He fends off questions about girlfriends from classmates who presume he is straight, falls for guys who he isn’t sure of their sexuality and takes on playground bullies. All the while, he’s trying to find answers for himself.
The show, which debuted in the States last summer, is a rare find: a mainstream teen drama series with an LGBTQ lead character.
“When it was releasedthere was this really beautiful outpouring of reactions,” reflects Elizabeth Berger. She’s one of two executive producers on the series and also the writer of Love, Simon, the feature film set in the Love, Victor universe.
“The best is when you hear from a teenager who felt really alone before the show,” adds Isaac Aptaker, writer and executive producer of Love, Victor.
“Seeing their stories and seeing some kernel of truth reflected on the screen help that person either talk to their parents or their friends, or come out or figure something else out about themselves – our cast gets them every day and that’s the best feeling in the world.”
A queer teen lead is certainly a milestone to celebrate – that’s not to say the 10-part series hasn’t been at the receiving end of criticism too.
One response from some of the queer community has been that Victor is relatively isolated on his journey to finding himself, without the benefit of a joyous queer community such as the one depicted in Russell T Davies’ recent hit, It’s A Sin.
Critics have also argued the show’s positivity (we’re keeping this spoiler-free) feels unrealistic of the struggles young queer people disproportionately experience.
“There are so many different ways that LGBTQ representation can be dramatised on television and we can’t take them all on, nor do we think we should, ’cause we want to stay really specific,” says Elizabeth of Victor’s journey.
“I think there’s been such a trend recently where TV’s gotten really really dark,” adds Isaak.
“We’ve seen so many shows about people doing despicable things. We love those shows, but I think there’s also a space and an appetite and, really, a need for shows that present a bit more of a positive world view.”
He argues that positivity is especially in demand for an underserved audience like the teenage LGBTQ community. “They deserve a show that has a little bit of wish fulfilment, has a little bit of gloss on it, has a little bit of that high school escapist fantasy world.”
Victor is introduced to a wider range of LGBTQ characters as the season progresses. And Elizabeth confirms Victor’s “world gets bigger” in season two, which is already in the works, although she stops short at revealing further details.
What about trans representation, given the community is even more underrepresented than the queer community as a whole? “It’s something that we’d love to develop on,” says Isaac.
“One half-hour show only has room for so many characters and we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew, and we would never want to tell a story unless we could really do it service and tell it authentically. But it’s something we talk about all the time and are very open to.”
Others have noted that Love, Victor’s lead star Michael Cimino identifies as straight, which jars with Elizabeth’s message that they “want there to be as much LGBTQ representation on our show as possible”.
While a “gigantic proportion” of the show’s writers and cast are LGBTQ, “some of our cast do not identify that way and they just were extremely excited to be a part of the show, and be allies for the show,” says Elizabeth.
“But we’re always looking for more representation within our cast and we have more in season two as well.”
Gay actors playing gay roles is a conversation that reignited recently when Russell T Davies told the Radio Times that he’d only employed gay actors to play gay roles in It’s A Sin.
“You wouldn’t cast someone able-bodied and put them in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t black someone up. Authenticity is leading us to joyous places,” he said.
Actor Richard E Grant is another name to have spoken out in favour of this casting style. “The transgender movement and the #MeToo movement means, how can you justify heterosexual actors playing gay characters?” he explained in an interview with The Sunday Times.
Many say there are enough LGBTQ actors in the world to fit the variety of LGBTQ roles available, so this approach should be an industry standard.
Others, such as the actor Cate Blanchett, have defended straight actors playing gay roles. “I will fight to the death for the right to suspend disbelief and play roles beyond my experience,” she told the Hollywood Reporter.
Elizabeth and Isaak say that “of course” they sympathise with the decision to cast gay actors in gay roles, even though that was not the exact route they took.
“Ithink it’s a really complicated issue,” says Isaak. “I completely understand people who feel that way and if that’s how they want to bring their vision to life, then we support that.”
Making the show representative required bringing in real queer teens, say the duo, who assembled LGBTQ writers from Latinx families, and looked to Gen Z too.
“All our writers are older, [so] we brought in high school students from gay-straight alliances and talked to them about what their experiences are like in the present day growing up,” says Isaak.
The writers did borrow from their own more mature life experiences too when it came to getting the tone right. “We do really want to show that as you grow and as you get older your world gets bigger and bigger,” Elizabeth says.
It’s very important for us to show your experience when you’re a kid, how limited it can feel – that’s not your whole lifeElizabeth Berger, Love, Victor producer
“You continue to go through life and find your people. That is something I think that we show in season two toward the end. We really see Victor’s world get larger and it’s something we continue in season two as other people’s worlds get larger and more and more different kinds of people are drawn to our group.
“It’s very important for us to show your experience when you’re a kid, how limited it can feel - that’s not your whole life.”
The hope is that the show may be a bellwether of sorts for more queer youth drama. “The more mainstream successes that there are telling LGBTQ stories, the more opportunities there are for more stories to exist,” believes Isaac.
“Hopefully the fact that Love, Victor is able to reach a wide audience creates more opportunities for new stories, and then starts to fill that need for all of these different people to have more exact versions of their own experience reflected to them. No one show can ever tackle it all.”
Love, Victor is available on Star on Disney+ from February 23. Watch the trailer below.