BOYSTOWN, Season One
GENRE: Erotic fiction, contemporary gay lit, gay romance
One of the most diverse and lively neighborhoods in the country, Chicago’s BOYSTOWN has something for everyone. So it’s no wonder that Jesse Morgan and Cole O’Brien chose to live there upon graduating from college. Ready to begin the next phase of their lives in an exciting new city, Jesse and Cole quickly find themselves at the center of a new group of friends.
Joyelle and Derek Mancini have been happily married for years, but Derek is harboring a secret that could tear them apart. Derek’s brother Emmett is about to discover that his boyfriend Keith Colgan has a past that will haunt them both. Long time couple Logan Pryce and Max Taylor must face a crisis that neither of them expected. And, before they realize it, Jesse and Cole find themselves at the center of it all in the adult playground known as BOYSTOWN.
Let’s skip the synopsis for a moment and talk about BOYSTOWN from the perspective of a television producer looking for a hot new vehicle for a budding Gay Cable Channel. And let’s say that producer is moi. I scan through the first couple of chapters, and I’m immediately gripped by a potential cast of characters who bring eroticism, angst, brio, èlan, attitude, insecurity, infidelity and over-the-top hotness that on a good day would rival mainstream Dallas, Brothers and Sisters, Revenge, etc. And today is a very good day.
I think you can see what’s coming. BOYSTOWN has a unique narrative form: a cross between a traditional screenplay with 95% dialog and minimalist set design and direction, and a sparse narrative flow that has a distinct linear quality, but again, heavy on dialog and with just enough detail that set directors could easily re-imagine the few locations where the bulk of the action occurs (condos, coffee shop, office, etc).
Another clue that you, the reader, might have wandered into uncharted territory is how the author labels each “chapter” as an episode. And each “episode” carries a theme set up by the first paragraph or two, then reiterated in the last couple of sentences, bookending a series of acts within a miniplay. The bridges between acts are of the “meanwhile, back at the condo” variety, and it turns out it’s a very effective way to redirect the reader from one scene to the next (or sometimes one cliffie to the next).
Beginning with a scene of infidelity, you will recognize this might not be a typical romance, and that the stable—or in most cases, pseudo-stable—relationships walk a knife-edge of unresolved conflict, self-absorption, narcissism, and all those other delightful character traits that make for jaw-dropping drama and shouts of “you’ve got to be kidding me!” (no Kindle was harmed in the reading of BOYSTOWN).
The cast of characters is a dream-come-true for my favorite game: Casting Couch. The pairings of note are Derek and wife Joyelle, Cole and Jess (college roomies), Emmett and Keith (boyfriends), Logan and Max (partners), loose cannons Ben and Nick and honorable mentions to family members (mostly moms). Whew, hope I didn’t forget anyone. And yes, at chapter/episode one I was scratching my head, wondering if maybe there were too many characters, introduced too soon, but never fear, it gets sorted.
The overarching plot is simple: put every character in a drum and shake violently, then tip over and see what falls out. Yes, sounds random. Trust me, it’s not, and you can and will keep up. Subplots effectively add to and drive the basic relationship dramas played out on small, intimate sets.
You’ll take sides, you’ll see some things coming from a mile away, others will have your eyeballs bulging at the sheer audacity… And then there’s the final scene and all hell literally breaks loose and you go to click the page and… And… Wait, no, yo!
You have GOT to be kidding me! No matter how many swipes, that was it, finis, get your tush to Amazon and download Season 2, like… right now. (And I lied about the Kindle, it required a towel-down after that frantic bit of finger flicking.)
Points said finger upwards: those are all the woohoo bits that make this a loved-it-five-stars worth.
But there were a few things I think could have been done better if we look at this from a standard narrative treatment, aka a novel. First and foremost, the characters needed fleshing out: descriptions of physical characteristics, a clear idea of the ages of cast members (other than the college guys), occupations (as is common with these drama-driven vehicles, everybody has way too much time to obsess over themselves and their love lives), social status, etc.
A director and the producers will have a clear idea of who will fill which part based on a variety of factors, none of which really pertain to the novel reader. In a word, I wanted more. Derek did not act in an age-appropriate manner most times, Cole and Jesse were suitably naïve at some points, but not at others, some characters seemed to flip-flop in character traits which made keeping track a bit of a challenge. Motivations got muddied (yes, I watch True Blood but Vampire Bill and Eric in the novels are different from their counterparts on the small screen).
A quick note about the dialog: there were quite a few spots where a parsimonious treatment (less is more) would have been better. Not everyone needs to say hello, how are you, can I take your coat… In a “real” screenplay, you might see that, but in a novel, it causes the action to slow down.
Now, let’s look at scenes of affection. This is erotic romance, make no mistake. It’s graphic M/M and M/F, something for everyone. It’s frequent, sometimes recurring in scenes one after the other (meanwhile back against the wall with his tongue down…), and after a while it turned repetitive. One excellent way to discriminate one gay character from another is how and why they do what they do on the couch, over the kitchen counter, in bed, in the shower… When the act becomes so linear that it goes from throat to chest with a stopover, a quick one, at the nips, then thighs, suck a toe, maybe run back up and do an armpit, then a condom and let the fun begin—it’s hard, it’s deep, it’s … well, it’s pretty much the same thing, scene after scene. (Where is Alan Ball when you need him?).
The first half dozen are hot, the rest… not so much. I know, I know… first world problems. But to qualify as truly scorching, this reader wants and demands variety, consequences, and a reasonable recovery period for guys who ain’t twenty and haven’t been for a long time. These scenes needed a healthy dose of affect to make them pop.
Those are my quibbles. Not a deal breaker by any means.
This was a unique, driving, entertaining, annoying, aggravating, scream at the screen kind of read. Whether you want to or not, you will be invested in a character or two or three—hate ’em, love ’em, one thing you won’t do is dismiss them.
An unequivocal FIVE STARS for the best guilty pleasure I’ve come across in a very long time.