Monday, April 07, 2014

Looking at LOOKING

A new ‘gay’ dramedy for the decade

AOG, Madrid

Television serves many purposes aside from just entertainment. It informs and instructs, as best it can.

I am sure that social anthropology draws a direct correlation between society and the impact certain programs, or in fact, all programs, have on the changing of attitudes of said society.

We all know how the 1970s saw an explosion of programs where black people were suddenly the protagonists and not merely bystanders. 

Whether a reflection of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, or just an effort to cash in on a growing trend, the fact is that these shows did their fair share in normalizing, or helping to normalize, race relations in America.

Good Times’ was certainly one of my favorites as a kid in the 1980s. But I also enjoyed ‘The Jeffersons’.

Of course, at the time, I saw them as merely entertaining television. I was too young to think about watching a ‘black’ sitcom, or a ‘black’ anything. I was just watching TV.

And there will always be a soft spot in my heart for ‘Gimme a Break’ and Nell Carter.

But there is one too for my all-time favorite childhood show: The Carol Burnett Show.

In my mind, then and now, these were just television shows which made me laugh. I was not interested in categorizing them in any particular way. 

They weren’t white, or black, or gay, or anything other than just television.


The cast of ‘Brothers’
And although television has dabbled with gay shows before, in fact as late back as the 1980s with Showtime’s Brothers -which was the first time I saw a gay sitcom-, it still has floundered here and there with a successful formula or with the public’s acceptance of it.

Granted, Queer as Folk was a good show (although never as good as the British original), as were the L-Word and the magnificent Will & Grace but, of course, there’s always room for improvement.

There’s always other aspects which can be looked at.

There’s always something new to add.


So it was with some interest, and trepidation, that I started to watch ‘Looking’ about a month ago.

I taped the whole series (all 8 episodes) and, slowly, started watching it.

It follows the lives of three gay men, Patrick, Agustín, and Dom in and around the city of San Francisco.

From the first episode I was a bit underwhelmed.

I found it hard to believe that an adult gay male, Patrick, would be so inept at cruising.

I suppose the scriptwriter thought it was hilarious, but I admit that I was not much amused.

And the rest of the episode sort of read as kind of a Tales of the City cum Sex and the City, minus the clever parts… off steroids.

And I had, or have, other issues with it too.

I have to say that two weeks went by before I bothered to watch the second episode. My heart was not on it. Yet I also didn’t erase the show.

I just had to find the right moment.

Eventually I did.

Did the show improve?

Well, yes. Here and there. Sort of. In places.

But there were, are, things which just simply make me go hmm…

Like, for example, Richie, a character who is very Catholic, and gay, and has no issue with the clash between his sexuality and his faith (if he is enlightened about it, like most gay cathols I know, it is not coming through in the show).

Not just that, he sort of likes a guy and wants him to wear an ‘escapulario’, a scapular, right away.

Is that what he asks of all his boyfriends?

Yes, I found that weird.

Also, the whole issue with Richie being uncircumcised.

What is the big deal? As far as I know, being ‘au naturelle’ in the US is seen as quite desirable in the gay world. But not this guy? Not Patrick?

And with Agustín being a non-productive artist. Or a self-defeating artist. And mostly a bit of an asshole…and yet you like him. Then you don’t.

Or with Dom liking only younger men, but somehow magically falling for Scott Bakula as Lynn.

Believable yes, but no the way it is shown on Looking.

Also, lesbians, in that great gay city, are mostly not around in this show. Yes, I get it, it is about gay men. But it just seems odd.

And…sorry but is San Francisco populated by just hispanics and whites? No black people? Nobody from Asia? Hello?

And one final also: Doris. I feel for the poor actress who plays her, Lauren Weedman. Doormat does not even begin to cover it.

Why does this character exist? All she seems to do is cater and kow tow to Dom’s every whim.


Is she his ex?

Is she secretly in love with him?

Is she just slow?

She certainly seems to be a walking car crash of a female character.

Unloved, unlikeable, and bordering on annoying.

For a fag hag, she is certainly not doing well for herself.

Finally, and call me crazy, is it too much to ask that the city’s multifaceted gay community be semi represented?

And what about the issues facing LGBT people today? 

What about gay marriage? Social discrimination? Bullying? HIV?

Scott Bakula, as Lynn

None of these have been talked about yet.

Now, the positive side.

However, I must say, that for all my complaints, for all the show’s shortcomings, I liked it. Or at least, I like that it exists.

For one thing, it is very nice to look at.

The cinematography is beautiful here and there. And I like that they show you parts of the countryside around San Francisco which you don’t often see on TV or in films.

The music is well chosen. Or if not, at least I like it.

And the plot lines, though apparently absent at times, or just plain convoluted others, do seem to reflect the daily lives of the characters (all but Doris, of course).

I also like that the characters come across as regular people. Not the über-rich A-Gay of other shows; not the to-die-for looks of stereotypical gay characters; no VIP, glamorous lives which seem far removed from the reality of many gay men's lives.

These three come across as regular guys with regular problems.

How to deal with an open relationship, and yourself. How to deal with yourself and a boyfriend-love interest of a different background from yours and a British boss who has the hots for you. How to deal with being a waiter at 40, trying to make it in the world, not kill your ex, and falling for an older guy, and yourself.

At the end of the first season it seems like all three of them have gone full circle. Yet they are still “looking”. For love? 
For solace? For answers.

Dom is going for Lynn, Agustín is out of his boyfriend’s home, and life, and living with Patrick, as he was in the beginning, and Patrick, who started the series failing Cruising 101, has graduated to cheating boyfriend, and maybe even power bottom.

Although this may not be the greatest gay show ever, I would venture that it has potential.

And even if the show tanked, even if there is a lot of room for improvement, as I always say, some visibility is better than NO visibility.

Remember, Queer as Folk ended in 2005 and Will & Grace in 2006. We are in 2014, and Modern Family can only do so much.