"My story is nothing like yours," Victor writes to Simon at the end of the first episode of Hulu's Love, Victor. In the spinoff of 2018's Love, Simon, Victor finds himself the new kid at Creekwood High, where Simon Spier once shared a first kiss with his mystery guy, Blue, atop a Ferris wheel in front of the whole school.
Hearing the tale of Simon's triumphant coming out experience, Victor slides into Simon's Instagram DMs, not to seek guidance on his own journey but to tell him, "Screw you. Screw you for having the world’s most perfect, accepting parents, the world's most supportive friends. Because for some of us, it's not that easy."
If that sounds familiar, it's because it was almost verbatim the criticism lobbied at Love, Simon upon its release: That white, affluent Simon (played by Nick Robinson) had privilege many don't, that his liberal, very supportive parents made his coming out the exception, not the norm. But directly acknowledging those critiques is why Love, Victor exists in the first place and the reason that Love, Simon writers Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger wanted to return to this world.
"We were so proud of Love, Simon and the response to it really exceeded all of our wildest dreams. The one common refrain we did hear from people after the movie was that Simon's story was incredibly specific," Aptaker tells ET. "He was very privileged, he had these incredibly liberal, supportive parents and these friends who he had grown up with and had his back no matter what. That is really just one very aspirational version of a coming out story."
In some ways, that was the point of Love, Simon, to create a glossy rom-com that made history as the first major studio film about a gay kid coming out. "But there are a number of ways that a kid coming out can look," Aptaker says. "Why not use the success of the movie to tell a very, very different version of a coming out story and increase representation for kids who don't have an experience all that similar to Simon?"
Enter Victor Salazar. Though his journey out of the closet shares certain milestones with Simon's, that's largely where their similarities end. Victor's family is markedly middle-class and far more conservative than the Spiers: His father, Armando (James Martinez), works as an electrician, while his mom, Isabel (Ana Ortiz), teaches piano lessons to help pay the bills. The Salazars' first order of business upon moving into their new apartment is finding the best place to hang a crucifix.
Victor's family is also proudly Latino, making his coming out story -- like those on One Day at a Time and Vida before it -- necessary representation for the Latinx LGBTQ community. "There was a desire to view this story through a non-white lens, to try to show the realistic struggles that LGBTQ teenagers deal with when their families are loving and well-intentioned but have their own biases," executive producer Brian Tanen explains.
(It's worth pointing out that Love, Simon did include such a character: Ethan, the out, femme POC dubbed "the real hero" of the movie. Unlike Ethan, Victor is undoubtably "straight-passing," even becoming the star jock of his basketball team -- which the creators say they included to explore homophobia in athletics come season 2.)
To bring their Victor to life, the team cast Michael Cimino, a relative newcomer best known for playing the teenage love interest in Annabelle Comes Home. "I saw Love, Simon with a few of my friends and I literally walked out being like, 'Man, I cannot wait to be part of a project like this," Cimino says. "And then here we are now!" The role is not only his biggest to date, but by centering a Latinx lead in the biggest LGBTQ-fronted show of the year, Love, Victor is as groundbreaking as Love, Simon was before it.
"It's an honor, honestly," the 20-year-old blushes. "My mom cried when the teaser came out. Like, this really sexual teaser and she was crying her eyes out. It was hilarious. I'm like, 'Mom, geez.'"
Love, Victor's complete 10-episode first season debuts on Hulu on Wednesday. For fans of Love, Simon, the follow-up proves full of Easter eggs and well-placed throwbacks, but the series also works for those who never saw the movie. Because, as intended, Love, Victor is a very different story of self-discovery and acceptance -- with the requisite rom-com-worthy meet cute along the way.
"The most rewarding part probably hasn’t really come yet," Cimino says. "I can't wait to see how much this show affects people's lives. I know it's changed my life so much and I hope it has that kind of effect on other people."
Additional Reporting by Leanne Aguilera