So we've had one week to digest the arrival of HBO's Looking. The critics' reviews have been mixed, and gay audiences are equally divided. While most people can agree the characters on the show are refreshing in terms of the traditional kinds of gay characters we're used to seeing on TV, the reality is the first episode was boring. After repeat viewing there's no denying it isn't as funny as many generational comedies out there and the drama was undercooked and too understated for its own good. The ratings for the debut were dangerously low, and shows typically lose even more viewers, especially after a small premiere. Simply aiming for realism doesn't make it entertaining to watch.
The characters don't talk about the real issues the show brings up, so the kinds of juicy arguments we all have with our friends are left by the wayside, traded for smug commentary and simplistic generalizations. If the thing we're all rooting for is that these people have functional relationships, the show doesn't do a good job of making them sympathetic. Like many people, I felt like I needed more episodes to decide how I felt about something that was, so far, chaste, dismissive of its content and a little too dry for its own good. After Episode 2, I'm still looking for a good reason to like Looking.
I don't buy that 29-year-old sexually active Patrick would be so mystified by an uncut cock that he'd have to Google it or be so preciously naive about the concept of a “fuck buddy.” Much of the banter in this episode comes off clueless, and it gets harder for me to understand why they are all even friends, as they aren't really that nice to each other or anyone else. Their shallow chat about monogamy versus non-monogamy was bitter and didn't get to the substance of the issue. It ended with “guys will be guys” bullshit, and the concept that everyone cheats eventually was just begrudgingly agreed upon. Yawn. Dom may be the most interesting character on the show, a kind of flip-side Brian from Queer as Folk, but he's also not likeable. Just because these boys have beards and act butch doesn't mean their shallow self-interested bitterness isn't a gay cliché. It's hard to respect anybody's opinion here; who is the voice of reason?
Why is every interaction on this show so awkward? It's like Curb Your Enthusiasm for gays without the laughs. Patrick's date with the hunky hairdresser is painful from start to finish. Augustin and Frank are televised paint drying. All their conversations are cutesy and pointless. Watching a couple have a stale night in isn't thrilling and doesn't say much about what happens when couples get too domestic or provide any dramatic stakes. Augustin hanging his old painting because his boyfriend asked him to is the blandest expression of concession one could write. Again, all kinds of awkward. The show's first appearance of Grindr yields a twinky hookup for Dom that leads to yet another tame and unsexy sex scene. So far, there hasn't been one actually enjoyable sex scene that doesn't end with baggage or weirdness. That's a shame, and to use Dom's line as inspiration, it's a cliché to think that sex will make this show better. It doesn't.
I thought this show would be refreshingly diverse at first glance, but it has been dumb with its diversity at every turn. Every non-white character has to either reference his non-whiteness or have another character give him some kind of racialized on-the-noise nickname. In this episode, Patrick is quite arrogant and rather racist on his date with the “Mexican.” He asks cringe-worthy questions about where his family is from and is painfully pandering when he brings up his date's religion. He clearly fetishes the guy's racial background and notes that talking about his own family isn't “sexy.” While ultimately, this behaviour ruins his date and hookup after he voices his assumptions about uncut cock, there aren't real consequences or discussions around his asshole behaviour. He admits he might be racist over the phone, and his friend doesn't even ask why. Any opportunity to discuss a real messy issue in the community is addressed with yet more throwaway snarky, whiny lines. Why do I want to see Patrick be successful in love? Who am I supposed to like on this show? What is it trying to say? That last line in the episode where Patrick lies to Augustin about eating macaroni and cheese and says he's eating salad is brutal. It's like, “I'm totally racist, but I don't want you to know I eat carbs.” Lame.
Matt Thomas reviews Looking every Monday on Daily Xtra.