Lost in the Reel’s video review for Fellow Travelers

“Fellow Travelers” first caught my eye when I saw a quick teaser months ago. I immediately looked it up and saw that Lord Anthony Bridgerton himself was finally getting another starring role outside of the hit Netflix show.  And then when I saw that Matt Bomer, who won an Emmy for his outstanding performance in HBO’s similarly-themed film “The Normal Heart,”, was his co-lead… I knew there was something special here.  The fact that both of these leading actors are two of the very few out-and-proud gay actors working in the business, brings an authenticity and representation that we don’t get to see very often.  And finally, that the creator of “Fellow Travelers” is Ron Nyswaner, the Oscar-nominated writer of the groundbreaking film Philadelphia… only adds to the pedigree of this impressive 8-episode limited series.


Fellow Travelers is based upon the book by Thomas Mallon.  It follows Hawkins Fuller, who after a chance encounter in Washington D.C. in the 1950s meets Timothy Laughlin.  The two begin a volatile and dangerous romance that spans “the Vietnam War protests of the 1960s, the drug-fueled disco hedonism of the 1970s and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, while facing obstacles in the world and in themselves”.


As I was watching this show, there was a flurry of emotions that came over me that I honestly have a hard time putting those feelings into words… but, I will do my best.  “Fellow Travelers” works on so many different levels, that it creates an epic tapestry that any person will be able to connect to; no matter their race, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, political affiliation, etc.  This show taps into the human condition in such a powerful way, through the lens of some of the United States’ most darkest times.  It then transcends genres acting not only as a forbidden romance, but as a political thriller, a pulpy noir, and a historical drama.  

As McCarthyism, the Vietnam War and the AIDS Crisis threatens to rip apart the fabric of American society, “Fellow Travelers” uses these pivotal moments in our history to build an unrelenting tension.  But, also put a magnifying glass straight onto the ones who allowed these things to build into what they ultimately became.  And how we allowed it all to happen.  It is a sobering look at our past that makes us question how far along we have actually come and how much more we have left to accomplish.  It’s because of these extremely heavy topics that I don’t think “Fellow Travelers” is necessarily a show built for this modern age of binging.  It’s a sophisticated, thoughtful piece that deserves time, to let it soak into you slowly.  


It wouldn’t be a captivating romance without the presence of chemistry between the two leads… AND BOY, do Matt Bomer and Johnathan Bailey have chemistry.  The two literally explode off of the scree. Not just in their intimate moments, but even more so in their gazes of desire and also heartache.  Bomer plays completely against type as Hawkins Fuller, though at first you’ll think otherwise.  This character is so unlikable that it was hard, at times, to ever root for their relationship to succeed.  Yet, in context, he is a man trying to protect himself at all costs, by burying his secrets so far down that he becomes a shell of himself. 

Bailey’s Tim Loughlin on the other hand, is the more naive and genuine one, who is impossible not to love despite his self-inflicted earnestness.  The major differences between the two characters make the progression of their relationship all the more fascinating and enthralling to watch.


There are two other storyline running parallel to the main romance, that are also just as compelling.  Noah J. Rickets plays a black drag queen named Frankie who falls in love with a reporter who is trying to make a name for himself in journalism, played by Jelani Alladin.  This arc is brilliantly connected to our leads throughout the years. And it tackles our country’s sordid history of race relations which provides an extremely important perspective this story needed.  Then there is the addition of “Girls'” and “Get Out”‘s Allison Williams… Who gives an Emmy-Worthy performance as Hawkins’ eventual wife, or “beard” as she could be called.  The pain Williams’ shows in every scene as she turns a blind eye to her beloved husband’s extra-marital affairs and how she deals with the fallout, adds another viewpoint to this story that is so impactful and devastating.  


If there are any flaws in “Fellow Travelers” it’s in the framing of the story’s timeline… Which can get unnecessarily messy.  The show starts out, in its first five episodes during the McCarthy Era and some flash-forwards to the 80’s. And then, the last three episodes are spread out during other essential eras.  Although I think the time spent building Tim and Hawk’s initial meet-cute and relationship was necessary, the fact that five episodes are delegated to this time feels a bit like overkill… Especially when there are other significant moments in their lives, that then feel brushed over quickly in the later episodes. 

I also think that I would have preferred the show stay in chronological order rather than jumping around. This could have left an air of suspense to how everything would ultimately turn out.  As is, the series ends up being more predictable than it should be, because it plays its cards too early.  


Despite those minor gripes, “Fellow Travelers” is one of the best television events of the year.  Although it might turn off some viewers due its explicit sexual content… Everyone else who doesn’t get offended by such things, should make this appointment viewing.  This limited series is an engrossing, intense, thoughtful and heartbreaking meditation on certain dark times in our past that get too easily glossed over by our history books.  It is not an easy watch. As the credits rolled on the final episode I let loose an eruption of tears that felt like… A painful sting, but also a weight off of my shoulders.  “Fellow Travelers” might not be for everyone. But, if your looking for sophisticated and lovingly-crafted television, look no further than this masterwork.

Fellow Travelers Premieres on Paramount+ Friday, October 29th, 2023.

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