Did we give up on Looking too soon?
For those who may need a refresher, HBO’s Looking was a gay-centered drama series that debuted back in 2014. The show was helmed by writer Michael Lannan and director Andrew Haigh. Anticipation was high because Haigh had handled gay characters extremely well before (reference his well-received Weekend for proof). And we gays were finally set to get the kind of high-quality show we’d been hoping for. But Looking debuted to pretty dismal ratings (less than 500,000 people watched the first episode live). And there was a ton of criticism from the audience about how boring it was. After season two, HBO gave it the ax. And now a series-ending movie special is set to air at some point this year though no official date has been set.
I’m torn on this subject for a few reasons. I’ve been a very vocal critic of Logo for its lack of original programming outside of RuPaul’s Drag Race. And I’ve also been known to trash a bad gay movie or two after watching the ridiculousness that’s recommended to me by Netflix. Looking provided me with everything I’d been missing from other gay fare: fully developed characters that existed outside of their sexuality, varying degrees of masculinity, everyday struggles that anyone could relate to, and strong storytelling. Haigh has been quoted as saying that he approached each episode like a short film. This was evidenced in the pace of the show and its attention to detail.
"Looking provided me with everything I’d been missing from other gay fare."
For all its subtle nuances and beautifully shot sequences, it didn’t get the audience or the respect that it deserved. I acknowledge that this show wasn’t for everyone, but that was sort of the point. It was supposed to represent a version of gay life that America wasn’t showing on TV. It attempted to remove the stereotypes and caricatures. And it was a humanized look at gay life. It was a shot at proving to all viewers that they didn’t need to be gay to relate to these characters and their experiences. By intimately focusing on the world of its three main characters, Looking never tried to be everything to everyone. And that may have ultimately been the cause of its demise.
Even though HBO is a premium cable network, ratings are still the name of the game. The network execs were taking a risk in giving a prime Sunday night slot to a gay-focused show. It was bound to alienate some viewers. And if the gay community didn’t get behind it, it was doomed to fail. And that’s exactly what happened.
Back when Queer As Folk was on the air, it was the first of its kind in America. It didn’t shy away from any aspect of gay life, and with its large ensemble cast, it represented a wide range of the community. It was a show that blended harsh reality with comedy and sex, and in the process, created some really great, entertaining TV. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Looking perhaps narrowed its focus a little too much to be successful.
"By intimately focusing on the world of its three main characters, Looking never tried to be everything to everyone. And that may have ultimately been the cause of its demise."
Though gay characters and actors are gaining visibility in mainstream TV, we are still a long way from the plethora of top tier entertainment that we deserve. Looking had some tremendous weight on its shoulders. As one of the only gay-centered shows on TV, it had a responsibility to represent us all. To teach viewers about modern gay life. To make us all feel like we were being included and represented. I firmly believe that Looking was a fantastic show. But with the huge void left by Queer As Folk when it went off the air in 2005, we needed another show that gave us a modern day version of that thrill ride before we could settle into an intimate, slowly paced, character-driven drama.
Though its lens may have zoomed in too tight, there’s always hope that the finale movie packs the punch, passion, sex, and scandal we were hoping for all along.