'Travelers' and tension — The Lavender Tube on 'Fellow Travelers' and 'A Murder at the End of the World'

  • by Victoria A. Brownworth
  • Tuesday November 14, 2023
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Matt Bomer and Jonathan Bailey in 'Fellow Travelers' (photo: Showtime)
Matt Bomer and Jonathan Bailey in 'Fellow Travelers' (photo: Showtime)

The Christmas ads are in full swing, and started the day after Halloween, which is just wrong. Thanksgiving is right around the corner with holiday specials and movies close at hand, so now's the time to watch some powerful series that will pull you in and keep you thinking and get you in the mood for early darkness and cozy nights on the sofa.

The GOP has been pushing revisionist history as long as we have been alive, but regrettably, Democrats often do this, too, though usually in the spirit of bipartisanship (which we don't think you can have when the other party is fundamentally dishonest and, well, fascist). One thing we hear a lot of and see repeated like a mantra on social media is that there are moderate Republicans (there are not). A name invoked time and again is President Dwight Eisenhower.

Chris Bauer (as Joe McCarthy) and and Jonathan Bailey in 'Fellow Travelers' (photo: Showtime)  

Our degrees are in history, so we always have the same response to this: "You mean the Eisenhower who executed Julius and Ethel Rosenberg? Did you realize they were only 35 and 37? Or the Eisenhower who fomented and supported the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings and GOP Sen. Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt for Communists? Or the Eisenhower who signed Executive Order 10450, which barred gay and lesbian Americans from being employed by the federal government?

Eisenhower's Executive Order claimed that a federal employee could be blackmailed because of their sexuality, so the federal government targeted gays and lesbians in what became known as the Lavender Scare. That Lavender Scare, which was directly linked to the HUAC hearings and McCarthy's search for "Commies" and "queers," is the foundation of the immersive new Showtime series, "Fellow Travelers."

Some series have touched us deeply as LGBTQ people, series that both broke taboo ground and also resonated with us because of their verisimilitude as well as writing and acting that made us inhabit the characters and their milieu. We think immediately of "Pose," "Heartstopper," the two iterations of "The L Word" and "It's a Sin." Add to that list of series "Fellow Travelers," which is just incredibly good and pulls the viewer in with a gut-wrenching immediacy.

We've asserted for a long time that Matt Bomer was far more than just a pretty face and ripped body. He's been great in so many series, but his prettiness has often gotten in the way of reviewers seeing past the perfect hair and chiseled features to his really superb talents. We've been watching Bomer since his soap days on "All My Children" and "Guiding Light" and he was the reason to watch "White Collar."

Jonathan Bailey and Matt Bomer in 'Fellow Travelers' (photo: Showtime)  

Bomer is also a major reason to watch "Fellow Travelers." His Hawkins "Hawk" Fuller is a powerful character who we believe throughout, and Bomer gives an incredibly nuanced performance that at times is truly breathtaking.

The story, as Showtime describes it, is an epic political thriller and romance. Based on the 2007 historical novel by Thomas Mallon, "Fellow Travelers" follows political operatives Fuller and Tim Laughlin (Jonathan Bailey), whose paths converge at the height of the Lavender Scare of the 1950s. Despite the constant threat of getting caught, their deep, sexually-charged and enduring love for each other only intensifies in the volatility of the ensuing decades.

The couple's fraught romance spans the Vietnam War protests of the 1960s, the drug-fueled disco hedonism of the 1970s and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, from Washington D.C. to Fire Island to San Francisco. It's a long and at times cataclysmic history, but they forge it together. Their oh-so-true love is what propels and compels them, and at times puts them in real danger.

We watched "Fellow Travelers" while mourning the loss of our beloved wife of 23 years. So when Tim says to Hawk, "I've been in love with you my whole life; my great consuming love," we felt that, we believed it, we knew it to be true. Because we lived it, through a different time, meeting our wife in high school in the halcyon — but still quite closeted — days immediately post-Stonewall. (www.inquirer.com)

"Fellow Travelers" is both historical fiction and cautionary tale. It's impossible to ignore the similarities between the harrowing McCarthy era and the current rising fascism of the GOP as more and more anti-LGBTQ laws are being passed in the states and the political tenor of the country turns decidedly extremist and anti-LGBTQ.

At its core, though, is that love story between the cynical Hawk and the younger, enthusiastic and eager Tim. When Hawk sits down on a bench in Lafayette Square next to Tim, it's as natural as it is dangerous and the frisson between them is palpable.

