“I’ll spend the afternoon picturing you kneeling in prayer,” Hawk Fuller (Matt Bomer) whispers to Tim Laughlin (Jonathan Bailey) in the premier episode of Fellow Travelers. His not-so-subtle attempt to make a pass in public—with a religious connotation, no less—is now one of the hottest lines exchanged on TV, right up there with Fleabag’s “Fuck you calling me Father like it doesn’t turn you on just to say it.” And it’s all thanks to the fiery chemistry between Fellow Travelers’ two leads.
Watching Showtime’s series is like unwrapping an unexpected present. Tucked inside this historical political drama is a tender, tantalizing, troubled, and tear-jerking romance brought vividly to life by Bomer and Bailey. Fellow Travelers doesn’t take long to develop their passionate storyline. That “kneeling in prayer” line? It comes halfway through the show’s first hour, during Hawk’s second meeting with Tim, and that spark creates flames that burn from the 1950s through the 1980s. The duo is consistently charming in each decade; they can’t keep their eyes off of each other and we can’t keep our eyes off of them. While only four of eight episodes have aired so far, Bomer and Bailey are in contention for the Seriously Sexy Chemistry Of The Year Award. (Yes, we made that up just for them.)
The show explores Hawk and Tim’s secret affair at a time when the federal government was actively campaigning against the LGBTQ+ community. Adding to the drama is the fact that the characters work on opposite sides of Washington D.C.’s political arena. Hawk, a war vet-turned-fixer, is several years senior to Tim, at times manipulating his rookie lover to advance his own career. He also marries his boss’ daughter, Lucy (Allison Williams), to put up a front. So yeah, Hawk and Tim’s love story has many hurdles, but it’s not going to stop anyone from rooting for them because Bomer and Bailey capture their characters’ heightened tension so beautifully.
After a brief meet-cute at a party—Hawk sips on whiskey while Tim downs some milk—their relationship evolves to furtive glances, late-night meetings, and secret hookups during the ’50s and ’60s. In public, they’re barely acquaintances. In private, they can’t get naked fast enough, with Hawk clearly in charge. Fellow Travelers doesn’t hesitate when it comes to their sex scenes. (Reader: You will blush!). And it’s a better, braver, more authentic TV show for it, setting an exciting benchmark for how queer love can be portrayed on the small screen.
It helps that Hawk and Tim are played to perfection. Bomer’s domineering confidence meshes well with Bailey’s wholesomeness, whether they’re experimenting sexually or having a sweet conversation. Fellow Travelers hasn’t explored the ’70s yet (it’s coming!), but in the ’80s, Hawk and Tim reunite after years apart. It’s not necessarily a happy occasion—Tim is dying of cancer—but their energy radiates off the screen, adding to an emotional moment.
The chemistry isn’t limited to when they’re in bed, although it’s quite a selling point (there’s a reason clips of that are going viral on Twitter and TikTok). But the two also deliver in the quieter moments Hawk and Tim share in the ’80s, with more perspective and life experience. There are hints of it in the other timelines, like their road trip in episode three where they admit their feelings on the beach, or in episode four (cheekily titled “Your Nuts Roasting On An Open Fire”) when Hawk gives Tim cufflinks, to which he tearfully responds: “I can’t bear being this happy.”
Fellow Travelers covers plenty of ground, including McCarthyism, the hedonism of disco culture, and the AIDS crisis. Underneath it all, though, is an irresistible love story about two men who probably won’t get a happy ending. But damn if Bomer and Bailey aren’t going to put on one hell of a sizzling show anyway.