As their hormones begin to rapidly change, sexuality becomes a natural topic of discussion for teens. The conversation of teen sexuality and the exploration of sex in general isn’t anything new to TV. However, rarely does television feature LGBTQ+ characters exploring the whats, wheres and hows of sex. Hulu’s “Love, Simon” spinoff, “Love, Victor,” makes strides for LGBTQ+ representation by being the first gay character-led teen TV show.
In comparison to “Love, Simon,” which some say is a gay movie for straight people, “Love, Victor” takes a huge leap for diversity by making its titular character Puerto Rican and a member of a middle-class family, as well as by showing the difficulties he goes through in his day-to-day life besides struggling with his sexuality — because, shocker, his sexuality isn’t his entire personality. This is refreshing in comparison to Simon, whose story is still important but comes with less risk since his family is upper-class, white and liberal.
Victor also faces generational homophobia, demonstrated when his grandfather reacts with disgust and confusion after seeing two teenage boys kiss in Season 1. This is a slap in the face for Victor, who is still building confidence in his identity, and is a great example of how the smallest gesture can send someone right back into the closet, hiding behind a fake identity.
As the show progresses, it is satisfying to see Victor come to terms with his sexuality. It makes sense for the first season to end on the cliffhanger of him coming out to his parents, leaving the door open for Season 2’s exploration of his established sexuality and the repercussions of coming out.
The most recent season of “Love, Victor” picks up right where it left off, with reaction shots of his family: his sister looking happy and proud, his dad surprised but concerned about his son’s well-being and his mom’s expression of complete shock and disbelief.
One of the things the show does best is juxtapose the parents’ abilities to understand Victor and who he is as he grows. Victor’s dad, Armando, starts going to PFLAG meetings, hoping to understand the changes that happen after your child comes out, whereas his mom, Isabel, goes to confession to speak with her priest. As the season continues, we see Armando become more comfortable as Victor builds a relationship with his boyfriend, Benji. Meanwhile, Isabel can’t even be in the same room as the couple, to the point of self-sabotaging a special home-cooked meal Benji is invited to.
LGBTQ+ characters have pretty much always been stereotyped while on TV — the gay best friend, the scary dyke, the super flamboyant colleague or the athletic tomboy, to name a few — with many of these stereotypes being awful one-note characters (looking at you, Kurt Hummel). “Love, Victor” dedicates an entire episode to Victor’s gay identity crisis, which features a wonderful montage that includes him trying on a fedora and a random girl at school asking for his skin care routine.
But Victor wears khakis and Old Navy graphic tees and he loves basketball. With frustration, Victor says, “I’m too straight for Benji’s friends” after being called Benji’s perfect straight boy fantasy and “I’m too gay for basketball” after his coach tells him he’ll have to shower in a separate locker room. It is wonderful to see Victor as a “regular” boy stuck in between the world he’s always known and the world he’s barely exploring.
The second season’s overall theme is about Victor finding out who gay Victor is, but even the side plots still have more heart and empathy than every episode of “Riverdale” combined. Victor’s neighbor and best friend, Felix, is basically raising himself as his mom suffers from severe manic depression and has not been able to work since falling into a low episode.
In a pivotal moment for mental health representation, Felix sees a change in his mom after a few weeks on new meds. She showers, gets dressed, cleans the apartment and even cooks a meal for Felix and his girlfriend, Lake. However, like a pin dropping, after Lake rejects her gift of plates, she smashes a dish on the floor. None of it is played for laughs or tries to glorify mental illness. The series dives deeper into the fears of a parent separated from their child in a mental hospital and the anger that arises despite knowing the ones who love you are just trying to help you.
By far, the best exploration of Victor is him losing his virginity. Growing up, I never saw any teen TV show treat LGBTQ+ sex just like straight sex. I was also shocked that, despite being owned by Disney, Hulu took the opportunity to be transparent about sex for multiple characters — from different types of condoms and lubricants to even a healthy discussion about genital grooming, this shows the growth in television since the banned prom episode of “Boy Meets World.”
Victor’s lost virginity parallels Felix’s, and they both naturally express their fears. It doesn’t matter what gender they are having sex with — both guys are afraid of messing up or looking stupid, which is a universal feeling. Felix asks Victor if it is any easier for him, and he tells him no, it’s not, because he has no idea what he’s doing; gay intercourse is not taught in school and it’s never shown on TV, so he’s truly going into his first time blind.
Carol and Susan from “Friends” were the first lesbian couple I ever saw, yet they were born out of infidelity and were the butt of a lot of jokes to help a sad straight man cope. The characters on “Glee,” despite being groundbreaking, were one-dimensional and super problematic. Naomi and Emily from E4’s “Skins” had the first lesbian sex scene I had ever seen and I probably watched it 100 times: It was the first time in my closeted life where I watched TV and for once could see my reflection — an example of what my future might look like.
Victor and Benji have sex only when Victor is ready, and the show further discusses the subtle homophobia Victor’s mom displays when she catches them in the act, which is portrayed with realistic body positions that I have never seen in something marketed for teens. LGBTQ+ sex is still largely viewed as overtly adult, so it is shocking and impressive for Hulu to choreograph accurate positions. Even though they are subtle and tame compared to Netflix’s “Sex Education,” it is still a better representation than it being hidden under a sheet.
Teen sex and sexuality are nothing new, and with the resurgence of teen soaps like “Riverdale,” “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” and “All American,” there have been a lot of hot and heavy sex scenes on teen TV. But LGBTQ+ sex scenes are few and far between, and if a sex scene happens to be queer it’s usually glorifying the sex for the straight audience members with an LGBTQ+ — usually lesbian — fantasy. “Love, Victor,” however, completely stays away from anything negative during its exploration of Victor’s loss of virginity.
Season 2 of “Love, Victor” ends with us wondering who Victor will choose after the last three episodes establish a love triangle. This grounded, honest and authentic show is one that has the potential to take Victor through college. Its ability to cover topics that demanded a parental advisory in 1997 is a long-overdue breath of fresh air in a Hollywood clouded with oversexualized, neon-aesthetic teenage fantasy shows seemingly written on hallucinogens. Without word of a Season 3 renewal just yet, I keep my hopes up that this diverse queer show doesn’t get canceled.