Joe and Terry review season two of Hulu’s Love, Victor. In this first post, we’re tackling the front half of the season with a spoiler free review of episodes 1 – 5. Look for a spoilery, full season review in a few days.
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- S02 Episodes 6-10 (On Gayly Dreadful)
It’s been a long wait, but S2 of Love, Victor, the TV spin-off of Love, Simon has finally arrived, Terry! To say that I’ve been excited for the show’s return, and to see how – or if – it would address some of the issues we had with S1 is an understatement.
Let’s get our cards on the table right off the bat: S2 of Love, Victor is an improvement over S1 if for no other reason than the narrative isn’t hampered by keeping most of its characters in the dark about Victor (Michael Cimino)’s sexuality. There’s also the added benefit of the series being serialized, so the characters have an opportunity to learn, grow and evolve over the course of the show. This is particularly helpful for generating audience investment, so even subplots from S1 become compounded emotionally when they reappear and turn into something more substantial in S2 (see, for example, the developing story around Anthony Turpel’s Felix and his bipolar mother, who is played by the wonderful Betsy Brandt).
With one exception, S2 picks up several months after the cliffhanger ending of the first season. It’s a smart move by showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger to revisit Victor’s coming out scene with his family because it’s an immediate emotional gut-punch and it sets up Armando (James Martinez) and Isabel (Ana Ortiz)’s major conflict for the season. By jumping ahead several months to the end of summer immediately afterwards, it allows the show to gain some distance and highlight what’s changed: Victor is happy, Armando is processing and Isabel is struggling.
‘Perfect Summer Bubble’ is, in many ways, a perfect reintroduction to the show, the characters and this world. By taking place days before the kids return to school, the episode is allowed to take its time to breathe, reestablish the relationships and anticipate conflicts to come, without overwhelming the narrative.
Victor and his near-perfect boyfriend Benji (George Sear) are cute and romantic; Victor’s best friend and neighbour Felix and his girlfriend Lake (Bebe Wood) are similarly adorable, but Felix is prone to confiding in Victor’s sister Pilar (Isabella Ferreira) rather than Lake. The group is also close with Victor’s basketball friend Andrew (Mason Gooding) and his summer girlfriend Lucy (Ava Capri). Finally, Mia (Rachel Hilson) has spent the summer away at camp in an effort to get distance from Victor, as well as her father Harold (Mekhi Phifer) and his pregnant fiancé Victoria (Sophia Bush).
It’s just about the right amount of exposition and minor character development, with most of the conflict coming from the very different ways that Armando and Isabel have handled Victor’s coming out. Armando, now living in his own place, is trying to be supportive and educate himself. Isabel, meanwhile, continually refers to Benji as Victor’s friend and can barely stand to discuss Victor’s personal life, much less be involved in it. It’s a nice inversion of the typical depiction of parents in queer texts, which tend to feature supporting and nurturing mothers and disapproving fathers.
Most importantly it grounds the parents’ storyline within Victor’s narrative, which is a nice step up from S1 when more often than not they felt like they were in their own standalone series. The same goes for Pilar, who has been freed from the confines of whining about moving and barely interacting with other characters; here her interactions (and romantic interest?) in Felix spell exciting new storyline opportunities.
In my opinion, however, the most exciting story in these early episodes actually belongs to Mia. Without her relationship to Victor, Mia goes into a kind of freefall in which she doesn’t know where she fits in and…it’s kinda fantastic? Hilson is such a likeable actress, and her struggle in these first few episodes to re-integrate back into the group, and process her simultaneous happiness for and anger with Victor is really giving Hilson a lot of great material to play with.
Terry, how did you feel about the premiere? Were you happy to get back to school storylines in episode 2? And do you see any adjustments in the maturity level of the content now that the series is firmly rooted at Hulu?
Joe, I’m glad you brought up Mia because, in preparation for this season, I went back to watch the last three episodes of season one. Rachel Hilson’s performance when Mia comes across Victor and Benji smooching is some mature acting. We see every possible emotion cross her face in a matter of seconds and she takes that same complexity into season two. I completely agree that she’s the best part of these initial episodes and it’s great that Love, Victor allows the fallout of the first season to be messy.
These first two episodes, in particular, improve on virtually everything in the first season. It feels so much more assured and mature, as if it’s casting off the more kid-gloved original themes that may speak to its origins as a Disney+ show (ironically, the show is on international versions of Disney+ because…well, America).
