I was going to write this a couple of months ago, but things got in the way. Like life. And a job in the real world. My dog died. Then came winter. And the procrastination that is a symptom of the general overarching malaise that comes from having a stressful job and a dead dog and watching daily on the news a barely sentient madman in the White House and feeling powerless to make that stop before we’re all vaporized by a critical military “error.” It saps one’s creativity, it does.
ANYWAY … a drag queen, his boyfriend and a broken-down Toyota are beside the road in the middle of the desert.
It sounds like a set-up to a sensationally bad joke, but it’s actually the beginning of the third season of the acclaimed web series EastSiders.
Wisecracking, acerbic Quincy (Stephen Guarino) and his in-your-face boyfriend Douglas (Willam Belli) are on their way to Palm Springs. Douglas thinks they are heading to a drag gig, but Quincy finally fesses up that he has actually gotten a house for the weekend for the couple to celebrate their anniversary.
The scenes that follow are poignant, hilarious, introspective, witty, zany, sweet and occasionally absurd, but they are all underpinned by creator Kit Williamson’s ear for clever dialogue and his keen storytelling ability.
This is a love story with all of the good, old-fashioned tropes of a traditional love story using characters and situations that are authentic and important because we never get to see these types of characters and their love played out. “Love is love,” the meme tells us, and the deep and meaningful connection that’s played out here between Quincy and Douglas is as good and as moving of a love story as you’ll find anywhere.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, Williamson (as director) has a way of grounding Guarino and Belli — two performers who both, to put it mildly, gravitate toward the broad and the flamboyant — that adds such surprising dimension to the characters. There’s not a single moment in this first episode that I didn’t love.
It’s interesting, because when thinking about this episode, I want think of it as a two-hander, but only when the credits rolled did I realize just how many people are in it. It’s a testament to the power of these characters and their story. (There is a lovely cameo by Matthew Wilkas in this one that deserves a shout-out and Max Emerson has a particularly great throwaway line as well, but really, this is all about Quincy and Douglas.)
Our central characters, Cal and Thom (Williamson again, this time with his actor’s hat on, and Van Hansis) return in episode two as they begin a journey from New York, where they ended up at the end of season two, back to California in a luxury SUV purchased by Cal’s well-to-do mother (that force-of-nature, Traci Lords) towing a vintage trailer.
The confined space of the car and the length of the trip gives the couple plenty of time to reflect on where they are in their lives, how they got there, and what they are going to do when they get back to Los Angeles to start all over again. And their already palpable anxiety gets ratcheted up a few notches when they are robbed of almost everything they have of value after picking up and having sex with “an actual drifter,” played by porn star Colby Keller.
Well, that’s something.
The scenes weave back and forth between Cal and Thom on the road heading West and Cal’s sister Hillary (the hilarious Brianna Brown), her boyfriend Ian (the always delightful John Halbach) and Ian’s former girlfriend, Kathy, played by the great Constance Wu, who may not have been on your radar when EastSiders began but who is now a bona fide TV star, thanks to ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat.
The emotional crux of the season comes in the fifth episode, when Thom, in a moment of middle-of-the-night existential angst, admits to being terrified of the future. It’s a raw, emotional moment and it is master class in control from Hansis, one of our very finest actors. Williamson’s deft touch as a director and as a supporting scene partner focuses the action perfectly.
After making their way across the country, Cal and Thom end up back in Silver Lake and back to exactly, geographically-speaking, where one hopes they might end up. If Williamson decides to create a fourth season he’s placed his leads where he needs them. If he doesn’t, it’s the perfect way to stand pat.
You won’t get any more plot points from me; you need to watch this sans spoilers. I will however, encourage you to stay until the very end of the last episode. Everything’s better with a little dash of Jonathan Lisecki. Just sayin’.
EastSiders is available on DVD through Wolfe Video and on a multitude of your favorite streaming services, including Netflix.
This is what I wrote about EastSiders in December 2012:
Take a few minutes and watch this new web series from Kit Williamson. Interesting story. Terrific acting. Look, I’ll be honest with you. I’d happily pay to watch Van Hansis read the damn telephone book. I think he’s a sensational talent — and I was delighted to see him in this. … Watch this. You won’t regret it.
I’m never wrong about this stuff. When is the world going to finally realize that, I wonder?