Loss is a topic seldom told through a queer lens, but when crafted and executed honestly, it has the power to embolden our perspectives on each other — as well as ourselves. After all, love is humanity’s greatest story, and it’s beautifully expressed in the first season of After Forever, an eight-episode series streaming on Amazon.
The show, co-created by Emmy-nominated TV writer and playwright Michael Slade and actor-writer Kevin Spirtas (Days of Our Lives), was nominated for 10 International Academy of Web Television Awards — and won one for best female performance in a drama series (Cady Huffman). The show stars Spirtas as Brian, and Mitchell Anderson (Doogie Howser, Party of Five) as Jason, a “50-ish” gay couple living in New York City who appear to have it all — until Jason’s untimely death forces Brian to think about his own future and ultimately his own mortality, without the love of his life.
“We as gay men, after we’re no longer 35, we tend to disappear from popular culture until we’re Christopher Plummer — asexual down the hall with a cat,” argues Slade about why this depiction is so important. The writing process was also cathartic for Slade, whose partner, Richard, died of cancer several years ago.
“Once you lose somebody, it doesn’t mean the relationship is necessarily over,” he adds. “If somebody dies, they’re still in your heart, they’re still in your life, and they’re still in your mind.”
Does the relationship ever really end?
“I don’t think so,” Spirtas says. “The love never ends and you continue to have this relationship, although the form does change. I think you can look at this story about love between two people and realize it’s two people anywhere. It’s two men, it’s two women, it’s a male and a female, it’s older, it’s younger, it’s same age.”
While it’s important to recognize that After Forever is indeed a story about love and loss, it’s also about being over 50, and when you have no other choice but to rebuild your life from scratch. As Brian is learning to live without Jason, he maneuvers relationships with old and new friends (including characters played by Huffman, Colleen Zenk, Anita Gillette, and Michael Urie).
Anderson, who was a steady presence on television in the 1990s but has since been off the grid, is fully aware of the lens in which audiences typically see gay men of a certain age. A staunch advocate in his own right who came out publicly at the 1996 GLAAD Media Awards, he says that stories of aging gay men are often left on the cutting room floor.
“Fifteen years ago this would have been a story about a guy getting AIDS,” Anderson points out. “I graduated from college in 1983, went to New York City and for the next 12 years, everybody around us was dying. [Now] we’re telling a story about people who survived, but then, still at our age, are dealing with the passage of life and the passage of time. I think that’s a universal story.”
Spirtas credits the new age for delivering a platform to tell these kinds of stories, explaining that the “Internet changed the face of every business, especially the entertainment industry” because “before, you couldn’t create something. It was always the studio’s choice or the network, or standards and practices wouldn’t allow, or maybe HBO would give you a little extra nudity.” Nowadays, “people are writing and telling their stories. People are given carte blanche with a phone in their hand to film something.”