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‘Fellow Travelers’ expertly tells a tragic love story over four decades

The beauty of love can be how it takes over your life. It can consume you until nothing else matters. However, love can also be hard, especially when life throws millions of obstacles your way. That is when a single question remains: Can love conquer all? These are the main themes behind the mini-series “Fellow Travelers.” This series follows the love story of two men over decades as they face issues in their personal and professional lives, as well as the issues that come with being two men in love in the mid-20th century. Despite all of these issues, and despite what they may tell themselves, their feelings never waver. Their story is a sweet and heartbreaking one that will capture your attention all of the way through. Furthermore, you will start to fall for the characters themselves. While similar love stories may have been told before, the details and storytelling techniques used make this one feel brand new. While it makes sense as a mini-series, I wish it was longer. Released on Dec. 17 on Showtime, “Fellow Travelers” brings audiences love, sex, drama, history, excitement and heartbreak in eight episodes.

In 1952, Hawkins “Hawk” Fuller (Matt Bomer) is a suave government worker that likes to keep his personal life private. In a society where his sexuality could cost him his job, Fuller has clandestine hookups with other men and does not let relationships go anywhere past that. Then he meets the cute and wide-eyed newcomer Tim Laughlin (Jonathan Bailey), a man who will choose to order milk at a bar. Even though Fuller will not admit it, he is smitten. Their relationship starts with rough and kinky sex, but it becomes a lot more. Thus begin decades of an on-again off-again relationship between two men who want each other, but cannot have each other. Hawk is all about appearances, so he marries childhood friend Lucy Smith (Allison Williams) and starts a family with her. Meanwhile, Tim is dealing with the battle between religious guilt and being his authentic self. Through all of that, their connection remains strong. The duo deal with society’s prevailing problems across decades. In the 1950s, the witch hunt for communists is becoming larger by the day. In the 1960s, activists are fighting against the war. In the 1970s, the death of Harvey Milk leaves a large impact on the gay community. Then, in the 1980s, a new disease is starting to hurt the gay community and will bring Tim and Hawk closer than ever.

The character of Hawk Fuller is poised, confident and gorgeous. In other words, the perfect character for Bomer. Bomer oozed Hawk’s public sophistication in every move. It was no wonder that Tim fell for him; I would too. In addition, Bomer was also able to portray that inner turmoil that was going on inside Hawk’s mind. From dealing with career pressures to hiding who he is and who he loves, Hawk is a tortured soul on the inside. Bomer played that desperation beautifully. For all of the harsh moves and actions that Hawk does in this series, Bomer is still able to get the viewer back on his side, which demonstrates a terrific performance and charisma. Then there was Bailey as Tim, which was a different performance than Bomer’s, but still as wonderful. Tim starts the series as a cute and nervous newbie that just wants someone to care for him. By the end, he has grown more confident and self-assured, and understands that he can care for himself when necessary. Bailey played both of these sides of Tim well and made the viewer empathize with him the whole way. Bailey makes his growth in mental strength believable while still carrying the same level of charm along the way. By the end, the character will make you emotional, as you are rooting for him until the very end. Bailey is an actor that really connects with his audience in any part and that is especially true here. Both leads of this show did a stellar job at their parts. When they really shined was when they were put together. You could feel the love these two have for each other emanating from the screen, which is what made this couple work. Bomer and Bailey are fantastic actors, but it was the chemistry for each other on screen that took these roles over the top.

On paper, this would not necessarily be a romance to root for. Both of these characters have their problems and there is constant bickering between these two that can be harmful at times. However, this series was so well-written that it allowed the viewer to believably look past all of that. Some of the harsh moments sting for a while, but the story is able to conquer most of the moments. The storytelling flows terrifically, with every event or moment having a later connection. We would see a little moment of affection earlier in the series, and then that moment would be referenced again later on. For instance, Tim’s milk order at the bar is constantly referenced throughout the show and it serves as a way to remind the audience of Tim’s cuteness and wide-eyed outlook. When Tim is about to go off to war, he emotionally says to Hawk, “Promise you won’t write,” which Hawk responds with “I won’t.” In the eighties, that line is said again, still emotional but with a tighter connection between the two. It is these sweet moments that are able to blind us from the bad moments of the relationship. We get caught up in the romantic times and how they all tie together because that is the type of relationship we want to focus on. Furthermore, even the non-relationship parts of each of their lives are fascinating. From Tim’s constant back and forth relationship with God to Hawk figuring out how to be a good father with a secret, the two men are such rich characters. There was a wonderful beginning, middle and end to their story, which proves that this series is well-written and a terrific watch.

