There was, of course, no shortage of romance on the Netflix series itself, which concluded its seven-year, four-season run in December. Set in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, the pleasantly soapy show centered on a gay couple, Cal (played by Williamson) and Thom (Van Hansis), as they grappled with what it means to be in a committed queer relationship in the 2010s.
Catch the trailer for Season 4 above.
For the Mississippi-born Williamson, “EastSiders” was a labor of love, too. He’d written the script for the show’s first season out of his own frustrations with the lack of LGBTQ representation onscreen as well as a scarcity of acting offers since his relocation from New York to Los Angeles. With the help of an online fundraising campaign, he launched the series on YouTube in 2012.
“I’m not one of those people who thinks that we’re exactly the same as straight people,” Williamson, whose credits include recurring roles on “Mad Men” and “The Good Wife,” told HuffPost. “We have our own unique experiences, and those shape how we see the world and how we come into relationships. We don’t have many long-term depictions of queer characters, and even fewer long-term depictions of queer relationships. So I thought to myself: What can I do that will add to the zeitgeist ― the queer zeitgeist?”
By all means, “EastSiders” was a gamble. But that first season ― which also starred a pre-“Fresh Off the Boat” Constance Wu as Cal’s best friend, Kathy, and Williamson’s real-life husband, John Halbach, as her boyfriend, Ian ― garnered a cult following.
The next three seasons of “EastSiders” would incorporate storylines about lesbians, drag queens and gender non-conforming characters, garnering eight Daytime Emmy Award nominations along the way. The show also switched from YouTube to Logo TV before being picked up for distribution by Netflix in Season 3.
The world around “EastSiders” would change, too, with same-sex marriage becoming the law of the land in 2015 followed by the election of President Donald Trump, who ran on an anti-LGBTQ platform, the next year. Such cultural shifts were woven into the narrative of “EastSiders,” expanding both the show’s scope and ambitions. Politics, in particular, became the source of some pushback among viewers when it was revealed that gay adult film actor Colby Keller, who appeared in a Season 3 episode, was a Trump supporter. (Williamson, a Democrat, defended the casting choice in an Advocate essay.)
Through it all, the series never lost its sense of indie cool ― in some respects out of necessity, as Williamson continued to rely on fan crowdfunding for its budget.
Season 4 finds Cal and Thom once again testing the boundaries of their relationship as their drag queen pal Douglas (Willam Belli) plans to marry his fiancé, Quincy (Stephen Guarino). Ian, meanwhile, is now in a relationship with Cal’s sister, Hillary (Brianna Brown), but he begins to explore his sexuality just as the couple face a possible pregnancy.
Given the absence of big studio promotion, the final six episodes of “EastSiders” debuted in December to minimal fanfare. As in previous seasons, however, word-of-mouth has proven to be the show’s selling point. In January, the show was a New York Times Critics Pick, while Cosmopolitan featured it alongside “Schitt’s Creek” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” on its list of the 15 best LGBTQ+ shows.
As for Williamson, he’s found creative ways to maintain the “EastSiders” buzz, too. On Jan. 23, he released a documentary retrospective that took a behind-the-scenes look at all four seasons of the show. And last week, he appeared with Wu on “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” bonding with Clarkson over their shared Southern upbringing.
Still, Williamson said he and the “EastSiders” cast and crew were always aware of the fact that existing incarnation of the show would end after its fourth season. Wu, for instance, was unable to appear in the final installment because of her “Fresh Off the Boat” shooting schedule.
“It’s important to always keep moving, growing and evolving,” Williamson said. “Good stories have endings, and I wanted to leave all of the characters in a satisfying place. I don’t want to keep imperiling these relationships unnecessarily.”
The show, he added, has led to a wealth of new screenwriting projects. Though he would like to maintain his acting chops, Williamson ultimately sees himself following in the footsteps of Phoebe Waller-Bridge of “Fleabag” as a writer, showrunner and performer.
He also isn’t opposed to revisiting the characters he introduced in “EastSiders” in the future, either by way of a feature film or a different format. Until that happens, he’s hopeful the show’s forward-thinking take on love will find new audiences around the world.
“We regularly get messages from people in countries where it’s illegal to be gay, saying the show has made them feel less alone,” he said. “That’s been the biggest reward in this because I know how much representation means, having grown up gay in Mississippi.”
Catch “EastSiders: The Documentary” below.
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