Going East and Heading West

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.

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Thom and Cal (Van Hansis and Kit Williamson) wend their way across America in the third season of EastSiders, now streaming.

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.

A Coda
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?

E3: Season 3 of EastSiders Needs You

You should not look for any objective reporting here.  I’m just simply biased. I fell in love with EastSiders five years ago and have been awed by the talent and the dedication and the blood, sweat and tears that Kit and John and their team have put into this series. They’ve been telling the stories they want to tell on their own terms and, trust me, that’s powerful. And rare.

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Image|EastSiders Season 3 Kickstarter

And it’s also why people connect with them. They are real. They are authentic. They are from a singular vision. Too much of “entertainment” is decided by committee. And that’s why the edges aren’t sharp. It’s why the comedy is lukewarm and the drama is tepid. And it’s why we don’t see stories of substance, stories of depth, stories of importance that reflect the LGBT experience in this country. And now, more than ever, we desperately need to tell those.

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Image|EastSiders Season 3 Kickstarter

If I’ve convinced one person to give to one of these Kickstarters and convinced another five to sit down and watch an episode, then I’ve changed the world just an infinitesimal bit. And maybe even made it better. See if I’m right about that.

Read some of what I’ve written over the last five years (or not) and then go to www.eastsiderstheseries.com and donate to this Kickstarter.
EastSiders – New Web Series Worth Watching 2012
Kickstart This — “Eastsiders” Needs You 2013
Kit Williamson: Logo Online and the Web Series Renaissance 2013
How to Say Thank You — A Saga and a Case Study in Doing It Right 2013
Why I’m Supporting EastSiders — And Why You Should, Too 2014
Kit and Van and Cal and Thom and … Cassandra? 2014
When Not Shutting Up When You are Told to Shut Up is Important 2014
Kit Williamson on Slut-Shaming 2015
Return to Silver Lake – Long-Awaited Arrival of EastSiders Season 2 Does Not Disappoint 2015
Verdict on EastSiders Season 2: Most Assuredly the Best of the Lot 2015
Emmy Nods for EastSiders 2016

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Cal and Thom live in Silver Lake … and also in my guest room in New Jersey.

Emmy Nods for EastSiders

Congrats to the EastSiders crew for their Daytime Emmy Award nominations. The second series, which debuted in October, was nominated in the new category of Outstanding Digital Drama Series. Van Hansis was nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Digital Drama for his role as Thom. This is his fourth Daytime Emmy nomination, having been a contender three times for his portrayal of Luke Snyder on As The World Turns.

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Series creator/director/producer/co-star Kit Williamson may have had the best reaction, as evidenced by this Instagram post.

I’m glad that NATAS has seen sense and created the digital drama series categories. As we continue to uncouple “television”  from the “television set,” it’s important that we continue to recognize new ways to deliver content.

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Van Hansis and Kit Williamson in season two of EastSiders.

The content, though, stays the same. Well, let me reframe that thought. Most “entertainment” on traditional television stinks. Much of the best content is coming fast and furious in new delivery methods — EastSiders on Vimeo, House of Cards on Netflix, Transparent on Amazon — and I think while the death knell for traditional broadcast and cable networks has not yet sounded, the plans for the coffin may be being drawn up.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen EastSiders, what is the matter with you? Watch it now.

Finally, here’s some Daytime Emmy trivia for you. Who was the first daytime performer recognized with an Emmy? That would be All My Children’s Mary Fickett in 1972 in a special daytime category at the primetime Emmys. Fickett played AMC matriarch Ruth Brent Martin for nearly 30 years.

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Fickett in the early years of All My Children.

However, the first person to take home a daytime statue for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama was Elizabeth Hubbard in 1974 for her portrayal of Dr. Althea Davis on The Doctors. Hubbard won an additional Daytime Emmy in 1976 for portraying First Lady Edith Wilson in an NBC special, but astonishingly — and despite eight additional nominations in the category — she never won for her quarter-century of assaying one of daytime’s greatest roles: Lucinda Walsh on As The World Turns.