It was a terrific choice to see how Hawk and Tim’s connection grows over time instead of containing it in a specific time. It made their love that much more exciting. I will admit, the episodes that took place in the 1950s were the best ones. They felt more organized and we got to see more of the sweet emotions in Hawk and Tim’s relationship. The episodes that took place in the 1960s and 1970s involved more stress and sadness, and did not involve much of the passionate relationship that fans enjoyed. That being said, the evolution was still interesting to see and also fairly realistic. Then there were the scenes in the 1980s, which were the most heartbreaking. They were the ones that made me feel the most emotional, and they were what made this series special. In addition to watching the relationship play out over decades, the historical context served as some exciting background to what was happening. I also liked seeing how these pieces of history affected the different characters. The dramatic irony of having Roy Cohn (Will Brill) play a prominent role in the McCarthyism plots, now knowing his own closeted lifestyle, was an intriguing touch to the story. Also, as mentioned before, the scenes in the 1970s focusing on the death of Harvey Milk made Hawk and Tim’s experiences feel more set in reality, as we saw how this activist’s death affected nearly everyone in the American gay community. While most of this love story is fiction, the real-life elements help ground the story and make it more exciting. There could have been a Hawk and a Tim out there, by different names of course, who had to hide their love over decades. Through all of the scripted moments, this was a drama television series that was able to feel so real.

While I have spent most of this review focusing on the main relationship of Hawk and Tim, I would be remiss to not talk about the other relationship of the series. There was the relationship between Marcus Gaines (Jelani Alladin), a friend of Hawk and a Black reporter trying to make it in a predominantly white field, and Frankie Hines (Noah J. Ricketts), a Black drag queen who wants Marcus to be more in touch with his emotions. Their relationship has parallels to Hawk and Tim’s, just in different contexts and a bit more communication. While we see problems build up between Hawk and Tim, Marcus and Frankie talk things out more and we see their relationship grow over the years. We see Marcus figuring out how to come out while already dealing with the racism he deals with in everyday life and we see Frankie discover his passion for helping gay youth. Alladin and Ricketts do an excellent job with each of their characters and their connection is what creates such a touching romance that becomes healthier than what Hawk and Tim go through. However, while I enjoyed the contrast, I almost wish Marcus and Frankie had their own series with their own story to tell. What went on between Hawk and Tim was usually the focus of my thoughts, and Marcus and Frankie did not grab me as much. If they had their own show, they would certainly be captivating. In “Fellow Travelers,” their story is often put on the back burner, which is a true shame. Dividing attention can be difficult in a mini-series, as there is only so much room to tell these stories. Marcus and Frankie were too interesting to be relegated to subplots, yet, at the same time, I did not want any time taken away from Hawk and Tim. Marcus and Frankie have their own stories to tell and I wish they could have a separate spotlight that was away from the enticing main romance.

“Fellow Travelers” is a series that will captivate you from beginning to end. It is a tragic romance that you will not be able to look away from. Hawk and Tim have a passionate love that can not be denied, and you will be attached to them until the very end. In fact, you will be attached even after the end; I am still thinking of these two. It can be difficult to tell a fleshed out story in eight episodes, much less one that spans across decades. Nevertheless, the writers of this series were able to accomplish that goal. As soon as I finished one episode, I was ready to start the next one, all the way up until the end. The talent involved in this series, both on-screen and off-screen, is truly remarkable and I want to see more shows like this one. I was able to learn a lot about modern history, including America’s reactions to communism and how the country dealt with the AIDS crisis early on, while also witnessing an intense love. It’s a win-win. While Hawk and Tim’s love was far from perfect, it was realistic, exciting and made me want to cry at certain moments. All of these qualities are signs of a well-written couple. If you want to learn about what it was like to be gay in the mid-20th century or you want a thrilling romance with palpable tension, watch “Fellow Travelers” today.

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