When I was in eighth grade, I played basketball. Or rather, I watched others play basketball while I sat on the bench and prayed for armpit hair. Unlike Colin, my twin bother, I have no real knack for it. But I showed for practice, got played in the final quarter when nothing mattered, passed the ball as much as possible (and never quite understood the rules on traveling). What I remember most was the coach, hunting around for something kind to say — told me I was “coachable”.
I feel the same way about HBO’s show “Looking” — there are a lot of things I like about the show: the diversity of the casting and culture it’s exploring. The fact that the three friends are not all the same age and class. The way in which it’s exploring SF gay culture now, almost journalistically. I’m rooting for this show, in a way I never do (okay maybe Sleepy Hollow for like three episodes…) Jonathan Groff I think is a terrific actor (I suggested him to John for Lucien Carr!) and Andrew Haigh (the director of the episodes and executive producer) made Weekend, which brilliant, and Reed Morano, the cinematographer, shot Kill Your Darlings. These are more than enough reasons to watch it. It feels, just based on the pilot, coachable.
Admittedly, like most gay people, I’m expecting a lot. It’s exactly the show I want to watch on cable — where the terrain that’s excised from the networks can become the focus. I want the show to be honest, edgy, personal, vanguard, and yet also somehow mine. I think back to “Queer As Folk”, the British version, and it felt that way to me. (The American one, by contrast, was a total anomaly and not very good.) It is a great example to me of a “promising television show, and like most folks involved in dramatic writing, I’m looking at television more than ever.
What’s key for me is that I don’t understand how these three guys know each other or like each other; we’re told they’re best friends, but there’s not much evidence about why or how they came to be that way except for a shared joint. One of my favorite aspects is the fact that the lead character (videogame designer, late 20s) has a best friend who is in his late 30s (waiter, 39). At the same time, one of the main aspects of gay culture, as far as I’ve seen it, is a real segregation by age and ethnicity and not in a good way. Am I wrong to think someone, somewhere, asked Michael Lannan (the creator) to expand the social group to appeal more broadly? (I think of Sex and the City here).
Then, some of the specific details were just head-scratching: Groff’s character is looking for love…on OKCupid? Wha? Were they not able to clearances for a dating site gay men actually USE?
Groff hooks up with a “gym-teacher hairy” guy (insert unspoken ick) in the park with cold hands…and then goes out on a date with an older doctor who rejects him…and then gets cruised by a charming Latino bouncer guy (with sports cap) on the MUNI and shows up at his club…and then meets his ex who is looks like none of them and is getting married…and I wonder just who the hell he’s looking for exactly. These guys are all over the map — and I feel like he’s indistinct in terms of what he’s looking for, and he seems looking for a partner almost exclusively. In SF, it’s a marketplace of desire. In my experience, you can’t live there and be innocent about what you’re looking for for long.
And maybe that’s what I missed most in this pilot: a sense of origins and stakes. The show was so determined to drop us in media res into their lives that I just didn’t feel like I grasped who they were or where they were coming from or what bonded them. Or why, frankly, their lives mattered beyond the anecdotal. It’s the part of me that wants the show to have some politics or at least point beyond the pure “search for love”. The older actor’s desire for a career, for some energy for me — we can all relate to that transition. I just wanted the intensity of that choice to be more in scene: we’re left with a phone call at the end that seems like him reaching out for an opportunity. My instincts would have been to start with him trying out the job and…and failing. That would have linked me to him more.
I’m going to keep watching. I want this show to amaze me and grab me by the lapels and adore it and then make me breakfast. I have high standards, I know. I know.
KYD makes the top 10 list by Rob Lowman, of the LA Daily News.