"EastSiders" Creator Kit Williamson Talks About Ending The Beloved Series, And The Importance Of Representation In Media
Seven years and four seasons later, the little series that could takes its final bow.
Over the course of its four seasons, EastSiders went from a small YouTube series, that produced most of its first season with the help of a Kickstarter campaign, to an Emmy-nominated Netflix series with a large cult following (especially from those within the LGBTQ community). The dark comedy, which recently aired its final season in December, garnered its loyal fanbase by tackling complex issues that many gay men go through, but are not often portrayed in mainstream media, like open relationships, societal pressures, and anxiety issues.
To commemorate the series finale of EastSiders, a behind-the-scenes documentary covering everything you could ever want to know about the show was just released onto YouTube. Recently Kit Williamson, the creator behind the series (and also Cal on the show), spoke with BuzzFeed about everything from the importance of queer representation to what he hopes the legacy of EastSiders will be.
BuzzFeed: So big congrats on concluding four seasons of the EastSiders. And I just wanted start to off by asking: how does it feel to be ending the show?
Kit Williamson: You know, it's bittersweet, but it's a really satisfying feeling. The feedback has been great. And when you put this much time, energy, and effort into something over so many years, you really hope that you stick the landing. So hopefully we did.
The show started as a web series on YouTube and then needed a Kickstarter campaign to keep it going. Did you ever think that you would be talking about your series in 2019/2020?
KW: You know, when we started this back in 2012, filming the first two episodes in our living room for $2,000 and a stick of gum to hold the whole thing together, we had no idea the number of lives that the show would have and the journey that it would go on. We didn't even know that that was possible at the time because the concept of a web series was a relatively new one, particularly the idea that you could have a dark comedy about a gay couple in Silver Lake, dealing with infidelity and open relationships and those sorts of subject matters. That sort of subject matter was relatively new, as far as web content goes.
You sort of described EastSiders a little bit, but for our readers who haven't seen the show, how would you describe it?
KW: EastSiders is a dark comedy about a gay couple and their friends in Silver Lake, California, and the sad and funny messes that they make out of their lives.
What inspired you to develop the show?
KW: It really was born out of frustration with the way that LGBTQ characters were represented in mainstream media, particularly back in 2012. I think that the GLAAD Media report from that year stated, I believe, that only 2.9% of characters on TV, on network television, were LGBTQ. And that puts so much pressure on those characters and on that representation, that oftentimes they didn't feel like characters at all for me. They were, you know, just there to represent their identity, and then quickly run away from any sort of story before they could "look bad." And as a result, you got all of these sorts of hyper-aspirational depictions of queer characters — which you still see a lot of today — rather than allowing them to experience the full range of humanity. Like having flaws and complexities, and allowing them to fuck up their lives just like how we allow straight characters to fuck up their lives and pick up the pieces and dramas.
You sort of went into a question I was going to ask you next: Queer representation in media is something that has gotten a bit better over the years, certainly since you started the series back in 2012. But where do you see areas that still need improvement?
KW: I think it's incredible that we have finally been invited to the table to have a seat in terms of mainstream representation. I feel like most large cast ensemble shows have a queer character at least represented. But, oftentimes that queerness is presented as incidental, or not at all explored, or issues related to the LGBTQ experience are not explored. And I think it's important that we're allowed space to have a dialogue within our community, as well as explorations of how we fit into mainstream culture at large. So I think we need both. I’m so grateful for the strides that we've made, but I think we need more than one show that speaks to our experience. Specifically, we need that more than one every seven years.
What has been the best feedback you've gotten from the queer community about the series?
KW: You know, I would say that a lot of people have written to me, saying that they identified with the characters, or that they watched it with their partners, or that it made them feel less alone. When you don't see characters kind of grappling with flaws on television, it's easy to feel like you're the only person who makes mistakes. And being able to identify with people who have flaws and complexities, I think is really a vital part of representation. Also, perfection is just incredibly boring to me.
