Looking is the best show on television. Notice that I wrote is and not was. I’m still personally denying that the series was canceled. I keep hoping that Patrick, Kevin, Dom, Augustin, Richie and Doris will be back to share their stories with me on Sunday nights in the fall. I know it won’t happen, but a guy can keep fantasizing, right?
Sure, there’s a movie in the works that will supposedly “wrap up all the storylines,” and I’m definitely excited to see how it all ends. But this series deserved to have so much more life. It was easily the best-written, most competently directed, and perfectly acted series in recent memory. But above all, it did something that I found to be completely erudite and necessary in the current climate of our society. It treated gay men as real people and not as caricatures.
The greatest disservice you could do to Looking is to call it a “gay show.” Whenever I would tell people how amazing this show was they’d inevitably say: “Oh…isn’t that the gay show on HBO?” Of course, I’d answer: “Yes,” as the series is about gay men living and loving in San Francisco, but I would immediately argue that it was about so much MORE than gay men living and loving in San Francisco.
To me, Looking is exactly where progressive story-telling needs to go on a grand scale. Generally, when you say “gay” in relation to media you’re conjuring a very particular image of homosexual men. We almost immediately think of movies like The Birdcage or Bruno with their flamboyantly stereotypical depictions of gays. These are characters that are meant to be laughed at, not felt for. On the other hand, there are many movies and television shows where being gay is depicted as a struggle, as a burden, as something to overcome. These movies can be positive, but they also single out homosexuals as different, people who don’t easily fit into society. Looking transcended all these stereotypes.
To me, the show is “post-post”, transcending gay stereotypes, as creator Michael Lannan and director Andrew Haigh, treat their characters as fully fleshed out, three-dimensional human beings. Nothing more. Nothing less. It’s written as if the world already understands and accepts homosexuality as a normal tenant of American society. These men are gay, but they are depicted with a sensitivity and thoughtfulness that we don’t typically get to see in television or movies. This is not a show about men “dealing” with being gay. They’re just gay. And because of that, the show gets past the rote Hollywood stereotypes of homosexuality and actually treats these characters as people: People who are looking for love, figuring out careers, trying to understand their place in the world, et al. In short, people just being people. In many ways, the themes are the same as a show like Girls, albeit more mature and in my opinion much more insightful and interesting. Looking gets past the bullshit and says, “We’re human. Want to see our story?” Then it tells you that story. And that’s what makes it so awesome.
Sadly, the show is gone. BUT don’t fret! If you’re salivating for something to hold you over until the final film, look no further than Weekend, Andrew Haigh’s quiet little indie that played South by Southwest in 2011. It has the look, feel and intelligence of Looking, and is now streaming on Netflix. The story revolves around a weekend love affair between Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New). Russell is still a little protective of his sexuality, while Glen is “out” in the most brash and unapologetic ways. After a late night hook-up, the men ultimately spend the weekend together ruminating (and arguing) about life, drugs, art, sex and most importantly love. It’s meant to be an innocent tryst, but the two men ultimately realize that there is something much deeper between them.
The first time I watched this film, I was blown away. I found its minimalism to be completely captivating in the way a Raymond Carver story pulls you in with its simplicity. But just beneath that simplicity was a complicated world of subtext and undertone. I was seduced. Haigh lets the camera dance around the action in long takes, giving the film an almost documentary feel. The dialogue and acting are a master class in realism and I was drawn into the story almost immediately. Before long, I realized that I was watching more than a story about two gay men falling in love. I was watching a story of love itself. And love doesn’t care about race, creed, or sexuality. To quote one of the oldest clichés in the book: love is blind.
I am thankful that Michael Lannan and Andrew Haigh found the courage to tell these particular love stories, in this particular way. We live in a time when we need stories like these. I hope that as we progress as a society we start to see movies and television shows where differences becoming less and less the focal point of the narrative. Sure, we will always need “idea” movies, movies where we tackle “issues.” But we also need movies about something we can all relate to: being human beings.