Keep Looking

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

This weekend, HBO’s new series Looking concluded its first season. For those of you who without access to a TV, Internet or a local LGBT watering hole, Looking is a series surrounding three gay men living in San Francisco. It has been touted as utterly authentic and refreshing with the best mustache on television since Tom Selleck.

Indeed, the series does capture familiar moments that seem like they’re ripped out of my own journal resulting in mild cases of PTSD. And the creative staff has done an admirable job of representing gay lives without turning it into a gimmick or novelty. It never apologizes for itself nor presents a remedial version of homosexuality for those viewers who aren’t so up on queer culture (read: straight.)

But with each episode, I’ve been left cold and unsatisfied much like so many of the characters’ sexual exploits. Despite all the progressive representation, Looking has fallen into the trap of most mainstream queer media: it’s a total downer. So many mainstream queer narratives result in disease or death or disowning families. But with a series created by gay men (Michael Lannan and Andrew Haigh) featuring only gay male leads, I was hoping to find more of a celebration of that identity.

Instead we get the self-centered artist who ruins his LTR when he introduces a sex worker into their bed unbeknownst to his partner, a basket case who spends most of his time fighting through his own gay shame and a forty year old who desperately chases his youth. Perhaps the most likeable and stable character on the show is the straight woman/best gal pal (which strikes me as odd in a series centered on gay men.)

The moments that were most relatable to the actual events of my life were the series’ most cringe worthy. And so despite the absence of the usual queer issues (which the creators purposefully chose to avoid) we’re left three miserable gay men and yet another tale about how hard it is to be queer.

Which it is. Or it can be. But it can also be beautiful and fun. It can make you sing show tunes with your best friends, high kicking all the way down Broad Street. It can open you up to a world of brand new ideas and experiences. It can set you free. And that is what I’m waiting for from Looking.

The significance of a TV show like this being produced on a major network is not lost on me. It approaches the lives and sexuality of gay men with a frankness I’ve before never witnessed on a major network. Yet I can’t help but wonder when we’ll tell stories about ourselves that focus on joy rather than pain. Hardship will always be a part of any good story but I’m ready to see us rise above them for once.

Maybe season 2 will get it right. (Because obviously I’ll be tuned in every week.)

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