EastSiders is known for having subject matter that is a little bit more on the risqué side. Is there something about queer gay culture that you didn't show on the show that you wish you had explored more in-depth?
KW: It's so funny, I feel like we have this perception of being a little bit more on the risqué side just because we explore sex and relationships, but as far as comparing it to shows like Fleabag or Insecure we have very little actual sex in our show. So I think that's something I find really interesting, that when the conversation kind of turns to the subject matter explored, I feel like there's still a little bit of discomfort from queer audiences in grappling with what is a very prominent part of all of our lives, which is sex and relationships.
Do you think talking about those subjects on the show has gotten better since you started? Or do you think it's still a little bit of a taboo subject?
KW: I think it's definitely gotten better. But we certainly grapple with respectability politics and pearl-clutching on a regular basis. And it's something that we explore in the show. Jake Choi’s character this season is the editor of Van Hansis’ character (Thom, who is a novelist), and he tells Thom that he doesn't think that he represents gay men in the best light. And Thom pushes back and says, "Well, what light should gay men be portrayed in exactly?"
I think that that's something that we grapple with a lot as a community and always have. This [question of how to define gay men for what’s best for the community] has been a kind of tension within the struggle for LGBTQ equality, since the struggle for LGBTQ equality began with the very first protests in the United States. And you see it played out on an almost daily basis in gay media, like this recent op-ed I read, with a gay conservative arguing that a leather festival is setting back LGBTQ rights, completely erasing the fact that the leather community has been at the forefront of the fight for LGBTQ rights for longer than this kid has been alive.
What excites you as a queer creator?
KW: I am always asking myself, particularly with EastSiders and with work that I'm doing independently: What is the thing that I can do — because I'm not beholden to any sort of executive mandate — that nobody else can explore on TV? It's the old "you can't say that on television." What can I say that nobody else can because it's an independent project?
So there's great freedom in that. And that's really exciting to me, just kind of trying to create an unapologetically queer world, with characters who are just brazenly themselves.
What queer shows or queer-leaning shows did you tune into growing up and did you feel yourself represented?
KW: I was a scholar of LGBTQ representation as a kid, because I grew up in Mississippi, so I just devoured any and every kind of representation I could get my hands on. From digging through the independent film VHS tapes at the local Blockbuster, to pirating the original Queer as Folk (the original British Queer as Folk) as teenager online.
But also, you saw the world change so rapidly over the course of really like a three-year span, with Ellen coming out and then having her show canceled, to then Will and Grace premiering that same year, like what a rapid sort of upheaval in LGBTQ representation. And I literally would devour anything that I could find that was the least bit gay. And that's a pretty common story I think, my relationship to representation is not unique. I know that firsthand because I get almost daily messages from people in countries around the world where it is illegal or dangerous to be gay, saying that the show made them feel less alone. And I can say that queer representation and queer TV legitimately saved my life as a teenager. I don't actually know if I would be here if I hadn't found a sense of belonging through story.
You just touched a bit into my next question, which is you and the show are now part of that queer narrative and representation that’s out there. What do you hope young queer kids who watch the show take away from it?
KW: I think it's that the show has one central message or theme: That there is no one correct way to be queer; there is no one correct way to be in love, to be in a relationship, to exist in the world. I reject the idea that we need to create social constructs and police each other. I think that we know what it feels like to be told that we're wrong and we don't belong. So why would we ever want to make anybody else feel that way? Especially in our own community?
Alright, so final question: Do you see yourself revisiting or rebooting the EastSiders sometime in the future?
KW: Actually, I do have a bit of a killer idea for a movie! I could absolutely see myself doing something with these characters down the line. I think it's our swan song for being able to produce a show with a large ensemble cast and that was also filled with famous drag queens. Scheduling alone on a microbudget is harrowing — every day, wondering who is going to book a pilot or who's going to have to fly to Dubai and screw your whole schedule.
So you think you definitely want to make a movie for sure?
KW: I could absolutely see that happening. You know, I don't know that I'm done with these characters just yet. I love working with all of these actors, and it would be really fun to get the gang back together down the line.