It’s 1986 and war hero Hawkins Fuller (Matt Bomer) is living the dream with a grand American home, good friends and a loving, healthy family.
Yet in new US drama Fellow Travelers when visited by Marcus (Jellani Alladin), an old friend from the 1950s, he is reminded of another life: one full of secrets, passions, danger and lies.
Marcus interrupts Hawk’s cosy home life to tell him Tim, his former lover from his youth, has AIDS.
A series set in two time periods, we soon flashback to the meeting of Hawk and Tim (Jonathan Bailey), an aspiring political staffer for the Republican Party of which Hawk is already a rising State Dept. suit.
When Hawk isn’t wheeling and dealing for his boss Senator Wesley Smith (Linus Roache) he’s hooking up with hot trade in cubicles. DC is, after all, “the capital of ulterior motives.”
The attraction between Hawk and Tim, a polite workplace connection rather than anonymous sex, is instant. It’s Hawk who holds the upper hand in both experience and power, outlining to the younger Tim (whom he nicknames ‘Skippy’) their meetings must remain secret. And put the radio on when having sex so as not to raise the suspicions of the landlady.
Yet at the same time the era is highly politicised by the McCarthy Communist inquisitions. While their lust is unleashed, Joseph McCarthy (Chris Bauer) and Roy Cohn (Will Brill) declare war on ‘subversives and sexual deviants, communists and homosexuals.
There’s even a Sexual Deviants Unit, charged with ridding the government of the men they believe will give up secrets to avoid being blackmailed.
For Skippy it’s a dangerous time, but a war hero like Hawk, loaded up with medals, is regarded as “bulletproof.” All of this contributes to the swagger with which Hawk operates, one moment banging Tim, taking him to underground clubs and insisting it’s a physical relationship only, the next courting Senator Smith’s daughter Lucy (Allison Williams) when questions are raised about his bachelor status.
When the pendulum swings back to the ‘present’ in Reagan’s 1986, a guilty Hawk agrees to visit Tim who is now being cared for by his sister as he battles a ravaging disease. But Tim is also uninterested in Hawk’s too little, too late gesture.
Jonathan Bailey is the standout as the deeply religious Tim, whose optimism is readily crushed by Washington DC’s suffocating rules and hypocrisy. His attraction to Hawk is candid and open if also the embodiment of wearing-his-heart on his sleeve.
Matt Bomer is perfectly arrogant as the hunky Hawk, striding through scenes like a DILF and calling all the shots when it suits him. This makes for a relationship of two polar opposites which works for conflict, and passion at the same time, even if he is far less likeable. Later scenes with Hawk’s father will justify some of his arrogant personality.
Yet there are problems around Bomer’s age for both time periods. He appears too young as a father (or should that be grandfather?) in the ‘80s scenes, and too old to be a WWII hero in the 1950s. This requires some suspension of disbelie, if not a little more CGI or extra time in the make-up chair.
It also has to be said, I suspect nowhere near as many men in the 1950s had abs as ripped as these, unless they were on some sort of bodybuilder circuit.
Despite these misgivings, Fellow Travelers is a passionate, detailed essay on a torrid love story in a time of hatred. Further episodes will also highlight how racial abuse prevailed.
Writer Ron Nyswaner creates a political and personal piece that manages to find connection in two troubling eras: AIDS and McCarthyism.
While a war hero like Hawk may indeed be bulletproof, not everybody else is.
Fellow Travelesr screens Saturdays on Paramount+