Looking: Pay TV Goes Where The Web’s Been Before

HBO’s much ballyhooed Looking premiered last night and a lot of gay folks were hanging an awful lot of expectation on this half-hour. Trying to be everything to everybody would be a surefire way to set yourself up for disaster, so I wasn’t looking — as it were — for that. I didn’t have any expectations; I just wanted it to be good.

And it was, but I can’t help but feel a bit like Brad Bell, the co-creator/writer/star of Husbands, the hilarious marriage equality sitcom, who tweeted this:

Screen shot 2014-01-20 at 2.04.06 PM

I’m going to come back to that in a second, but I also noticed that Rob Owen’s review in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called Looking the “latest descendant of Queer as Folk.” Well, I don’t buy that at all. It’s closer to a modern day Tales of the City.

Of course, the San Francisco parallels are obvious and Armistead Maupin’s classic stories are classic for a reason and they are more layered because there are simply more layers on the canvas, but Looking’s Dom (Murray Bartlett), the mustachioed waiter nearing 40 who is always on the pull, is a gay clone of Tales‘ Brian Hawkins, not QAF’s Stuart Allen Jones (or Brian Kinney, in the American version). And that’s not taking anything away from Bartlett — he’s lovely — but it bothered me throughout the episode.

I also have to admit being bothered by the opening scenes featuring Jonathan Groff’s Patrick going for a quick handjob in the park because that is exactly what would have happened in Tales of the City in the 70s and 80s; except that it wouldn’t have been interrupted by a cellphone call. If director Andrew Haigh (I am such an enormous fan of his work) and writer Michael Lannan were trying to be ironic, it didn’t read. It came off as another depiction of gay men being completely and utterly driven by sex alone. And, quite frankly, in 2014, we desperately need to get beyond that because, well, straight people.

Then again, see above re: being all things to all people. (And for the record, back in the day when I could have possibly pulled a trick I was too bloody terrified to contemplate it and now that I’m too old and married, I’m awfully too old and married!)

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Frankie J. Alvarez, Murray Bartlett and Jonathan Groff in HBO’s Looking, which follows the lives of three gay men in San Francisco. |Image: HBO

Look, Jonathan Groff is a wonderful, subtle, earnest performer and he’s so enjoyable to watch. Bartlett and Frankie J. Alvarez are equally competent hands on the tiller and you are interested in what will happen to them all enough to tune back in for the next episode. Also, it was nice to see people like Ann Magnuson,  Matt Wilkas (from the delicious indie comedy Gayby) and Tanner Cohen (Were the World Mine, the Shakespeare-inspired gay fantasy) who sports one of the most hilarious tattoos I’ve ever seen on screen.

Back to the Web
But, like Bell intimates, haven’t we seen some of this before? Is Patrick going through the same “slutty phase” as Jack in The Outs? Or are his attempts to find someone who is “not boring” akin to Thom in EastSiders? I have sense that we’ve been down this road already.

What set EastSiders and The Outs apart were the disintegration of a relationship (EastSiders) and the rebuilding of a different kind of relationship after a breakup (The Outs) and while Looking is not the same, it struck me as being a network version of a mashup of these two independent series. Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t feel that Looking lived up to its hype. Not that it’s not good — because it is — but that there was too much lead in.

Then again, we’re so damn starved for entertainment in the gay community; so desperate that someone will turn that mirror back on us, that when there is something out there in the mainstream that may validate us, we want it to be as good as it possibly can be. And we’re always disappointed when it doesn’t meet all of our expectations.

It is unfair for me to compare The Outs and EastSiders to Looking, because they are each different animals, but I would urge you to look at their world views, too, if you haven’t already. The Outs is available here and EastSiders is available as individual episodes and cut as a full-length feature at logotv.com.

As for Looking, I’ll be looking in on it again next week because, since I just told a bunch of folks to give a recast on Days of our Lives a chance to settle into the role, it would be disingenuous of me not to allow this show to do the same.

P.S. — Don’t take my word for it. HBO has just released the first episode on YouTube for non-subscribers to see.

5 thoughts on “Looking: Pay TV Goes Where The Web’s Been Before

  1. Pingback: Looking at ‘Looking’ Again: A New Look | One Last Word

  2. I must agree with you, ‘Looking’ reminds me so much more of ‘Tales of the City’ than of ‘Queer as Folk’. I think it is far to easy to say it is like ‘QAF’, in fact that is a cop out and annoying (was that reviewer straight?). These shows are very different.

    I half heartedly disagree with you on one point, so far I have not been bothered by any of the show’s emphasis on sex. Whereas I do think that gay men are, and need to be depicted as, more than just sex driven, I think that sex is a huge part of being a gay man. I think that one of the great things about being gay is how we put sex out there more than our repressed, hero-sexual counterparts. I’m glad ‘Looking’ isn’t censoring itself too much. I’m tired of us hiding who we are from ‘straights’.

    Now, I of course say this within reason and I think that being too overtly sexual is not good artistically or personally. I also think that the gay community is starved for gay entertainment. Thank god we finally have some more. 🙂

    • I guess what strikes me most about that first episode is that I found it all irrelevant. In fact, I think that, like a lot of “pilots,” the first episode was BY FAR the weakest. Episode 5, which was both frank and intimate while exploring universal truths about humans finding out about one another, just knocked my socks off. I thought that depiction of both longing and repression was so much more truthful – and more artistically vigorous – than getting a quickie in the park! While dubious about the show when it debuted, I know find myself excited about the next ep! Thanks for all of your thoughts, Adam!

  3. Pingback: Second Look(ing) – HBO Drama Gets Second Season Pickup | One Last Word

  4. Pingback: Shamelessly Looking for Something Else: Real Talk About Pay TV Gays | One Last Word

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