How Hulu's Love, Victor series connects with Love, Simon
Set within the same world as the 2018 LGBTQ rom-com, the 10-episode series focuses on Creekwood High's newest student, Victor, as he sets off on his own journey of self-discovery after Simon changed the school's culture forever. Victor faces different kinds of challenges at home as he adjusts to a new city and school and explores his sexual orientation as he quickly meets and makes friends with his lanky, awkward new neighbor, Felix (Anthony Turpel), Creekwood's resident popular girl Mia (Rachel Naomi Hilson), and her quirky, social media-obsessed best friend, Lake (Bebe Wood). But Victor's most important new connection is the one he makes with the movie's main character, Simon, who is now a college student living in New York City after navigating his own coming-out journey at Creekwood.
Early in the series premiere of Love, Victor, Victor reaches out to Simon via Instagram DM for advice as he begins to figure out who he is, connecting the characters of the movie and the series in the best way. Through each DM, Simon and Victor's back-and-forth continues the story of the movie while shifting the focus to a new character's experience, which was exactly why showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger — who wrote Love, Simon — were inspired to do the spin-off.
"The goal in making the movie with Greg [Berlanti] was to do this fairy-tale, aspirational, wish-fulfillment version of a coming-out story that we hadn't seen done at a major studio before, and what was so great about the success of the film is it allowed us a platform to continue telling these kinds of stories," Aptaker tells EW. "We realized from the response we got from kids after the movie was how starved this group is for representation and how much it matters for people and for teenagers to see stories that reflect them up on the screen. So when the opportunity came along to do a sequel follow-up of sorts, we said, 'Why not set in the same world a very, very different kind of coming-out story and create a character who doesn't have this incredibly liberal set of parents, who doesn't have a group of friends who he's known since childhood, who's transferring into a new school and a new world at 15 years old, and has a much tougher road ahead of him as he's figuring out his sexuality?'"
Series star Cimino — who remembers being "so freaking stoked" walking out of the theater after seeing Love, Simon for the first time — is excited to portray a young Latinx character struggling with his sexuality because Victor's background and family life mean his experience is very different from a an affluent white teen like Simon. "It's an honor to represent the LGBTQ community and also represent the Latino community in a way where it gives them a voice, especially now when we need something that's uplifting but also educational," the actor tells EW. "In times like these, we need to have more perspectives to educate people. Victor comes from a different social class, he's a different ethnicity, his family is more conservative. Maybe this can inspire other kids that didn't necessarily have that much of a smooth transition to accept who they are."
Aptaker promises that, while the series has a similar tone to the movie, it isn't just a retelling of the movie. "We tried to use the movie as almost like a pre-pilot and setting a template for what the series would be," he says. "We want people to feel like they're coming back to a universe. That said, we're doing a TV show with 10 half-hours as opposed to a two-hour movie, so we are able to flesh out Victor's family and his friend group in a way that a movie just doesn't allow for. And in terms of Victor's story, we start him at a much earlier point in time. Simon is sure that he's gay, he's just in the closet and figuring out how to tell his friends and family. When we start our series with Victor, he's still trying to sort out, 'Am I attracted to guys? Am I attracted to girls?'"
Cimino loves how Victor "does not know what he is yet," adding that it's great to see someone so young grappling with such an important decision on TV. "He's still deciding and trying to figure out where he falls on the scale of sexuality," he says. "That's a different element that makes it very different from the movie."
As for those DMs, Cimino warns that those messages are going to impact Victor's life more than he may realize when he sends that first one to Simon. "As the series continues, it's fun to watch and see how that first DM from Victor changes [his life]," he teases. "But the way that Victor introduces himself to Simon is not necessarily polite. It's brash. And I think that it shows a lot about Simon as a character to show how much he can see through that and see how much Victor is hurting. And so because of that, he starts talking to Victor and Simon literally becomes one of the biggest influences in Victor's life."
Having Victor and Simon become virtual pen pals on social media was one of the first ideas that got the series going. "We really felt like we had told Simon's story to completion," Berger says. "We were really proud of how we told it and wanted to leave it alone. So we didn't really want to do a straight sequel but we did love the universe, so the idea that we could really focus on another kid but keep Simon as an integral part of his story really excited us. There is such an aspirational element to the notion of, 'What if I had the coolest kid from school a few years earlier giving me advice on how to navigate my life?' That seemed like a dream come true to all of us that we wish we'd had when we were back in high school."
Aptaker describes the dynamic as Simon being the "cooler, big-brother, mentor figure" to Victor. But he's not perfect. "He is helping Victor navigate all the ups and downs in a world that he survived so he knows it very well," he adds. "That said, Simon is a very, very different kid and a very different character than Victor, so there's going to be parts of Victor's journey that he can't speak to, and we address what that's like in the series too."
"He's obviously not some guru that has all of the answers for every situation," Berger says. "At the end of the day, this is a kid that came out a couple years ago who is early in his college experience, so he's still learning and growing too. We just wanted a point of view that he is a lovely, empathic sounding board, but he's not someone that has all of the answers."
And Victor doesn't take Simon's advice as gospel, either. "Victor isn't just following Simon's advice blindly," Aptaker says. "We tried to mix it up in terms of whether he's actually listening to Simon in terms of what to do or making decisions on his own so it didn't feel like every episode was Victor just doing what Simon told him."
Robinson, who is a producer on the series, recorded voice-over for every episode of the first season of Love, Victor, narrating the messages Simon sends Victor. "That was part of the very initial plan and the way we described the show to Nick right off the bat, and he really loved it," Berger says. "We were all really aligned in our feeling that that was the right level of Simon's involvement. You might see him a little more in the series, but for the most part, we felt like that was right because we just really, really wanted it to be Victor's story. Voice-over seemed like the perfect balance of keeping Nick and Simon part of our world but focusing in on our new guy."
Cimino gets audibly excited as he thinks back to the moment when he finally got to meet Robinson in person at the end of production on season 1. "It's kind of poetic in a way because I met him without the rest of the cast and it was really great," he says. "He offered me a lot of perspective and he was just like, 'Dude, you've been doing a great job. I've seen the dailies and I'm happy that they passed the torch to you.' That warmed my heart to hear from such a freaking talented actor. He's so good! And to hear that from him, the guy that started this all, was such an incredible experience for me."
Season 1 of Love, Victor debuts Wednesday, June 17, on Hulu.