This Web series is one of the bestSection 4A, Movie Review Thursday, September 17th, 2015
After Looking was canceled by HBO, a number of people complained that gay men who criticized, occasionally viciously, the show did more than hurt Looking – they made it harder for shows about gay men to be made. I think it’s possible that this is true, that the failure of Looking to find a large audience made it hard for another show to be produced by a major network. But the cheap cost of digital cameras, venues like Vimeo and funding streams like Kickstarter have made it possible for independently produced series to be made and viewed in ways that were unthinkable even 15 years ago. The handsomely produced, not-terribly-different-from-Looking dramatic sitcom EastSiders is another such show; it was running on Logo’s Web site and its second season is now on Vimeo On Demand. While not revolutionary in topic or tone, it’s well enough made to be one of the best Web series I’ve ever seen.
EastSiders is a soap centered on troubled couple Cal (Kit Williamson, the show’s writer and director) and Thom (Van Hansis) who live in Los Angeles’ Silverlake, which most Silverlakers believe is on the East Side of the city. Cal and Thom are young, fit and attractive aspiring artists; Cal is a photographer and gallery assistant and Thom is a writer and bartender. The supporting players include their friends Kathy (Constance Wu) and Ian (John Halbach), whose relationship is perhaps even more poisonous than Cal and Thom’s; wise-cracking Quincy (Stephen Guarino); Cal’s boss Paul (Sean Maher); Cal’s sister Hillary (Brianna Brown) and Jeremy (Matthew McKelligon), who both Cal and Thom cheated on each other with in the first few episodes. That bizarre love triangle, Paul’s flirtation with Cal and Kathy’s abortion of her and Ian’s baby, and everyone’s ill-advised lies made for a highly plotty and dramatic first season.
The second season begins with Cal and Thom dating again after Cal has moved out, as well as with Cal and Thom experimenting with a threesome. The first three episodes go from mopey and agonizing to hilarious and insightful. The third episode Sex Therapy is a little bit of structural and comic genius as Cal and Thom meet a series of thirds and discuss the ensuing complications with one (Satya Bhaba) who is studying to be a sex therapist.
Like all Web series, which are almost by definition low budget, the production values of EastSiders are not high. The show’s lighting and cinematography are quite good, but the sound is a bit messy, with too much bass in the dialogue; I had to rewind a few times to hear some lines. Similarly, the lack of experienced producers – Williamson and Halbach, a couple, take that role – means that some of Williamson’s messier writing stayed in. And Williamson, who is a winning actor as Ed in Mad Men, doesn’t direct himself that well. But he handles the other actors – particularly three-time Emmy-nominee Hansis, Fresh Off the Boat’s breakout star Wu, Devious Maid’s hilarious Brown, and the comedy duo of Guarino and Belli – with great skill. However, despite Williamson’s addition of another Asian woman and black doctor, the show is much, much whiter than L.A.’s actual East Side (where I live); no one in the show is remotely Hispanic, which is just odd. The unbearable whiteness of Looking is not something EastSiders should emulate.
Written and directed by Kit Williamson
Starring Kit Williamson, Van Hansis and John Halbach
Vimeo On Demand
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