Eastsiders Season 3 ****
Starring: Kit Williamson, Van Hansis, Willam Belli, John Halbach, Stephan Guarino, Constance Wu, Brianna Brown, Matthew McKelligon, Colby Keller, Wilson Cruz
In the days before Netflix was a “thing”, a rash of LGBT-themed web series trickled through YouTube. Some succeeded, some failed; but the breakout from the pack was Kit Williamson’s Eastsiders, the story of a group of sexually diverse millennials scraping a living and falling in and out of bed with each other in Eastside LA. Season 2 saw a considerable injection of cash with the series picked up by Netflix, with its episodes extended to thirty minutes and the addition of infamous Drag Race alum Willam Belli to the cast. With space for the characters to breathe, Williamson was able to stretch his screenwriting muscles, creating some remarkably observant episodes about elements of LGBT life rarely depicted on TV, including one of the best explorations of open relationships I’ve ever seen on screen. And now, season 3 has arrived. So does it live up to its previous season? Well yes and no…
Cal (Williamson) and Thom (Hansis) are done living in New York. After a year of being unable to afford to live comfortably, they pack up their car and drive across the US to go home. Their road trip takes them all across the country, leading them to numerous encounters with colourful figures (including interesting cameos from My So Called Life’s Wilson Cruz and… Men.com’s Colby Keller – yep, the porn star) and also takes them the entirety of the season. Elsewhere, Quincy (Guarino) wants to propose to Douglas (Belli), who is having a crisis of confidence, wanting to leave drag behind him, while Ian’s (Halbach) unconventionally independent relationship with Hillary (Brown) leads him to reconnect with ex-girlfriend Kathy (Wu), for whom he cannot understand his feelings.
With episodes dedicated to specific characters rather than spreading the storylines equally amongst the cast throughout the season, the six chapters do much to enrich our understanding of these figures, but also leads to driving them further apart, feeling often like they are becoming disparate and unconnected. On the one hand, this reflects the characters’ growing up and forging their individualism, but it also removes the community it had succeeded so well in creating last season. Previously, we had seen a broad umbrella of diversity, but now the focus has regrouped, seemingly shedding character after character by the wayside. Which feels pretty brutal. But with the season being crowd-funded despite its Netflix home, it smells more like a financial decision than an artistic one.
However, the writing in this season is just as sharp as its predecessor and Williamson’s literary pedigree is particularly evident. The complexity of Cal and Thom’s relationship makes for entertaining viewing, while the palpable connection between Quincy and Douglas is as adorable as before. However, with the pan-state road-trip the over-arching glue that holds the other story strands together, it is peculiar that the season focused on the latter couple in the first episode before returning to our protagonists later.
What Eastsiders has always done well, however, is getting beneath the skin of pretty niche LGBT issues and depicting them in an accessible way. Cal and Thom’s sexual exploits, both by themselves and with others, makes for particularly entertaining viewing, especially because despite their flaws, both characters are inherently likeable everymen. And with Colby Keller showing some remarkably good acting with his clothes on (mostly), there is a clutch of interestingly developed new supporting roles too. This season takes much from shows like Looking and Girls with their multi-stranded forms that don’t cut away for the sake of inclusivity toward all its leads. Similarly, it also reflects these shows’ obsession with introspection as characters’ inner dialogues are just as important as behaviours they display. Entertaining and very 2018, Eastsiders has become a complex series of character studies that would be all the better for there being much more of it.
OUT NOW ON NETFLIX.