by DAVE FUMAROLA
As a gay viewer watching a gay television show, there’s a strange feeling that you should like the material even if it’s “just okay”. When you consider the importance of shows like Queer as Folk and The L Word, it has little to do with the quality of the programs and more with the content. You accept that these shows are great because you feel the need to appreciate their existence in a sea of heterosexual stories. This seems to also be the case for HBO’s Looking.
The new series created by Michael Lannan centers around inexplicably awkward wasp, Patrick (Glee’s Jonathan Groff) and his friends as they navigate through gay life in San Francisco. What this really means, however, is that it follows their sexual encounters, because, as usual, homosexuals are reduced to their sexual activities.
Looking manages to be offensive before a single line of dialogue is spoken. The pilot opens with Patrick and a stranger jerking each other off in the bushes at a park. This does happen in real life, though probably not to the extent that it needs to be the first scene in a show about gay men. It’s also a rather old stereotype, one that would be more relevant for previous generations. If it had opened with these guys cruising Grindr or some other hook up site, that would have felt more relevant. Instead they went with classic 1970s porn scenario, one that all heterosexuals have heard of before.
There’s a bit of a dilemma one has when reviewing programming like this. On one hand, gay men really do these things so what they’re showing isn’t altogether inaccurate. However, there is so much more to gay life than hooking up. It would be nice to see a show that focuses on more than just sex. To be fair, this is HBO and even if it had been a show about heterosexual characters, there still probably would have been sex in the first two minutes.
As the show goes on, hopefully the characters will develop a bit more. Based on the pilot, we don’t know anything about the characters aside from their romantic and sexual exploits. We learn their jobs and what type of guys they like. That’s all. Not why they have the jobs they have, not where these characters come from or what drives them.
Patrick is the type of gay that straight people love. He’s not overly flamboyant, so straight guys feel like they could be his friend. He’s very attractive and well-groomed, so gay men will at the very least enjoy watching him. Straight women will want to be his hag. The problem is Patrick is the minority in the gay community. He doesn’t even have the obligatory less attractive and eternally struggling BFF.
Patrick’s friends aren’t much better. There’s Agustin, who’s having a threesome with his boyfriend that was spotted from a continent away, and Dom, who Patrick has naturally slept with at some point in the past. These characters barely feel like real friends, much less real people.
For those who were excited to actually see people of color represented in a gay show, let me warn you – Looking has about as much color as a light and sweet iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. But really, why should people of color be included? It’s not like they bothered to include any gay identity but the 30ish hipster.
Looking deserves some time to get better, as there isn’t exactly a swarm of material depicting gay lives. Does that mean you need to praise it? Absolutely not. It’s okay to be hard on something, even if you feel like you should like it. Without critique, there will never be improvement. Unless you want to watch show after show about gay characters doing nothing but have sex, a critical eye is important. Though truthfully, the show isn’t displaying any real fallacies. Most gay men are whores. And they wouldn’t have it any other way. It would just be nice to at least attempt to show something new.