HBO’s new homo-themed series, Looking, premiered this weekend. The half-hour comedy/drama explores the lives of a group of gay men living in contemporary San Francisco. HBO has committed to eight episodes.
The kindest thing I can offer about Looking after seeing the first episode is; ‘the jury is still out’. It is not fair to judge an episodic television series after only one episode. There is a lot of foundational and expositional groundwork to be laid and there is only so much one can accomplish in the first thirty minutes. I shall endeavor to keep an open mind.
It’s not that Looking isn’t well done. It is. I liked it. I liked it even more than I did 14 years ago when it was called Queer As Folk. I liked it more than any number of movies with the same plot available in the LGBT genre section of Netflix. There are differences, of course. QAF was a Canadian/American re-make of the series of the same name from the U.K. This series was created by Michael Lannan based on his 2011 short film, Lorimer. While QAF was set in turn-of-the-century Pittsburgh; Looking is set in modern-day San Francisco so there is opportunity to give it more of a high-tech, ‘hipster’ vibe. Those differences noted, it feels very
derivative familiar from the opening frame.
The pilot episode opens with Patrick, a 29 year-old video game designer who I assume will be our protagonist, bushwhacking his way through the shrubbery in an effort to get an anonymous ‘handy’ from a stranger in a park. Humorously, it doesn’t go well. Not to fear, there are friends with alcohol and pot with whom Patrick can laugh about it. Besides, the guy in the park was “really hairy. Not hipster hairy, more like gym-teacher hairy”.
We meet two other members of the dramatis personae. They are in what appears to be a fairly new relationship but they need fear no boredom because they are able to get into three-way with a new co-worker of one of the two after hours in their workplace. The new co-worker only started a few hours before their encounter but it’s not as hedonistic as it might appear. It turns out, they’d attended the same Cinco de Mayo party. They just didn’t recall having met the new CWB (co-worker with benefits) because he’d attended the party dressed as a “slutty jalapeno”.
As is obligatory is such stories, we have a character approaching middle-age struggling with existential angst because, for the first time EVER a hot, blond, ‘twenty-something’ has rejected his invitation for a casual encounter.
Patrick, has a bad date with someone he met on-line but the evening is not a total loss. With a nod to the legality of same-sex marriage in California, an ex-boyfriend’s bachelor party affords us all the excuse we need to visit a gay bar with jock-clad strippers and dance music. Our hero is a little ambivalent about his ex’s pending nuptials but his friends reassure him he has no reason to feel bad. He is the one who dumped the ex. Besides, the ex’s husband-to-be is not “hot” – “he’s a little portly”.
The episode ends on an optimistic note as Patrick trots off to a club to find a young man who tried to pick him up on the MUNI train. The verisimilitude fairly drips…much like my sarcasm.
End of Spoiler Alert!
Maybe I’m just bitter because, once again, even though I am an urban gay man, this story isn’t about me, nor any of my friends. To their creators’ credit, these seem to be well-developed, three-dimensional characters. They may not exactly be ‘role-model’ material but they are honest. I feel like I know these guys, Truth be told, at times in our lives, many of us have been these guys; and maybe not as often as we’d have liked to have been. Unfortunately, I recall thinking the same thing a decade ago when people criticized QAF for depicting gays as vacuous, drug-addled and promiscuous. Maybe Looking will come up with a new recipe from the all too familiar ingredients of youth, alcohol, drugs, dance music, age-ism, looks-ism, and promiscuity. We all know these form the infrastructure of urban gay life; right?
I will definitely tune in to the future episodes to see how things develop for these boys. I hope I don’t come away from every episode feeling like I’ve seen it all done before. Even more importantly, I hope I don’t feel like I’ve seen it all done better.