Looking: quietly subverting stereotypical gay narrative?
by MJ Lyons
For starters, I actually liked the first episode of Looking. I was prepared to hate it, since the little media I saw reviewing the show painted it as dismally gay-retrograde, but the first episode was surprisingly sophisticated, especially for television.
Then again, I think the character of Patrick (Jonathan Groff) was written for queer guys like me; cynical, slightly condescending, awkward, maybe shy, sensitive, though with an adopted thick skin. There was one scene where Patrick was walking down the San Francisco street, on his way to a date. He stops to fix his hair in a window, and then goes on his way, and has this small, distracted scowl. That was such a wonderful moment.
Though I’m getting ahead of myself. We meet Patrick in the bushes, ostensibly cruising, and one of the first lines of the series is, “Okay… okay… hi trick.” This is a joke, more or less, since Patrick isn’t the cruising type. He meets up with his friends Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez), and Dom (Murray Bartlett), and it comes out in the episode that they are characters exploring the issues of open relationships and aging, respectively, although it occurs in the episode much more organically than it sounds.
Looking is, thankfully, not a laugh-track comedy, instead relying on enjoyable, snarky dialogue. One of the strongest characters, unsurprisingly the only woman in the cast, is Doris (Lauren Weedman), Dom’s roommate. The one truly laugh-out-loud scene in the first episode for me was when Dom reveals that he is thinking of reconnecting with an, admittedly, psychotic, narcissistic ex, and Doris admonishes him: “That’s gross, you’re gross.”
On top of my hope for more Doris, one of the most astounding scenes in the first episode comes the next morning when Patrick wakes up alone in bed. The typical gay narrative would usually have gone with one of the two options:
1. Patrick wakes up with some gorgeous guy in bed with him, and he looks at him questionably, dubious about the events of the night before, making some insensitive remark before the guy scowls at him and gets dressed to leave, resentful of being treated like a piece of meat, revealing our protagonist to be your typical succubus of a gay guy
2. They exchange witty banter and agree, to their own surprise, to meet up for a second date, where they slowly begin to fall in gay love and eventually one of them errs, maybe sleeping with a best friend or making out with another guy on the dance floor, while Patrick looks on in anger and disappointment, but they ultimately make up and all is well
Aloneness is something that is so rarely explored in gay narratives, since the brunt of them grow from monogamous desire or monogamous drama. I get the feeling a lot more gay guys can relate to the feelings that come with waking up alone than we, as a community, like to admit, since we’ve so often preferred our protagonists to regain consciousness with a model-beautiful guy beside them. Patrick is looking for a relationship, no doubt there, but (spoilers) he doesn’t find it in the first episode. Instead he finds a bad first date, a somewhat awkward public transit pick-up attempt by an adorable Latin gay club doorman (Raúl Castillo), and an even more awkward urinal conversation with an ex at said ex’s stag party (who’s husband is also there celebrating).
Looking isn’t riveting, histrionic gay melodrama (and for some of us, this is a welcome change from your Queer As Folk model). The show’s power is that it’s quiet, and understated. If it is more bleak than rainbow glitter, that is because, I would say, it’s slightly more true to real life of modern gay guys, surviving in a boring, somewhat sexless post-liberation world. One of the biggest surprises, as well, is that while it isn’t an in depth exploration of racial politics in the gay community, it wasn’t nearly as white as I was expecting it to be. While the ideology of Looking and the direction of each individual character’s narrative could go either way, I hope the show has something interesting and new to say instead of relying on cliché or stereotype. At the very least, I’ll keep Looking.