“I know — don’t tell my bosses,” Love, Victor star Michael Cimino joked over the phone to Refinery29 as he chatted about his new Hulu teen romance series. In an era when YA shows aren’t just pushing the envelope — they’re smoking the metaphorical envelope, throwing on some face glitter, and then hooking up at a rave — it’s possible 20-year-old Cimino was copping to his own boundary-breaking behavior.
But, no, the topic at hand is classic Nickelodeon sitcoms. “I used to love Drake and Josh,” Cimino admitted. “I. Used. To. Love. Drake & Josh.”
Love, Victor, which was originally developed for Disney+, isn’t exactly as PG-soft as Cimino’s old-school fave. There are no slapstick hijinks to be found in the Hulu dramedy, which premieres June 17, and problems aren’t solved after 23 minutes of easy, breezy television. Yet, the series — based on the world established in 2018’s Love, Simon — also isn’t as graphic as the current pillars of teen TV, Netflix's 13 Reasons Why and HBO's Euphoria. Instead, Love, Victor offers a brand-new slice of teenage life — while never making the journey of its hero, Cimino’s Victor Salazar, too syrupy sweet to actually enjoy.
If you want to know just how different Love, Victor is from its raunchier predecessors, take a look at the carnival in the series premiere. Euphoria’s 2019 carnival episode included the revelation of a sexual relationship between a father of two (Eric Dane) and his youngest son’s classmate (Hunter Schafer), a teen girl (Sydney Sweeney) stimulating sex on a carousel horse, and a smorgasbord of illicit substances.
The most intense question facing Victor at his carnival is whether he’ll follow his heart and go on a ferris wheel with Benji (George Sear), the boy he has a jittery crush on, or Mia (This Is Us’ Young Beth, Rachel Hilson), the most beloved girl at his new school, Creekwood High. Some light handholding, or maybe a chaste peck on the mouth, are on the table. The crux of Love, Simon is watching Victor, a boy from a loving-but-conservative Latinx family, figure out his sexuality and how to share it with the people around him (Cimino himself is Puerto Rican and Italian-German). It’s a relatable problem Victor explores through gentle high school parties and internet letters to Simon (voiced by Nick Robinson, who starred in the film adaptation of Love, Simon), who recently graduated from Creekwood.
“I feel like the reality of high school is somewhere in the middle of the two,” Cimino said about his show and high-octane dramas like Euphoria. “Ultimately, not everyone who goes to high school is so explicit, let's just say. But also, not everyone who goes to high school is so clean cut. I feel like [reality] definitely lies somewhere in between.”
Love, Victor keeps itself from getting far too “clean cut” by having Victor make some tough, possibly upsetting, decisions. Although Victor is obviously into dreamy Benji, he decides to romantically pursue Mia, the choice he believes is more palatable for his Catholic, Latinx family and nosy new friends. As season 1 progresses, it’s impossible to pin down precisely how Victor, a boy only starting to understand his queer identity, feels about Mia.
“Mia is definitely someone that he really does love, honestly and genuinely,” Cimino explained. “I just don’t think that he really knows in which way he loves her. That line kinda gets blurred.”
That understandable youthful confusion, Cimino said, is what keeps viewers on Victor’s side. “Dating when you’re in high school, it’s a self-discovery process in itself. I remember when I was dating in high school, I didn’t really know what I wanted in a girl, nor did I know what I wanted at all,” Cimino began. “Mia just happened to be part of that process [for Victor] and it wasn’t in a malicious intent. I feel like people will receive that — it’s true and it’s honest, you know?”
Love, Victor is similarly real when it comes to questioning how culture influences coming out. While Simon Spier grew up witnessing the intense progressive allyship of his suburban white parents, Victor, who hails from a tiny religious Texas town, doesn't have the same experience. Although Victor knows his family cares for him deeply, he’s terrified to accept his queerness after witnessing a lifetime of homophobic microaggressions from his macho dad Armando (One Day at a Time's macho dad James Martinez). When Armando “playfully” suggests a stylish churchgoer is gay during a flashback to Victor’s childhood you can tell it’s not a “joke” — it’s a small dagger to Victor’s fragile sense of self.
“A thing that’s so prevalent, especially right now, is accountability,” Cimino said. “If you have a child, you want them to be accepted. You want them to live in a world where they feel free to be who they are. We’re working towards getting to a point like that. But part of that [process] is holding people accountable for when they say things that are not politically correct and not okay to say.”