Series: Looking (Seasons 1 & 2 with Movie)
Released By: HBO
Release Date: November 15, 2016
Retail Price: $35.95
When it comes to LGBT characters on television, they are usually grouped into a supporting character category that, most recently, doesn’t feel natural -- more about an attempt to diversify the media without the smooth transition into being a natural storyline. The show Looking from HBO solely focuses on a core group of gay men from San Francisco (with one heterosexual female) to do something that hasn’t been as grand since The L Word or Queer As Folk. With the hopes of reaching out to the LGBT community and addressing universal qualities of love, does the series completely fulfill its hopes?
Before we dive into the pros and cons of Looking, let’s start by familiarizing with the premise of the series. Patrick (our series protagonist) is a 29-year old video game developer whose former boyfriend is now happily engaged, a turning point on his ideas of what direction he wants his life to head in. Opposite Patrick is his best friend Augustin, a 31-year old who is seemingly opposed to the concept of monogamy as he gets closer to living with his boyfriend and Dom, a 39-year old man and one-time ex-fling of Patrick (now purely friends) who faces his own struggles with not utilizing his potential to chase his dreams, whatever they may be. The three men are each so different from one another, but play such a necessary portrayal of three gay men to set the traditional perceptions apart.
While Patrick is a character with reservations about putting himself out there, he ends up being an imperfect moral compass in Looking. In the beginning, he’s someone you can root for despite some questionable choices, but, as he begins to live a single life in a city that has such a large LGBT community, he gets into more trouble than the naive Patrick we believed him to be. Some may find his transition to be relatable, while I found it unfortunate to watch him begin an affair with a married man and even some hypocrisy on his own beliefs.
Some early concerns with Looking that sparked conversations stem from Patrick fulfilling stereotypes on what people believe gay men to do constantly -- mainly an inability to be monogamous. That doesn’t mean that I hold the series as the standard to portray gay men because I don’t think a series can represent a person(s) based on sexuality, gender or ethnicity entirely, but it would have been a nice change of pace to include more characters with some sense of right vs wrong (but what series nowadays doesn’t include casual affairs?). The one thing that I truly appreciate from Patrick is the focus he has on friendship with those closest to him, showing camaraderie that is needed and relatable for anyone -- and a hopeful outlook on love (sometimes).
Richie is a character who started out as a guest star during Season 1 (played by Raul Castillo) and a random date for Patrick. After becoming a fan-favorite character for his honesty, compassion and sincerity, he was a full-fledged cast member by Season 2. Richie began to overshadow Patrick and more so represents the idealistic forward-thinking character that the series needed. Richie honestly becomes the main interest in bringing viewers back for more, only hitting a hiccup with the love he accepts from people at moments -- something that many people could find a parallel to in their own lives and a vital stepping stone for Looking's successes. Overall, the dynamic between Richie and Patrick was one of the focal points of Looking with an overarching element of finding love as an anchor for the series -- but how it’s handled on those respective parts is what makes things complicated.
The movie was recently released as a coda to the gone-too-soon series (something HBO hasn’t done in the past) and did its best to wrap up the lives of Patrick and company. What I admired in the Looking film was a need to show growth and change from the characters of the franchise. While Augustin completely shifts his views on monogamy, marriage and love, it was a development that sometimes seemed it would never occur.
Dom has stopped desperately searching for something and lets life come naturally with a successful business he loves, and Doris comes to the realization she actually wants a baby. Things have changed for Patrick, who moved from the Bay Area to Denver for a year before coming back for Augustin’s wedding. Deciding he wants to put things behind him, he encounters his former boss and married boyfriend Kevin, who states he previously wanted to have a shot at love with him, but Patrick reiterates he could never trust him, finally showing progression in Patrick’s judgement.
With that behind him, he tries to keep things neutral and even friendly with Richie and his boyfriend Brady (first appeared in Season 2). Brady acts as the voice of opposition for Looking (and is also characterized as someone extremely obnoxious), holding Patrick to a standard that some gay men may feel they must live up to in an attempt to combat views. While I agree with the series' view (through Patrick) of not being able to be something you’re not, or that you must live life to fulfill your own happiness and not feel external public pressures, there is some validation that Patrick acted on those stereotypes in some moments; however, every single one of us are flawed in some way and bound to make judgmental errors on occasion (a point the series wants to make in this final chapter). I may not have always agreed with Patrick's choices in the series, but I can’t say that he hadn’t evolved from the pilot to the coda film.
Had it not been for that self-awareness and growth, there would have essentially been no satisfactory direction for the series to go. After coming to terms with their unfinished feelings, Patrick makes a plea to Richie that he had never thought of acting on in the earlier seasons where an equal partnership seems feasible in a healthy unexpected way. They both may have reservations about what comes next, but they agree that they won’t regret not taking on life together -- giving them a conclusion that radiates hope and love. Season 1 of Looking may have had bumps in the road, but the series improved upon Season 2 and ended on a high note for the series. Is there potential for another dive into the Looking world? The answer would be absolutely, and, with a poignant installment on going through personal growth and exploring love, I wouldn’t mind it being a conclusion or a beginning to a new chapter in the future.
Overall Grade: 8/10
Looking has romance, self-awareness, and, in moments, is a nuanced story in the long run. Looking started off by making me feel as if it were slightly shedding more light on a few negative traits, but, in actuality, it does its best to take on the life of a group of gay men in a bustling city who are going through their own struggles. Even with the previously mentioned “growth,” there were setbacks that could be similar to what we had seen with Patrick, but the glimmer of hope was enough to make the payout feel mostly worthwhile.
Richie was a great addition to Looking, and the resolution provided in the film between the pair was critical -- if only it could have happened a little sooner to ease viewers' anxieties! In the end, Looking may not be the series for everyone -- it doesn’t want to represent an entire community and it’s not telling you how to live -- but if it makes you think about how you perceive yourself and the person you want to be, then I believe the series found success.
Aedan’s Final Thoughts:
- I still feel like Dom came off on the disappointed side in the series, which is unfortunate given the huge heart he has for the people he cares about.
- Patrick ended up being a polarizing character to follow -- in many moments, I was completely frustrated with choices he would make.
- Richie was really the MVP of Looking, but seeing him and Patrick finally act on their love for one another was a highlight of the entire series.
- Consider bringing it back for another movie one day, HBO? It would be interesting to see where they all end up somewhere down the line.