You might want to read about the first part of the second season first. Here.
I noticed on one of those ubiquitous Internet listicles that “don’t judge a book by its cover” is No. 8 on the list of “Most Common Idioms in English.” Who knew, right?
It’s like EastSiders. There’s nothing overtly grand about the title. Nothing astonishing. Nothing wow-inducing or cringe-worthy or provocative. I mean, there’s the no-space thing, but that doesn’t compel viewership. It’s just a title. It’s really not that meaningful. It tells me nothing, really. It certainly doesn’t tell me to watch.
And while it doesn’t, I am. I most assuredly am.
I also may have exhausted my arsenal of superlatives in describing the first three episodes of the second season, but they all apply here again as well. The tapestry that Kit Williamson originally created with such a deft and delicate hand surprises you in the ways in which the threads spin out, how they weave back together and how they ultimately form a fabric whose unique warp and weft is tight enough to perfectly balance the stories that play out upon this canvas.
The hallmarks of the entire series have been smart writing, terrific acting, deft direction all in service to breathing life into a story that desperately needs to be told in spite of mainstream entertainment’s refusal to do so. And that indie subversiveness in service to being disruptive to the status quo is really the best bit for me.
Meanwhile, the back three episodes that we’ve been anxiously awaiting a couple of weeks for are funnier than the initial trio but are overflowing with the same heart and genuine exploration of the human condition that has since the beginning set this series apart from the rest of the pack.
Here are just a few highlights of these three for me:
The Visit to the STD Clinic. You don’t get a lot of laugh-out-loud depictions of what happens when you get VD, but this one is right up there at the top, thanks in large part to the employees of the clinic, played to perfection by Matthew Wilkas, Jenn Harris and Jonathan Lisecki from Lisecki’s film Gayby (also a great watch, BTW). I have a theory that everything is made better if Lisecki has a couple of minutes in it.
And while I have absolutely no experience with STDs or visiting an STD clinic, the absurdity of the entire process and the emotions of the characters felt entirely real to me.
The Gallery Opening. Lennon Parham steals the show in a deadpan turn as gallery owner Carmella. And that’s hard to do as she’s competing with the return of Traci Lords as Cal’s drink-loving mother, Val. Parham’s line readings had me screaming. Also, I’m a continuity freak and I appreciate a little bit of nuance, so I was just over the moon when Carmella called Cal, “Kiddo.” Such a perfect little grace note.
Cal and Thom on the Rooftop. I’m really not sure how Williamson came up with this scene. He’s perfectly right about it all. Was it a guess? He’s too young to have had these revelations himself, right? I mean, it just stopped me dead in my tracks. I had to rewind and watch it again. It just shows such life wisdom. Maybe I’m making too much out of it, but it certainly proves how incredibly stupid and/or naïve I was at his age. It’s lovely. And exposes every raw emotion that Cal is having — forever questioning, is Cal — plus it ends with a macabre suicide joke. What’s not to love?
Quincy and Douglas. Williamson has pushed both Stephen Guarino and Willam Belli as performers here. Often they both do the top-level humor — and very, very well, I might add — but there are more layers here and both really rise to the occasion. When scenes could merely be a set-up to a punch line, Williamson adds depth and subtlety making the duo mine some unexpected emotions. There is a surprising amount of character growth, proving hilarity and warmth do, in fact, mix well and when you least expect it, the characters emerge multi-faceted, “like a zirconia.”
Hillary. If I’m honest, the actor in season one who was new to me but who wowed me the most was Constance Wu. This season, it was Brianna Brown as Cal’s free spirit of a sister, Hillary. I just fell head-over-heels as soon as she arrived with a potted gerbera daisy and an armload of old-fashioned suitcases and by the end of her initial epic three-minute epistle, I was a believer and by her obsessive message-leaving on the paddle boat, I was a disciple.
Ian and Jeremy. John Halbach has the daunting task of trying to appear that he is playing against type while actually playing exactly to type. First season Ian was loveable; maybe even a bit of a pushover. Second season, post-break-up Ian wanted to, you know, assert his masculinity. “You’re a puppy dog,” says Vera (Vera Miao) the power-lesbian-who’s-using-Ian-for-sex. “I’m a full-grown dog,” he counters. “A mean one.” But she doesn’t believe it and neither do we, as much as Ian, the good guy who thinks he wants to be bad, thinks he wants us to. Ultimately, Halbach’s innate Midwest wholesomeness shines through as Ian decides to reconnect with a person who will be just as much of a challenge as Kathy was, but probably will be a lot more fun. [No spoilers, people.]
Meanwhile, throughout the entire season, Matthew McKelligon’s Jeremy has played out his story on seemingly a separate plane from that of Cal and Thom. As he fumbles through his new maybe-possibly-a-relationship with pediatrician Derrick (Leith Burke), the trio’s life intersects in an unexpected way before at last crashing headlong into one another in the final episode.
In the end, EastSiders ends right where it should. Stories come to a resting place, but, mercifully, are not tied up in nice neat bows. Characters are not assured a happily-ever-after. Lives continue to be led. Mistakes continue to be made. And the people who are thrown in your path for you to love are still being thrown there for a reason, whether you know the reason or not.
“Where are we going?” Cal asks Thom on the roof at the gallery opening.
“I don’t know,” replies Thom.
So, do we need to know where we go from here? I don’t think so. I’m just glad we got here in the first place — and opened the book because, covers be damned, this is one helluva good story.