3:59 PM |
Looking for Closure; Or: The Travails of Gay Television
The trailer for Looking: The Movie from HBO dropped today, and with that you could almost hear the universal sigh of relief from gay men everywhere, especially those who learned to love the intimate entanglements of Patrick (Jonathan Groff), Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez), Dom (Murray Bartlett), and Doris (Lauren Weedman) -- plus the personifications of their entanglements Kevin (Russell Tovey), Richie (Raúl Castillo), Lynn (Scott Bakula), Eddie (Daniel Franzese), and Malik (Bashir Salahuddin). The movie -- in lieu of a third season -- is small consolation, given the fact that Looking as a television series is basically no more, canceled to television oblivion, but not without a measure of farewell to characters we have learned to love despite their beautiful frailties and infuriating inconsistencies. Truth is, that emotional realism was what got me into the rhythm of the world of Looking. It seemed, when it first aired, very much like a pathbreaking take on gay lives for television, the worthy successor of such old favourites as Tales of the City and Queer as Folk.
Michael Lannan created the show, but Looking also bears much of the imprint of the cinematic work of Andrew Haigh, whose one-night-stand-that-wasn't confessional, Weekend (2011), gave us an idea that he is very much interested in depicting the real-life and often understated conundrums of gay men and their friends. In that regard, he has a kindred spirit in Ira Sachs, who seems much interested in depicting the same themes, as in Keep the Lights On and Love is Strange, but Sachs does so with a streak that has none of the magnificent subtlety of Haigh. Consider the quiet power of Haigh's 45 Years and the resonance it has long after the film ends with that bewildering finish.
It is that quiet resonance I found most endearing and interesting in Looking, and like I said, that development seemed like the appropriate "next stop" in the evolution of gay television. Tales of the City, the 1993-2001 miniseries for PBS and Showtime that was based on the newspaper columns/bestselling books of Armistead Maupin had been a good introduction, a syrupy seriocomic drama that gave most people the idea that gay men and women are -- yes, folks! -- human. Between 2000 and 2005, Queer as Folk swooped in, again for Showtime, to take us into the wilder considerations of gay lives -- the in-your-face sexuality, the naked desires and dreams, the brutal encounters with homophobia, but all told in rainbow-colored fantasy straight off from Babylon. Meanwhile, The DL Chronicles, a similarly-themes TV show with a predominantly black cast, enjoyed a brief season in 2007, disappeared, got resurrected in 2012 as The DL Chronicles Return, and disappeared again. The very next year, a web series titled The Hunting Season promised to burn the internet with its savvy mix of QAF boldness and a prescient Looking introspection, but it only lasted two seasons -- and was never really picked up for mainstream television. (EastSiders, a series about a gay couple and their friends living in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, meanwhile kept a low profile online and later on Logo.) We deserved Looking after that. The show premiered on HBO in 2014, to much acclaim, and soon got picked up for a second season -- but it never became the buzz-worthy gay equivalent of Girls or Sex and the City. Alas, a lot of gay men complained about it, and most found it "boring" and "unsexy," and the show was finally crucified -- unbelievably so -- by a mostly male and heterosexual bunch of critics who didn't know what to make of the show, and mistook their machismo and homophobia for critical insight.
But Patrick, Agustín, Dom, and Doris are not going away quietly. This movie is HBO's chance to do right one last time for these fascinating human beings. And having said that, I cannot wait for July 23.