Diving into episode two “Day One, Take Two,” Love, Victor reintroduces us to Creekwood High and gives Victor a different kind of anxiety from the first episode. While we’re given an episode to see how his friends and family are adjusting to the now out Victor, “Day One, Take Two” shows the anxiety and stress of coming out on a public level.
It also sets up conflict between Victor and his basketball team, who are established as exactly the kind of bro-y high school jocks you’d expect. After Victor and Mia’s first awkward post-breakup interactions, one basketball player comes over and greets Victor with, “you still ‘Vic deep’ in that?” Instead of confronting his sexuality immediately, Victor thinks back to the words his mother said to him earlier in the morning about how cruel people can be and he shies away. It’s another small example of how closely the parents’ story is aligned to Victor’s this season.
That conflict continues into episode three “There’s No Gay in Team,” which remphasizes the fact that, while things might be more progressive now, there’s still plenty of bigotry to go around. First, there’s the discussion around tokenism that’s summed up succinctly when Victor DMs Simon (Nick Robinson, in voice only) “when I came out I said I didn’t care what people think…but people sure don’t mind telling me what they think.”
Episode three deals with the aftermath of Victor’s coming out and because Victor is on the basketball team, the drama of changing in front of his teammates rears its ugly head. And while it is incredibly frustrating to watch, Love, Victor hastily addresses it over the course of a single episode. It’s nicely tied into the increasingly interesting adult storyline in a heartbreaking The Gift of the Magi moment, but it is quickly dispatched because this season moves at what feels like an incredibly brisk pace.
When we talk about how much more mature this season is, I have to bring up another moment from this episode: Felix’s side hustle to earn money to keep him and his depressed mother off the streets. Like most YA and drama series, he lies to Lake about it because he’s embarrassed. But unlike a lot of series, it’s a point of contention that doesn’t have a multi-episode arc. Instead, when pushed into a corner, Felix tells Lake and instead of it turning into a fight between the two of them or some other break up plot point, she sets her purse down and helps him. But it also creates tension between Lake and Pilar because Pilar thought she and Felix had a shared secret…it’s an interesting reversal of what we’d typically see in this situation.
Speaking of maturity, this season gets a bit hot and heavy, Joe; particularly as we move into episode 4 “The Sex Cabin.” With the relative tameness of season one and the original film’s incredibly sexless exploration of coming out, did the influx of sexuality surprise you? Did the episode’s homage to the teen sex farce (and resulting injuries) make you laugh? And what do you think about Lake’s sort-of personality course correction this season and her relationship with Felix?
Lake and Felix are definitely still on the comedic end of the show’s spectrum, but you’re right, that they’re also given more dramatic lifting this season and it’s another smart decision by the showrunners. I definitely still laugh at all of Lake’s breezy one-liners (“I’m gonna go” shouldn’t be a zinger…and yet it is) but particularly as Felix’s storyline inches into child abuse/endangerment territory, I appreciate how both characters have shed their sidekick behaviour so that it can be treated seriously.
“The Sex Cabin” is the least successful of these first four episodes for me, if only because it abandons a lot of the complicated storylines for an undercooked rehash of American Pie (right down to the dockside sex!). Obviously I’m happy for Love, Victor to finally tackle (queer) sexuality, though it does require both Victor and Felix to act like complete, non-communicative imbeciles and that gets old quickly. Similarly, Benji and Lake must act so obtuse that they don’t confront their significant others about their odd behaviour until it’s narratively convenient for a make-up and bone down sesh.
Is it amusing to see Victor and Felix rack up a dangerously list number of pre-sex injuries? Sure…but it feels too slight and traditionally sitcomy.
Episode four also confirms that while producer Nick Robinson has a lovely voice, Simon’s presence is no longer required on this show. Victor’s reliance on his mentor (and the show’s connection to its feature film predecessor) has become a distraction and Love, Victor needs to stand on its own without this conceit.
And then there’s Mia’s plotline. Throughout the first three episodes Mia has had to rediscover her place in her own life, come to grips with her sadness and anger at Victor and then forge a new path, which appeared to include college art student Tyler (Daniel Croix). The new love interest is introduced at her father’s party in episode two, then they have a missed connection at the mixer in episode three, which is when she and Victor patch things up. Episode four finally seems like we’ll see more from the character, but instead “The Sex Cabin” turns Tyler into another dunce, then tosses him aside.
