show, there was one critique that continued to surface: “Love, Victor” is a gay show designed for straight people. Productions heavily featuring LGBTQ+ characters often need to walk a fine line between queer narratives and what straight audiences find acceptable. By overemphasizing a character’s gay identity, the directors would’ve done the LGBTQ+ community a disservice, contradicting the message of the show and perpetuating stereotypes. However, in an effort to keep their straight audience comfortable, the directors opted to have Victor and Benji, Victor’s boyfriend, appear aggravatingly straight-passing, from their outfits to their general lack of gay culture awareness (the only major reference to gay pop culture in the entire season is a single reference to Grindr.) This is more justifiable for Victor’s character as he is still coming to terms with his identity throughout the show, but Benji’s character is fully comfortable in his sexual identity. He’s not Hollywood’s stereotypical gay character––flamboyant, broadway nerd, etc.––but he is part of a punk-rock band, has had relationships with other guys, and is completely out to his welcoming family and school. Keeping in mind the intended audience, it makes sense that the producers opted to not overstuff the season with constant gay culture references. But in that effort, they ended up downplaying the significance of fashion, culture, and gay inspiration for Victor, all to maintain the straight audience’s comfort.

The show also falls short in terms of casting representation. Both Cimino and Sear, the actors for Victor and Benji, identify as straight. It’s long been a debate whether or not cishet actors should be able to play LGBTQ+ characters, and it was disappointing, to say the least, to discover that such an empowering show was weakened by its casting. Cimino’s performance was near flawless and garnered rave reviews for his portrayal of Victor, but, to no fault of his own, his performance was lacking in authenticity. Presented with an opportunity to connect to LGBTQ+ youth, the casting directors of “Love, Victor'' did the audience a disservice.

However, the second season does take some major steps forward from the first season. Not only did the racial diversity of the cast increase, the second half of the show also saw the introduction and growth of another character: Rahim. The most recent newcomer to Victor’s high school walks into Victor’s life the same way Victor entered the “Love, Simon” universe: simply asking for advice. Unsure of how to come out to his parents and of their reaction, Rahim comes to Victor looking for help. Rahim was an immediate favorite for audiences, especially LGBTQ+ audiences craving a less-straight-presenting character, which is exactly what Rahim gave them.

“Love, Victor” isn’t perfect by any means, but it represents a massive step forward in terms of bringing attention to LGBTQ+ stories and characters. The show gave LGBTQ+ high school students the chance to see that our stories matter and that we deserve a chance in the spotlight. In Victor Salazar, LGBTQ+ students can begin to see someone who took the first step, who symbolized acceptance for Creekwood’s students and LGBTQ+ students all over the world.