Surprise! A BL from the United States! (We do not and cannot call it that though). This is a wonderful BL series about high school boys who are in a gay relationship. I know this is a bit unorthodox to list this as a BL, but it certainly is and is especially well done. Sure, it has the discernment and mores of the American culture, but in a sense, it is still kind of ground-breaking.
Season One dealt with Victor’s ‘coming out’, played beautifully by Michael Cimino. It was a nice story with some comic overtones to it, but with the Disney-like fanfare. It was not deeply character driven, except for Victor having a girlfriend and pretending very hard to be ‘straight’. But he could never bring himself to ‘doing’ it with her, no matter how many ways he tried to psyche himself into getting in the ‘mood’. There was something always tugging at his heart strings, and it was not his girlfriend. He knew he was different. It is then that he meets and is completely smitten by Benji, played by George Sear. Dear God, who would not be smitten by him? Poor Victor has to go through the torment of dealing with a guy on a different playing field than him. Benji is ‘out’ and proud; not afraid to state his sexuality. So, Season One was focused on the uncomfortable stages of “Coming Out”, juxtaposed with comedic overtones. It also ties nicely to the 2018 movie called LOVE SIMON in which Victor develops a friendship with Simon, who acts as his gay guidance guru.
The sequel has an entirely different feel to it and is way more intense and character driven. The two actors are also much more comfortable in their roles playing gay characters (neither one is gay, by the way). This is important because here in the USA, there is a greater awareness and a level of consciousness of what these stories are REALLY about and their intrinsic messages. They know they represent ‘gayness’ and it is important to represent it well and accurately. Perhaps one day (soon), these roles will be exclusively done by gay actors who will not be afraid or be stereotyped. Anyway, the two of them develop and have a physical and sexual relationship and aren’t afraid of proclaiming their relation publicly. This is somewhat refreshing and unique. For the most part, there is no real blow-back except from the basketball team and that is handled very well in terms of the outcome. But to make this palatable to American audiences, the show has the usual side-stories, most of which are uninteresting and frankly unnecessary.
Victor’s parents are having marital problems and none of that is germane to this story. What is important to this story and is handled with some degree of thoughtfulness and intensity is that the mother has a harder time accepting Victor’s gayness than the father. It is quite shocking and surprising. I had expected it to be the opposite, but Victor’s Father realizes he cannot change Victor (nor he wants to) so he tries to find out more about the LGBTQ community. He goes to PFLAGG to learn more about it, while Victor’s Mom turns to religion instead. Being a devout Catholic, you can guess where this goes. When the Church says, Victor will go to hell, the mother realizes that it is utter nonsense. She cannot wrap her head around the idea that her son, who is a good, kind, decent, honest, thoughtful, and a totally caring person, but follows a different love path in which he happens to be attracted to a person of the same sex, is going to be punished by an all-loving God. This series does a great job in a very politically correct way of rebuking the Catholic Church’s orthodox ideologies (which it richly deserves – I am Catholic, so I can say that).
The show also focuses on side stories, which includes Victor’s former girlfriend. They are interesting, but not totally irrelevant to the main narrative. Victor’s best friend, Felix, played by the good-looking Anthony Turpel (who also has the most stunning hair I have ever seen) develops feelings for Victor’s sister, Pilar (Isabella Ferreira) which is again a distraction. What is more intriguing though is the crushing responsibility forced upon Felix as he is saddled to taking care of his mentally ill mother. I have this storyline more important because it is more common than we care to realize. He is really burdened and overwhelmed with trying to make ends meet. He does so with great dignity, focus, care, and an abiding love for his mother. It is a worthy story.
As in any relationship, there is conflict, and the sequel is no exception. Benji and Victor have trust issues and decide to take a break. Their love isn’t questionable, but moving forward to full commitment is not an easy job. Meanwhile, Victor befriends one of his sister’s friends, named Rahim (Anthony Keyvan). He is not only blessed with good looks, but is also handsome, striking, and stunning. Rahim unintentionally ends up becoming the reason for Victor and Benji’s break-up. In this process, he becomes attracted to Victor and ends up kissing him. In the end, Victor chooses….