Again, the pay-off when Mia finally arrives at her destination is comedically satisfying, but narratively this whole plotline feels too condensed and mildly unsatisfying. It’s reflective of one of my biggest gripes with Love, Victor’s second season that you highlighted above, Terry: some of these storylines are being compressed and dispensed with alarming speed.
Take Lucy, Andrew’s girlfriend, who suffers a similar fate in episode five “Gay Gay”. Take Pilar, who also effectively disappears as soon as Felix confides in Lake about his mother’s illness. Even the obvious “this will become something later” introduction of Julie Benz as Shelby, a potential love interest for Armando from PFLAG feels haphazardly thrown in. Overall, Love, Victor is simply trying to balance too many storylines and some of them are getting lost in the shuffle.
But this hardly matters when the show gets it right. While the lockeroom issue is seemingly resolved in one episode, it takes until episode five to get Victor back on the basketball team and even that development has its share of speed bumps. I especially appreciated Andrew’s slip about Victor’s level of queerness. This is 100% a real life situation that queer people routinely encounter and its inclusion in the series stings with authenticity.
I’d be remiss, though, not to return to Isabel and Armando, because that’s where the front half of the season is on fire. I’m so much more invested in their journey this season, including their ill-timed tryst which confuses Isabel about a possible reunion, despite the fact that she’s fielding advice from her Priest about redirecting Victor “away from sin and back towards God’s love” (yikes).
Huge credit has to go to Ortiz for her delicate portrayal: the character keeps saying the wrong thing (or nothing at all) but the actress wears that struggle in her clenched jaw and her exasperated eyes. Isabel doesn’t want to be distant from Victor, but she doesn’t entirely know how to be around him anymore. It’s a great performance and I can’t wait to see how it develops in the back half.
Terry, what do you think about the speed of some of these storylines? Did you get a kick out of the basketball team and/or Benji’s apologies to Victor in episode five? And what are you hoping to see in episodes six through 10?
You’re absolutely right in your suggestion that the storylines are moving incredibly fast, Joe. On one hand, the breezy nature makes this show eminently bingeable. If I didn’t have to take notes and keep myself paced, I would have blown through the season in a day. I love this aspect of it because when it works, we get conflict resolved in an episode instead of having it become “The Secret” that drags out for an entire season. In another show, Felix’s financial struggle would have become a multi-episode lie he was keeping from Lake, for example, much in the same way we would have had a protracted relationship predicated on a lie between Mia and Tyler.
I think the problem, and what you’ve dug into a bit, is that, unlike season 1, Love, Victor’s second season is digging into some meaty thematic topics. Topics that are generally reserved for the hour-length episodes of a drama, not a breezy 30 minute sitcom. So the show feels a bit split, right now. I was happy to see the basketball drama come back around in “Gay Gay” because it initially felt like a dropped storyline after Victor quits the team. But, instead, it becomes the most interesting conflict in the fifth episode. I actually did get a little choked up when Victor yells at Andrew, “This whole time you haven’t said shit to the guys who don’t want me changing in the lockerroom with them because, at the end of the day, you don’t want to risk your reputation for the gay kid.” It might be a bit on the nose, but damn if it didn’t distill the problem with fake allyship down to a single sentence.
I feel the same way about Armando and Isabel’s crumbling relationship. In season one, their breakup felt rather one note and, as we’ve said, removed from their kids’ storylines. But here it’s a very real exploration of how fractured a family can be when a kid comes out. I particularly love the reverse casting of Ortiz, an actress known for the very queer Ugly Betty, and her performance, as you noted, is rooted in strong physical acting.
But it’s not all serious because, yes, Benji’s apology to Victor in the form of the Grizzly Girls’ dance was…pretty damn cute and funny. I’m still waiting for the moment their relationship fractures because, let’s be honest, this wouldn’t be a TV show without conflict. But for now I’m just happy that their arguments are resolved in clever ways…even if it does involve some misunderstanding on each other’s part.
As for what I’m expecting in the back half of the season, well…episode six is called “Sincerely, Rahim” and I think that might tie into your acknowledgement that the show might have outgrown Simon (and his very sexy voice). I’m curious to see if Victor continues the trend established by Simon and begins being a helpful voice to others who are struggling. I’m also anticipating that Lake talking to her mother about what’s going on with Felix will eventually have repercussions…
I guess we’ll find out when we jump over to Gayly Dreadful for the back half of Love, Victor season 2!
Love, Victor Season 2 is now available on Hulu