Looking is one of those shows that teeters between being really transcendent entertainment (for television) or falling into the same tired traps and dramas. I think the reason I’ve been spending so much energy writing my thoughts on the show (on my blog) is because in the better moments of the show I feel like it is holding gay male experiences up to the light and examining why we do what we do.
In the worst moments, Looking feels like any other television show, replete with melodrama and cliché. The sixth episode has moments of both, and I’d like to examine why a few elements of the narrative work, or not.
I’ve written before about how Dom’s storyline is my favourite and the most consistently enjoyable by far. One of the most important things the show is doing is challenging the Queer As Folk “gay men might as well die at 30” complex. To quickly wrap up Dom’s storyline, he is a slightly older friend of Patrick’s who is working in the same restaurant where he’s been for the past decade. We learn that he is nearing 40, and after he meets Lynn, a local business owner a couple of decades his senior, Dom is planning to open his own Portuguese chicken restaurant.
At the beginning of this episode, Dom and Lynn are consulting rich queens in the community about investing in the restaurant. Dom explains that his birthday is coming up, and he plans to go to Dolores Park with friends to “drink modestly and sulk.”
Lynn responds, “On my 40th birthday, we did mushrooms in a canoe on the Russian River. Maybe you’re self-issuing your own death certificate a little prematurely.”
So much for death at 30. Dom’s storyline presents a sympathetic character with concrete, dynamic hopes and dreams and feels very real. He’s turning 40, and his life is just starting. The episode further establishes the relationship between Lynn and Dom, which is the one I feel most invested in. As a younger queer guy, I find this the biggest surprise of the show so far, but Dom’s storyline and interactions remain the most satisfying.
A frustrated, horny, sarcastic young artist who is trying to create a career of his own is a storyline prepackaged for me. However, Agustín, both as a character and as part of the story, is turning into one of the worst written and deplorable of the three main storylines.
I think part of the problem lies in the writers heaping the bulk of the poor decisions and more loathsome traits on this one character. Agustín has recently moved out from Patrick’s place and in with his boyfriend in Oakland, and there are small strains in the relationship that show this probably wasn’t a great idea. Agustín is a prickly character who has been given very little I can sympathize with. I’m not sure what it would take to salvage his character at this point.
Richie and Patrick
After the exceptional writing and fantastic character development of last week’s episode, which focused solely on Richie and Patrick and their developing relationship, this week put the couple into a less insular environment. While I love the idea of dissecting tensions that come from an interracial relationship, Agustín’s confrontation of Patrick over his “slumming” by dating Mexican ex-pat Richie felt forced. Even Richie’s earlier snide comment in the episode about “bagging a WASP” as a boyfriend didn’t quite work for me.
If the writers want to explore Patrick’s simmering racist attitudes without it feeling unnatural, they’d have to make him slightly more loathsome than he has been instead of just an oblivious and naive white boy, as he’s been written. As it stands, he and his boyfriend are abused and Patrick just quivers in response, and it’s not interesting. The challenge is that Looking’s strength is in its understated drama, but Patrick has stood up for other ideals (like female characters in video games, for example) with wit and humour in previous episodes. A balance can be struck, but until the writers find it the show will continue to teeter.