We shall have to wait until Season Three to find out what happens next!
What makes this series so unique is that we are dealing with minority representation in a unique and quintessential American way. It very well represents the ‘white’ perspective of the coming out phase as against the actual experiences of the minority. Victor, being Hispanic, could relate to Rahim, being Muslim, as he understood and related to Rahim’s anxieties centering on family values, cultural and religious differences. So, they would have a natural connection because they have so much in common. These differences are analyzed quite well in this series and with great sensitivity. Without being overtly critical, this series lambastes the negative thinking of the Catholic Church and tackles ‘coming out’ from other than a ‘white’ perspective. And for that itself, they deserve kudos.
They are all exceptional actors and actresses, but there is only one whose acting talents tugged at my heart strings and made me feel connected with his character. And that individual is Anthony Turpel as Felix. His role in this series is unique in the sense, that he has ALWAYS accepted Victor as his best friend. It doesn’t matter if he is straight, gay, or in-between. Felix has and always will be by Victor’s side. His own problems are real and relatable; yet he manages to carry on with a smile on his face. He could be a sad person, but never is. He never seeks sympathy. This role is incredibly challenging because he is still a kid but must act and be the adult. Anthony has portrayed this role with a refreshing outlook. I do not think anyone else could have been so believable or as convincing. While he hides behind jokes and sarcasm, we can sense and feel his pain in subtleties and facial expressions. We also know that while he tries to convince us all he is in love with Lake (Bebe Wood), he always holds back. His varied emotions are telegraphed via his movements. He does this masterfully and when he finally realizes who he really wants (Victor’s sister, Pilar), his demeanor changes. That is a mark of great acting. Kudos!
The United States would never deliberately call this as a BL series, but honestly it is. And they did take some steps to prove that it is typically different from the Asian (especially Thai) BL series. First, they are NOT afraid to show them kissing. Passionately, in public and quite early in the story (even in the first Season). That was refreshing. No doltish pecks on foreheads or getting close to lips and then pulling back or fading to black. It was full-blown kissing and very passionately. They are GAY! (None of the nonsense of liking the person, not the gender). Secondly, Victor and Benji are not afraid to show or infer that they are having a sexual relationship. There is no timidity here, although there is certainly nothing overt. But everyone around them KNOWS they are having sex and are accepting of it. It is not necessarily a subject of taboo. In one of the scenes, Victor’s mother inadvertently walks in on Benji and Victor having sex. Now that is progress! Third, they developed the relationship in a healthy manner. They kiss, smile, have sex, sleep together, fight, argue, go to school do and do the other normal things without a lot of artificial drama or wrenches thrown in to thwart the relationship. They don’t spend a lot of time deciding whether they want to kiss. They like each other; they kiss; they have sex. This is a uniquely American cultural standard or maybe our standards are not as controlling or simply more open. So, if you want to see what an American BL would look (which depicts our commitment to this genre) this is what it would look like. We are not ‘better’ in any sense or the word. We are still a prudish and parochial society, so such shows can only be released on streaming portals. This series is even unique for American audiences and does not happen very often. As a personal comment, if this series were to be labeled a BL, the right, (especially the Christian right) would only hear Boys Love. That would set off the picketing, boycotting, the howls about the deprivation of American morality, and the unholy consummation of evilness from this religious abomination.
I hope you can enjoy this series as much as I did. It is really well executed and tells a riveting story in simple terms, within the confines of what is acceptable to American standards. It is a good start for establishing the BL genre at the grassroot levels in the US territory. I am still hopeful that it will.
Rating- 4.3 out of 5
☆ Krishna’s Sidenote- Michael Cimino and George Sear gracing the cover of Attitude Magazine. You can read their interview in the Summer Issue. We also got some scorching hot photoshoots, along with a meaningful quote from Michael!