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Hubbard as Lucinda Walsh, one of the all-time greats.

Hubbard played Van Hansis’ grandmother on ATWT. She’s nominated again this year as Outstanding Actress in a Digital Drama, for her role in Anacostia, the web series co-written and co-produced by Martha Byrne, who played Hubbard’s daughter and Hansis’ mother on As The World Turns.

You can use all that next time you play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon!

Kudos, Van

Someone has bestowed one of the coveted Groovy Awards for Web Series Excellence on EastSiders star, Van Hansis for his portrayal of Thom in the second season of the series. Van was named, Grooviest Actor in a Drama. I just can’t argue with that. At all.

Van Hansis as Thom opposite Kit Williamson in EastSiders.

This is the second time this trophy (?) has been lain at Mr. Hansis’ feet. Read all about it here.

What I’ve said on the subject. Twice.

Verdict on EastSiders Season 2: Most Assuredly the Best of the Lot

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.

Up On The Roof: Van Hansis (Thom) and Kit Williamson (Cal) in a contemplative moment in the fifth episode of season two of EastSiders, which may be the most meaningful and compelling moment in the entire series. I could watch these boys work off of one another all day long.

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:

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Jonathan Lisecki’s droll Francis takes down a sexual history profile of Kit Williamson’s Cal during a hilarious visit to the STD clinic in season two, episode four of EastSiders.

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.

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Stephen Guarino and Willam Belli explore different territory as Quincy and Douglas’s relationship deepens in season two.

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.”

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“Calvin, I want to be here for you in your time of need.” Brianna Brown as Hillary, seen here with Williamson, is a beautiful and hilarious force to be reckoned with in season two.

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.

“Exactly.”

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.

EastSiders season two is now available exclusively on Vimeo On Demand. Wolfe Video will release the series on DVD and across additional digital platforms beginning Nov. 3.

Kiss Me, Kill Me, Watch Me

I was one of the lucky ones — I got to attend the “virtual premiere” of the new Casper Andreas film Kiss Me, Kill Me last weekend. Instead of heading the the Windy City to watch the real deal at the Reeling Film Festival — which certainly would have been fun — I got to watch it from the confines of my own living room. Ain’t technology grand!

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“Coming soon … with a bang” — my vote for best copywriting this year.

It was just a fun movie. A very gay take on the old fashioned film noir pot boiler, it was more of an homage than it was a send-up. It didn’t take itself too seriously, then again, it didn’t camp it up too much either. That’s Andreas’ seasoned hand at the tiller.

David Michael Barrett’s sneaky story — one switchback turn after another, twisting and turning until the bitter end — and no, I’m not handing out spoilers — was full of surprises and puns and quips; the kind you could imagine Nick and Nora Charles coming up with. I love those old film noir detective movies and pulp paperback stories; smirky gumshoes throwing shade before anyone knew what shade was, thumping the bill of their rakish fedora as they threw the cherry end of a Lucky under their heel and crushed it out, walking out of the frame into the fog.

This was like that, only gayer. Much gayer.

After their premiere earlier in the week in EastSiders, it was fun to see Van Hansis and Kit Williamson playing opposite each other in wildly different roles. It was also great to see Hansis play off of the always-terrific Gale Harold. Craig Robert Young and Brianna Brown were lovely, too, as were Yolanda Ross and Jai Rodriguez as the detectives assigned to the case. And Jonathan Lisecki should be the store clerk — or snarky best friend — in every film ever.

Kiss Me, Kill Me proves, yet again, that indie talent is flourishing out there and it’s just as good as — often better than — the corporate pablum we’re so often spoon-fed. In fact, just today I read Richard Lawson’s scathing review of Stonewall in Vanity Fair. He writes:

[Stonewall] was directed by a gay man, written by a gay man, with an obvious intent to educate, uplift, and inspire, in this particular political climate, and is still so maddeningly, stultifyingly bungled serves only to show us how ridiculous the concept of a monolithic “gay community” really is. Stonewall at least does that bit of good: it illustrates how systems of privilege and prejudice within a minority can be just as pervasive and ugly as anything imposed from the outside. And that’s an outrage. So how long until someone throws a brick through the screen?

