Looking was never perfect. Looking: The Movie wasn't either.
But no TV show is (except The Wire, if you ask your dad). Still, the HBO series -- and the 90-minute movie meant to serve as a "final chapter" following a premature cancellation -- was expected to be. From its inception, it was expected to be "the gay Girls." It was supposed to capture the voice of its generation -- and every generation. Every gay man wanted to see himself in the show, in characterization and in the flesh, a perfect distillation of the entire LGBTcetera community. Viewers wanted gayness to be just part of who the characters were -- and not the most important part -- and then they wanted the show to be gayer. They wanted Patrick and Agustín and Dom to act in certain ways, for various personal and political reasons, and every time they fell short, a think piece got its wings. Looking's relationship with its viewers, was, to say the least...complicated.
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My relationship with the show was less tortured. No one on Looking was ~living my truth~, but I never turned to Scandal or Game of Thrones expecting the same. I saw myself in Patrick (Jonathan Groff) -- in the same way I related to Richie and Kevin and even Doris, at different times. It wasn't my friend group onscreen each week, but I felt a kinship to what they were experiencing.
And there were truths there, whether they were mine or not.
I saw Looking: The Movie when it screened at Outfest and, going into it, I knew I would cry. I cry during everything. And I did cry, exactly two times -- during that scene between Patrick and Kevin (Russell Tovey), which I found particularly gutting, and again when Doris (Lauren Weedman) shared her big news with Dom (Murray Bartlett). I was more surprised when I was hit by a deeper wave of sadness as I drove home. I was genuinely upset that my time in the Castro has come to an end -- it was over.
It got better for the gays on TV -- and those watching at home. Celibate sitcom husbands can kiss now and sassy BFFs get a dramatic B plot all their own. Empire and Grey's Anatomy and Orange Is the New Black have been praised for their compelling, complex LGBT characters, while primetime shows -- shows your mom is watching and your grandma is watching -- have touched on HIV and transgender rights. But they're rarely our stories.
"Looking put gay men at the center of the story," Groff said ahead of the series finale. "And it's not tragic -- it’s not a story about AIDS. It's romantic. It's about falling in love, it's about friendships, it’s about male intimacy. It's not a sidekick. It's not a hilarious best friend, or a tragic story of death. It's just life."
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"When I grew up, going to movies and watching TV, I would always live vicariously through the female character," he recalled. "You're always relating to the girl falling in love with the guy, but in a show like Looking, there are two men at the center of the story. That, I think, is pretty powerful and not seen a lot...I hate the word important, but that has an impact and hopefully that will continue to have an impact, knowing that is captured forever on film."
In the end, is it surprising that Looking, a show centered on a minority group, had a small following? As new platforms continue to churn out new content -- your Netflixes, your Amazons; it's only a matter of time before Ask Jeeves starts creating Original Programming -- it has become a seemingly less pressing question, but one worth asking nonetheless: Is it even possible to create a mainstream "gay" show, one that straight viewers will watch too? Or will we have to be content with substantial but supporting roles -- unless you're willing to explore British stations like E4 or whatever channel Please Like Me is on. (Uh, iTunes?)
Creator Michael Lannan recently commented on what he hopes fans take away from the series, saying, "I get asked this a lot and I still don’t have a simple answer. I guess at the most basic level, I hope they enjoyed spending time in this world watching these characters search, stumble and grow."
So, this isn't a review -- you either watched the show and The Movie or you didn't. And it isn't really meant to be a think piece -- anyone who thinks there isn't a representation problem has the blind confidence of a straight, white man. It's just to mark the end of a good show and to say that I did enjoy my time.