Bailey and Matt Bomer co-star on this heady, tension-soaked, improbable tackle the Lavender Scare.
Welcome to Up Next, a recurring column keeping track of what’s new in TV. This week, TV critic Valerie Ettenhofer checks in with a assessment of Showtime’s Fellow Travelers.
Fellow Travelers introduces itself with a mass of our bodies. The new Showtime collection, among the finest of the yr, options an archival footage-heavy opening credit score sequence stuffed with homosexual males in varied states of amorousness, pleasure, and revolution. As Paul Leonard-Morgan’s stirring rating performs, audiences see kisses with mustaches, playful poses within the grass, tweaked nipples, and extra, all with one clear message: it is a historic story about males who love males, and no, it’s not going to be a kind of saccharine respectability politics dramas about how queer individuals and straight individuals aren’t so completely different in spite of everything. This one? This one’s unapologetically homosexual from its first second to its final.
The present’s vibrant introduction – punctuated, admittedly, with imagery that calls to thoughts a Cold War spy film – starkly contrasts its painfully repressed premise. Fellow Travelers zooms in on America’s Lavender Scare, telling the story of McCarthy-era politics and their far-reaching repercussions by the lens of closeted authorities staff for whom sexual identification is framed not as a private matter however as a matter of nationwide safety. During the real-life Lavender Scare, hundreds of LGBTQ+ civil servants have been dismissed from their jobs. At the identical time, many extra individuals (straight and homosexual alike, as ethical panics are undiscerning) have been harassed by intrusive, intensive investigations into their private lives. The stakes have been excessive: as Fellow Travelers reveals, outed males might lose not simply careers but additionally households and, if pushed to suicide or subjected to hate crimes, their lives.
It’s towards the backdrop of this fixed drumbeat of terror that viewers meet Hawk (Matt Bomer) and Tim (Jonathan Bailey), a fictional duo (the miniseries is predicated on Thomas Mallon’s 2007 novel) who strike up a steamy sexual relationship regardless of working near Joseph McCarthy himself. The pair couldn’t be extra completely different; non secular Tim’s chipper idealism and craving for an ethical middle is countered by Hawk’s practiced coldness, a deep and borderline sociopathic tendency that aligns Bomer’s efficiency with Jon Hamm’s flip on Mad Men. Like Don Draper, Hawk can also be effortlessly horny and casually domineering; from the beginning, his relationship with Tim is as kinky as it’s sophisticated.
The collection cuts backwards and forwards between a number of intervals, rooting its story within the Nineteen Fifties earlier than revisiting each events later of their lives and American historical past. Most notably, Fellow Travelers takes a part of its motion to ‘80s San Francisco, where the AIDS epidemic is rampant, and the government that was once obsessed with rooting out gay men now can’t be bothered to acknowledge that they exist. The collection additionally correctly pulls focus from Tim and Hawk so as to inform a second story about their buddy Marcus (Jelani Alladin) – a Black DC journalist – and the drag queen (Noah Ricketts) he falls for. Meanwhile, Girls star Allison Williams performs Hawk’s childhood buddy and eventual spouse, whereas Chris Bauer and Will Brill each plaster on prosthetics to embody McCarthy and his bulldog of a lawyer, Roy Cohn, respectively.
The solid doesn’t have a very weak hyperlink, however Bailey’s efficiency is very revelatory. Historical miniseries are a dime a dozen, however they don’t all the time really feel as alive as Fellow Travelers. There’s typically a sure doggedness to the presentation of knowledge or a dumbing down of historic or cultural complexities for the sake of mass (straight) audiences. This present has none of that. Part of this comes from the truth that Philadelphia and Homeland author Ron Nyswaner created the collection (it crackles with the sharp edit and political thriller vitality of one thing like Homeland or The Americans), however a lot of it comes from Bailey. The actor has already confirmed himself a formidable on-screen presence with projects like Bridgerton, and his theater bona fides are well-established, however his flip in Fellow Travelers nonetheless looks like a career-maker. His Tim is harmless however by no means naive, idealistic however by no means silly, and directly resilient and susceptible. While simply straight-passing Hawk appears decided to beat the D.C. political world – and his personal life – with a way of masculine bravado, Tim can’t assist however reveal himself many times by his love. Bailey wears all of it on his face, and it’s a efficiency that’s unforgettable.
Fellow Travelers is a potent cocktail of chopping drama and heady romance. The suffocating surroundings its lead characters navigate to outlive is countered by the moments after they’re nicely and really free collectively. The present’s intercourse scenes are frequent and different – generally filthy, generally tender, generally playful or unhappy – and infrequently do extra to characterize the central pair than their conversations do. When Hawk and Tim do say what’s on their thoughts, although, the present’s scripts possess a way of emotional honesty that can degree you. That is perhaps one of the simplest ways to explain the cumulative impact of Fellow Travelers, a formidable and rewarding present that unspools superbly over many years of its characters’ lives: it’ll degree you in one of the simplest ways.