Hawk is jaded politically and knowledgeable about the police who patrol the park at all hours, including the broad daylight lunchtime of this not-so-chance meeting. He parries with Tim and jokes about Tim's desire to hunt Communists and make the world safe from Stalinism. And when Tim says he is headed to noon Mass, Hawk's eyebrow arches as he says he'll imagine Tim on his knees in prayer. It's an extraordinary scene.

The sexuality in "Fellow Travelers" is a review in itself. It's graphic, it's real, and Bomer's and Bailey's respective husbands may not want to watch. It's the pivot that propels this series from just another romance with historical overlays to a context in which we are reminded that passion can be all-consuming and that within these fraught times, life-altering. (Bayard Rustin, for example, went to jail for an assignation.)

Is the sex hotter when you could go to prison and wreck your life? Maybe. It's certainly the hottest gay sex we've seen on TV thus far that wasn't actually porn. And it happens fast. It's in the first episode and it's gobsmacking. There are viable complaints to have about whether "Fellow Travelers" takes as many cinematic risks as it could or should, but if you're seeking transgressive TV, this is it. (www.variety.com)

The layers, the deceptions; it's all captivating. So, watch this. And if you don't have Showtime, buy a month-long subscription and binge all eight episodes. You won't be sorry.

Murder's end
FX's new mystery series, "A Murder at the End of the World," which began streaming on FX and Hulu November 14, is just so very good. Filmed in Iceland and Utah, the stark white snowscape is both portent and backdrop for this compelling psychological thriller.

Plus, "A Murder at the End of the World" stars Emma Corrin, one of the few non-binary actors on TV. Corrin played Diana, Princess of Wales in the fourth season of Netflix's "The Crown," for which they won a Golden Globe and were nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award.

Emma Corrin in 'A Murder at the End of the World' (photo: FX/Hulu)  

In July 2021, Corrin came out as queer and in July 2022 added they/them pronouns to their Instagram account. They later discussed identifying as non-binary in an interview with The New York Times. In 2022, Corrin became Vogue magazine's first non-binary cover star.

Corrin plays Darby Hart, an amateur detective, and they are absolutely stunning. The series opens with Darby saying, "I sometimes wonder, would it have been better not to go? I think about it like a coin toss, when your life can go one way or another. When you're trapped at the end of the world, there's no going back."

And therein lies the plot twist of this binge-worthy drama perfect for a cold winter night that has Agatha Christie killer cozy vibes all over it. As FX notes, "'A Murder at the End of the World' is a mystery series with a new kind of detective at the helm — a Gen Z amateur sleuth and tech-savvy hacker named Darby Hart (Emma Corrin). Darby and eight other guests are invited by a reclusive billionaire, Andy Ronson (Clive Owen), to participate in a retreat at a remote and dazzling location. When one of the other guests is found dead, Darby must use all of her skills to prove it was murder against a tide of competing interests and before the killer takes another life."

In addition to Corrin and Owen, "A Murder at the End of the World" has some queer casting with Alice Braga, who in January 2020 revealed she has been in a long-term relationship with actress Bianca Comparato. It also stars "SVU" alum, Broadway star and out gay actor Raúl Esparza, plus Harris Dickinson, Brit Marling and Joan Chen.

"A Murder at the End of the World" is created, written and directed by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij. Marling and Batmanglij also executive produced alongside Andrea Sperling ("Transparent").

And if you just can't place that song playing in the opening, it's Depeche Mode's fabulous 1988 hit, "Strangelove."

Nuovo romance
Netflix just dropped the super sexy original gay romance/drama "Nuovo Olimpo," which is set in 1970s Rome, where a casual encounter between Enea Monte (Damiano Gavino) and Pietro Gherardi (Andrea Di Luigi) at a movie theater turns into an unforgettable romance, until destiny pulls them apart.

Andrea Di Luigi and Damiano Gavino in 'Nuovo Olimpo' (photo: Netflix)  

In Italian, with subtitles, the film was shot entirely in Rome, specifically in Municipio III and Monte Sacro and premiered at the Rome Film Festival on October 22, 2023. It's gorgeous.

Finally, as the war between Israel and Hamas rages on, it's essential that you not look away. Some of the best reporting is being done by ABC's chief foreign correspondent Ian Pannell, MSNBC's Raf Sanchez and Ellison Barber and CNN's Erin Burnett and Clarissa Ward.

So for history past and present, you know you really must stay tuned.

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