Well, sorry, Richard. You chose the wrong gay movie to see. My choice was well-acted, well-directed, easy on the eyes and interesting. See it next time you’re looking for a good time at the cinema.

Return to Silver Lake – Long-Awaited Arrival of EastSiders Season 2 Does Not Disappoint

(Sept. 15, 2015) — Well, today’s the day, kiddies: the second season of the award-winning series EastSiders debuts on Vimeo On Demand. The next chapter in Kit Williamson’s saga of love, infidelity and figuring it all out is deeply, darkly funny but also complex and multi-layered. Its twists and turns are unexpected, but it hews true to what you want from a sophomore outing: familiar, yet boldly different. And frankly, that’s harder to do than you might expect.

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(rear, l-r) Matthew McKelligon, Willam Belli, Satya Bhabha and Stephen Guarino and (front, l-r) Adam Bucci, Kit Williamson, Van Hansis and John Halbach star in the smart, funny and moving second series of EastSiders.

This season begins with Thom (Van Hansis) and Cal (Kit Williamson) in bed. Strange, you may think. After all, they broke up at the end of season one. The shot then opens wider to reveal someone else in the bed with them. Oh. Well. This is different. And with that establishing moment, we’re off to the races.

Season two opens up new vistas, explores characters in ways that we don’t ordinarily see or, in many cases, that we may have never seen before. In the aftermath of the infidelities that broke them up, Cal and Thom still find themselves drawn to one another even as they find their lives changing — “inexorably” is the qualifying adverb that Cal uses multiple times — and they begin to date again. But, more willing to push the boundaries of a “traditional” relationship than they were previously, they begin to experiment.

“I wanted to break open the love triangle,” said writer/director/star Williamson. “Jealousy is only interesting to a point. What happens when it’s removed from the equation?”

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Adam Bucci as Trevor, Matthew McKelligon as Jeremy and Satya Bhabha as Jarred assist creator Kit Williamson in his quest to “break open the love triangle” as Thom and Cal explore new sexual horizons in season two.

As Thom and Cal attempt to navigate the unwritten rules of morning-after protocol post-first threesome — a shower? a hot breakfast? — we find the man who was the catalyst for Thom and Cal’s breakup, Jeremy (Matthew McKelligon), having a new fling and Ian (John Halbach), who has just broken up with “Krazy Kathy,” drowning his sorrows in whiskey and eggs — and an unexpected liaison — at brunch.

The first episode also introduces us to a few of the key characters who add substance to the second season, including Cal’s sister Hillary, whose introductory scenes are played in hilarious fashion, almost as a delicately rendered but slightly unhinged aria, by Brianna Brown and Thom’s new co-worker Jarred, played with a nice, light touch by Satya Bhabha.

Adhering to the same non-linear track that worked so well in the first season, the second episode of this season takes us back a day and shows us how we arrived at the events seen in episode one. Kathy (the magnificent Constance Wu) is back just long enough for her and Ian to end things before leaving on the non-Equity tour of Cats. “It’s a really great opportunity.” (This may not be terribly funny to you, but to anyone who has ever spent any time in the theatre, it’s hilarious!) Party promoter Quincy (Stephen Guarino), who threw the Mayan Apocalypse party in season one, has a more substantial role here alongside the indescribable wonder that is Willam Belli as Douglas.

It’s in this episode that you begin to see Williamson’s masterful plotting begin to take shape as unexpected threads are pulled and the tapestry begins to take a more complex and quite unanticipated shape. It’s all clever enough to leave you eagerly awaiting the next installment.

