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30 years of secret love

“You have a nice family, a nice life,” an old friend says to another. “I hope it was worth it.”

In Showtime’s miniseries “Comrades,” based on the 2007 novel of the same name, “this” means living in the closet, which has been professionally beneficial for dashingly handsome Hawkins Fuller (Matt Bomer) — it’s the 1980s and he’s a diplomatic employee in Milan. He is about to take office, but it harms his soul.

We go back 30 years to the ’50s, when she met and seduced the very serious and deeply Catholic Tim Laughlin (Jonathan Bailey) at a party in Washington, DC. You. They fall into lust and then secretly fall in love during Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare hunt for communists; This search also extends to homosexuals: The Lavender Fear. Every opportunity to remind audiences of the brutal immorality and hypocrisy of McCarthy and his right-hand man, Roy Cohn, is a highlight in my book.

This is important because both of our central couple’s men have their government jobs at risk – Hawk working for the State Department, Tim literally in the belly of the beast as an employee in McCarthy’s Senate office. Their relationship is complicated (perhaps even exacerbated) by the threat of exposure, but also because Hawk resists deep emotional connections while Tim wears his heart on his sleeve. Perhaps these differences would destroy their love, regardless of the era.

Creator Ron Nyswaner (whose credits include “Philadelphia” as well as the Showtime series “Ray Donovan” and “Homeland”) has added a new story about a black political reporter played by Jelani Alladin. A drag performer whom Hawk often meets at a swanky underground gay club. “Comrade Travelers” takes a similar approach to these episodes as Amazon’s remake of “A League of Their Own,” creating a parallel narrative that gives the show’s Black characters their own lives and interests. Their stories may occasionally intersect with the show’s white characters, but their on-screen presence is not dependent on advancing those storylines.

Simultaneously sad and stylish, “Comrades” shifts back and forth in time. One episode is set in the ’60s, when Tim is a fugitive war protester and Hawk tries to maintain some semblance of domestic happiness (Allison Williams plays his wife, a role similar to the one Anne Hathaway took on in “Brokeback”). Mountain”) Another episode takes place in the 70s, where Tim visits drug addict Hawk on Fire Island and saves him from his midlife crisis.

But the show is strongest (and gives up most of its running time) with episodes set in the ’50s, when Hawk’s Don Draper swagger and Tim’s childish love first collide.

Their relationship is defined by this unequal power dynamic. It takes a surprisingly long time for Tim, earnest and wide-eyed, to become so disgusted with McCarthy that he quits his job. Hawk is older and he is an operator. He called his girlfriend “Skippy”, a little nickname, and I cringed every time.

Their secret relationship stems from this imbalance. “Who do you belong to?” Hawk begs in the middle of intercourse, and you can interpret this as awkwardness, or perhaps as a deeper reflection of his obsessive need to be in control at all times.

Sex on the scale of explicitness on television is similar to what “Queer as Folk” did two decades ago, with a variety of positions and orgasms. Some are sneaky and in public toilets. Some in the comfort of a private home. Washboard abs seem anachronistic to me—even at Rock Hudson’s peak he didn’t have the gym-enhanced physiques of these fictional desk jockeys—but I doubt anyone is complaining. The show’s wigs are another matter.

Jelani Alladin plays a political journalist in “Comrades”.

The show gets too mannered and presentational for its own good at times, but there’s a real warmth and chemistry between Bomer (“White Collar”) and Bailey (“Bridgerton”), who play with this push-pull dynamic in interesting ways. Both Hawk and Tim are driven by restless desires. For sexual pleasures but also for proximity to power and influence. Making a difference. To find meaning.

It’s a story that’s both heartfelt and disingenuous, and that relies heavily on the limitations embodied by a character like Hawk, who keeps everyone at arm’s length lest they be discovered. His most emotionally honest moment comes when the man describes his WASPY father on his deathbed. The elder Fuller has been holding a grudge ever since he stumbled upon one of his son’s complicated situations. “You should have knocked on the door,” Hawk shrugs, unimpressed by the old man’s angry demand for an apology.

Is television an ideal medium for novels? You would think that the chapters functioned like chapters of a book. There have been numerous adaptations in recent weeks, from “Chemistry Lessons” to “Chemistry Lessons.” “The Other Black Girl” shout out to the upcoming “Black Cake” but I don’t believe it is always the best format. Sometimes extra running time just means more scenes. you don’t learn or to feel More information about the characters or the world they live in.

This also applies to “Travel Companions”.

It’s mostly worth the journey anyway.

“Travel Companions” — 2.5 stars (out of 4)

Where to watch: Sundays at 8pm on Showtime (and streaming on Paramount+)

Nina Metz is a Tribune critic.

nmetz@chicagotribune.com

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