DF Looks at HBO’s Looking

Two months ago, I watched the first episode of Looking, then I left it alone, and only recently came back recently to finish off the series.  My reactions have been mixed, which seems to echo a general trend.  The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum – a critic I greatly admire – wrote that Looking “is a real beauty, the standout among several smart series launching in January.”

(Emily Nussbaum Reviews Looking)

On the other hand, there have been a lot of comments within the gay community (but also beyond it) from viewers who aren’t as enamored.  “Boring” is a word I read fairly often about it.

I’m still not sure what I think.

Let’s start with the good stuff.  I enjoy the low-key, day-to-day naturalness that’s part of the storytelling – also, frankly, the comfortable, casual, and (yes) erotic way that sex plays a key role.   (Much of this seems borrowed from HBO’s breakout hit, Girls, which is a show I tried but really can’t abide – of course, it’s pretty far out of my demographic, and I’m also unapologetically Zosia Mamet-averse.)

Looking is a risky, niche-market project (not another Will & Grace, for example, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing).  On the other hand, it was a stroke of genius to cast Jonathan Groff as Patrick, the lead.  Groff’s sunny, open Mid-Western-ness — he might be Oklahoma!’s Curly — is so winning that it’s hard to imagine any viewer taking offense.

It’s also good to have a show about gay men of all ages and sizes.  And by this, I mean, of course, under 60, and weighing in at an ultra-buff 180.  Do I have to tell you that everyone on the show is fabulous-looking?  Probably not.

(Trailer for HBO’s Looking)

So here’s where my enthusiasm flags.  Looking, which attempts to rethink stereotypes, at least as often ends up reinforcing them.

The Looking guys are charming and charismatic — also wifty, and mostly underemployed in a compendium of, shall we say, airy-fairy professions.  Patrick is a computer game designer.  His friend Augustin (played by Frankie Alvarez) is an artist whose own work — photos and collage — takes a back seat to helping set up tedious installations by other artists.  Dom (Murray Bartlett) is a 40-year-old wine waiter.  Lynn (Scott Bakula), the most established, is a flower shop/restaurant entrepreneur.

At 59, Bakula is the oldest member of the cast – also, I’m guessing, the only 59-year-old on earth who can rock a pair of size 31 skinny jeans.  But though he’s astoundingly youthful and infuriatingly trim, the character of Lynn thinks of himself as a fossil.  (If you think my comments represent sour grapes, you may have a point – I’ve never felt older or more out of shape than when watching Looking.)

As far as I can tell, the only actual senior citizens ever seen on Looking are pair of snippy queens who showed up for dinner at Lynn’s, and proceeded to refer to every male they know as “she.”  (And by the way, the only woman who shows up with any regularity – Dom’s friend Doris – is the kind of funny, what-will-she-say-next? fag hag that’s been a TV cliché for decades.)

But just when I’m ready to throw in the towel, there’s something that holds my attention – the fragile attraction between Patrick and Richie, for example, feels honest (if painful).  Likewise, the sad, hopeful way Lynn looks at Dom.

So where does this leave me?

Season I ended with Patrick in bed watching a Golden Girls rerun, while Augustin lay passed out beside him.  (Again, a compendium of clichés.)  Throughout the episode, there were hints of what the next season will bring – a potential May-December (well, closer to June-October) romance between Dom and Lynn; an awkward triangle involving Patrick, his boss Kevin, Kevin’s boyfriend.  (Earlier, Richie bade farewell to Patrick in one of Looking’s rare moments that implied a character was moving on.)

None of this seems to promise much growth or maturation.  I may change my mind over the next ten months, but right now I feel like I’ve looked at Looking – and I won’t be looking back.

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