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The central focus of EastSiders is on Kit Williamson as Cal and Van Hansis as Thom, who show us just how well they have mastered their craft in the second season of this witty and boundary-pushing dark comedy.

And the fun really begins here. It’s a lighter feeling throughout as this part of the story is advanced through a series of sexual encounters that are adroitly edited together, revealing the pitfalls, trepidations and revelations that come with this type of experimentation. Jarred — not only a waiter but also a sex therapist-in-training — weaves into and out of the narrative (and the bed) like an adorable ‘sex Yoda’ as Cal and Thom set out to sleep their way through Silver Lake, actions which seem at odds with Cal’s prior declaration that “life is not a gay porn.”

Meanwhile, Guarino and Belli perform a completely demented comic double act and Jonny McGovern’s hilariously deadpan cameo is a laugh-out-loud highlight. More threads are subtly pulled and the first half of the season ends tenderly with a warm, loving scene between Cal and Thom.

EastSiders never fails to astonish. There is a mastery of character and story arc here that you simply don’t expect. And even more astonishing, no one ever hits anything approaching a wrong note: every scene rings bell-clear, every intention is realized, every mark is hit. Also, in almost every indie production, you expect there to be at least one actor — you know, that last-second third-replacement who agreed to work for a $5 footlong and a bus pass — who really should be thinking about other career options; but not so here.

In fact, if anything, Williamson and Hansis are playing at an even higher level than they were in season one. Hansis, in particular, seems completely effortless and effervescent in his portrayal. Thom is on a high thus far in the series and watching Hansis assay this role is a sheer and utter delight and Williamson matches him note for note in an ovation-worthy pas de deux.

Look, I know that sounds like a lot of over-the-top folderol, but it’s really not. I defy you to disagree with me once you’ve seen it.

As for Williamson, well, the world is that boy’s oyster. It’s one thing to be a good actor. Or a smart writer. Or an inventive director. But to be all three? And a producer, to boot? I’m so excited to see what he does over the next 20 or so years. Whatever it is, I have absolutely no doubt that he’ll show all of us up.

Raising money through Kickstarter, Williamson has said, has allowed him to “make the show exactly how I had envisioned it. Crowd-funding is a game changer for stories like ours that don’t often receive traditional financing from studios and TV networks.” And it shows. The authenticity of the story is here in a way that you seldom, if ever, see in something sanitized or whitewashed by networks or funders.

As the first episode draws to a close and Thom and Cal have decided to “officially” reunite, Thom says, “I didn’t know what this was going to be.” Cal replies, “I still don’t.” “Then,” asks Thom, “maybe we can figure it out together?” And ultimately, that’s really what the entire show is about: figuring everything out. It’s something we’re all trying to do. Perhaps that’s what we’re all supposed to do. Or at least try to do: grow up, partner up and figure out something that works. For us.

I can’t wait to see what life throws at Thom and Cal next. I hope you can’t either.

EastSiders premieres today exclusively on Vimeo On Demand. Wolfe Video will release the series on DVD and across additional digital platforms beginning Nov. 3. If you need a season one refresher, click here.

PS — For the record, Summer Clearance and Amber Alert are two of the best drag names I’ve ever heard.

Read more about the rest of EastSiders season two here.


10301414_10205247574447932_541920928921958893_nIf you just can’t get enough Van Hansis and Kit Williamson, this Friday, the film Kiss Me, Kill Me has its world premiere at Reeling2015, Chicago’s LGBT film festival. Brianna Brown and Jai Rodriguez from EastSiders also appear alongside Hansis, WIlliamson and Queer as Folk’s Gale Harold in this Casper Andreas-directed, David Michael Barrett-penned murder mystery caper.


A Few Previous Related Postings:
Kit and Van and Cal and Thom and … Cassandra?, May 2014
Why I’m Supporting EastSiders — And Why You Should, Too, April 2014
Kickstart This — EastSiders Needs You, Jan. 2013
EastSiders — New Web Series Worth Watching, Dec. 2012