‘Eastsiders’ started as a YouTube web-series that followed the four-year-long relationship between Cal (Kit Williamson) and Thom (Van Hansis), both aspiring artists living on the eastside of LA. The show is written and directed by Williamson, and produced by his husband, John Halbach, who plays Ian on the show. Willamson’s relationship with his husband, and their life in Silver Lake, have largely influenced the setting and the characters of the show.
Season one starts in medias res, going backwards and forwards as the viewers try to understand Thom and Cal’s tumultuous relationship. While talking to his best friend Kathy (Constance Wu), Cal says, “We have a cat, in gay terms that’s like 2.8 kids.” This remark is not only funny, but also sad because it echoes the fear of losing the years and the life that they share. In this season, as a viewer, you don’t know what to expect from this show, but the well-written dialogues and the complexity of their relationship keep you at the edge of your seat.
In season two, the viewers also get introduced to a few more queer relationships. For instance, a relationship between an aspiring drag queen Douglas (Willam Belli) and his boyfriend Quincy, an eight-year-long lesbian relationship between Brie and Vi, and Jeremy and his parner Derrick. Through these long and short-term relationships, we get to see the spectrum of queerness and the challenges that all of them tackle.
Thom and Cal evolve a lot as they open up their relationship. While they are sleeping with multilple sexual partners, things come to a halt when Cal starts showing symptoms for gonorrhoea. They both anxiously visit an STD clinic to get tested. Although many LGBTQ+ films approach AIDS as the central issue, it often ends tragically and viewers find out little about the disease itself. Other sexually transmitted diseases are addressed with a lot of shame or are rarely talked about. So, it’s almost refreshing to witness the candid, reassuring and slightly funny conversation between Cal and his doctor.
In season three, the setting of the show changes with Thom and Cal moving to New York and eventually leaving the city, broke and miserable. They decide to take a cross country road trip from New York to LA and hit some roadblocks both literally and figuratively. This trip allows them to have an honest conversation with each other – something that hasn’t happened in a long while, given how caught up they are in their everyday life. It gives them time to process their life in New York and five years of their relationship. Their future in LA seems larger than what they are equipped to deal with. They talk about their worst fears regarding their relationship, careers, alcoholism and financial instability, and in the process reestablish their faith in each other. Williamson’s moving and authentic writing makes this season even more interesting than the previous ones.
Another interesting and unique relationship that Willamson fleshes out in this season is the relationship between Douglas, an aspiring drag queen, and Quincy his partner who runs a gay bar. With their relationship, Willamson unfolds the challenges of dating someone who is in drag or navigating a relationship when you are in drag. Quincy does not always feel comfortable being seen in public with Douglas when he is in drag and Douglas finds it difficult to accept Quincy’s love because of his troubled teenage years.
In the final season, almost all the characters are in a long term relationship with their partners. Thom and Cal are doing better financially but there are times when they don’t communicate what they really want and get into fights. Quincy and Dogulas decide to get married but realise they have different ideas about what their wedding should look like. Douglas wants to wear a dress at the wedding but Quincy fears that it will upset his conservative mother. These fights between characters eventually get resolved as they decide that they would rather deal with the uncertainties of life having someone by their side, than figuring it out alone.
In ‘Eastsiders: the Documentary,’ Williamson said he didn’t “want the show to go out with a whimper… [but] with a bang.” That’s precisely what the last few episodes of the show do: they create a gay utopia of their own, with a small wedding at a gay bar full of gay people and lots of glitter.
Scrolling through Netflix, it’s easy to find shows that have LGBTQ+ characters that don’t really represent queer lives but are only meant to tick off inclusivity boxes. A show like ‘Eastsiders’ which is made by queer people, for queer people becomes all the more refreshing. It should be on your to-watch lists if you’re looking for something real yet optimistic.