HBO announced today that it was pulling the plug on its sophomore drama, Looking. The network says it will button the series with a movie.
I’ve had a rocky relationship with Looking ever since it debuted. I wrote some critical things about it when it originally aired and I wrote it a love note later on in its first season. I was excited about the second series but, with a few exceptions, the season left me cold.
It’s puzzling. I love Jonathan Groff as a performer. He’s a very easy, very natural actor. Russell Tovey was always that Brit that no one else knew and who left me gobsmacked every time I saw him. Raul Castillo I didn’t know pre-Looking, but I found him to be a lovely performer; smart, nuanced. And in spite of all of it’s positive elements, I just didn’t care enough about the main characters. And that was Looking’s Achilles Heel, I suppose,
I found Groff’s character, Patrick Murray, as written, a self-absorbed, self-critical, immature stereotype. There was nothing there to like. Nothing there to root for. I mean, were we supposed to urge him to leave his lovely, smart new boyfriend (Castillo) to become the boy-toy of his boss, Kevin (Tovey), whose relationship he broke up? Were we supposed to feel for him when Kevin announced he’d like to try an open relationship on the day that they moved in together? No. You weren’t man enough to date the nice barber who you were really into because of some misplaced post-suburban narcissism since you felt deep down that he wasn’t good enough for your pampered lily-white ass. No. And no, thanks.
I was far and away more interested in the season’s B-plot: the redemption of Patrick’s roommate Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) and his blossoming romance with HIV+ bear Eddie, played to a fair-the-well by the extraordinary Daniel Franzese. If the whole series had been half as interesting as this storyline, I would be mobilizing the mob protesting its cancellation.
But, I just don’t care enough. Besides, I’m too busy obsessing over Shameless, Showtime’s powerhouse what? — comedy — drama? — dramedy? — tragicomedy? — television theatre of the absurd? Whatever the hell it is, this defiantly unclassifiable show is like nothing else on television.
And there’s such a level of authenticity in the heartbreak and the love and the yearning of these characters — even in the most twisted of situations — that it makes you care for them on a visceral level. Never got that from Looking.
When Shameless put Ian Gallagher and Mickey Milkovich together in the first season, there was no indication that they would become one of great television romances of all time. There’s been a lot of talk over the years of the stellar talents of young Cameron Monaghan as Ian, the instigator of this relationship and his nuanced development of the character over five seasons — and trust me, this takes nothing away from his electric talent — but the real unsung hero of this show is Noel Fisher, who brings a depth and beauty to Mickey that almost takes your breath away. There is a pathos there that can physically make you ache. Also, he’s funny as shit.
Here’s the thing: in lesser hands — with lesser writers, with lesser directors and with lesser actors, Shameless had the potential to become an absolute pile, but it didn’t. Instead, it became one of America’s most memorable series ever. (Thanks, Great Britain!) Warts, fistfights, evil newfound daughters, absent mothers, drugs, ‘hand whores,’ Sheila Jackson’s collection of dildos, and all.
To me, Patrick and Kevin’s story has been told a million times and I just don’t care anymore. Ian and Mickey’s story you’ve never seen and that’s what keeps me glued to the pay cable. It’s fresh and alive and a little dangerous.
See, I don’t want to have a cocktail with Patrick Murray in a trendy San Francisco bar, but I’d have an Old Style with Mickey Milkovich any day of the week.
It’s not the safe, politically correct thing to do. And that’s why I like it better.