So I’ve just finished watching episode 5 of HBO’s gay themed drama called ‘Looking‘ and upon it’s ending, I felt compelled to put aside all other TV viewings until I wrote something down about how annoyed and frustrated I am with this show.
First up, I need to state, the following is about the writing of the show and not the acting. Looking is my first encounter with Jonathan Groff and Frankie J Alvarez, (Murray Bartlett I remember from Sex and the City) and I’m impressed enough by all to want to keep watching for these guys – even if it’s at my own peril of dying from boredom.
Now continuing from my original post “Is Looking Boring?” I decided to put aside my worries about how lackluster the show was becoming and hoped that perhaps, these characters may do something exciting or shocking or mean or funny or..you get the idea.
The answer is – they don’t.
It turns out, I’m not the only one having issues with the ‘boring’ factor Looking is giving off. It’s become such an issue that the writers have taken to having to defend their style of writing, calling it “low-key” and “intentional”. John Hoffman and Tanya Saracho spoke to selected media about this very issue – “The B-word is what they keep calling us – ‘boring’. I would rather they hate it than call us boring.”
Hoffman added: “Not to be in defence of boring, but that [style] is very intentional. [The episodes] do feel like little half-hour indie movies.” Cast member Russell Tovey added “This is showing a section of the community where there isn’t any crisis in the fact that they’re gay and it isn’t the all-defining personality trait of each of the characters. It just happens to be that they are gay and this is their lives and this what they are doing – they are living. They’ve got over all their shit and they’re just being.”
The problem here is without “the shit” or crisis, we have a television show where nothing memorable happens. It’s the easiest way to describe Looking’s problem. The dialogue isn’t cheesy, the acting is rather good, it’s beautifully shot, there’s no crazy and campy stereotypical characters – Looking is a show we need to have, but nothing worthy of being remembered happens. It can’t be a good sign if I walk away from an episode and my first thought is “Wow Jonathan Groff is good looking”.
Let’s break down Looking, season one episode five.
Patrick (Jonathan Groff) wakes up in bed next to Richie (Raúl Castillo). he quietly grabs his clothes and heads to the bathroom. He showers, brushes his teeth and checks out the medicine cabinet before hearing Richie awake and playing his guitar while singing. There’s some kissing and general talk about necklaces before Patrick leaves for work.
instead of going to work, Patrick decides to stay with Richie. There’s a very ‘in-your-face’ sexual encounter between the two and they go to breakfast at a local diner. They talk about STD’s while drinking coffee, The Goonies and how Richie is embarrassed of his teeth and then Patrick calls in sick to work so as to spend the day with Richie.
We’re 10mins 30secs in and now, they’re on a bus and Richie asks Patrick about his first sexual encounter. Turns out, Patrick was 15 and it was on a bus headed back from computer camp. Now suddenly, they’re at the planetarium. They’re the only two there, looking up at the fake stars. Richie sings a song to Patrick, they talk about who is Rachel and who is Ross from FRIENDS and Patrick talks about how he’s not too interested in anal sex.
At the 17 minute mark, Richie and Patrick are walking, eating hotdogs talking about Richie’s first time before they exchange coming out stories – it’s all very first date kind of topics.
Then we learn about a Señora that Richie sees. She’s sort of a medium who uses eggs to see peoples futures. Patrick offers up some anti-señora ideas before Richie drags him along to see her but upon realizing Patrick doesn’t speak Spanish, they decide to leave.
We’re back at Richie’s house, they’re in bed talking about how much ‘fun’ the day was. They talk about sex and imply sex is going to happen.
OH MY GOD.
If I remember correctly, one can make more interesting things happen while playing The Sims.
Without any ads, this was 26 minutes and 59 seconds of scripted television where nothing of substance or worth actually happened. The issue I’m finding with Looking is that the show is trying too hard to not be an expected gay drama. Obviously, as viewers, we’re automatically going to compare it to Queer as Folk. We kinda have to as we don’t have much else to compare it to, but it feels like the people behind the show know this is what we are doing and are trying their darnedest to ensure that Looking is so completely different from Queer as Folk that they end up making a show where the characters have no substance or chance of evolution for us to actually care. They don’t evolve, they don’t create, there’s no real interaction….they just are.
This last episode felt like I was secretly watching two people on a first date….perhaps that was the writers intention, but without bouncing off to any other characters within this world of Looking to allow us some breathing space from the dullness of this first date, this show suddenly becomes very claustrophobic and the only way out is to fervently press the fast forward button and hope there is a light at the end of the tunnel (that light being the HBO logo at the shows end)
Are the writers are too scared to create some sort of dramatic elements for these characters in the fear we all start screaming “it’s all too cliché” and turn off? Don’t forget, this is a television show we are talking about – and not a reality one either.
Don’t hint at Dom’s relationship with his meth using ex boyfriend. Don’t hint at Agustin’s friendship with Patrick. Don’t hint at Patrick being an absolute idiot when it comes to men and relationships. Follow these up and flesh them out and allow us to actually care about any form of back story these characters are supposed to have had.
I, personally was offended by Hoffman’s comment of wishing we the viewers would hate the show over calling it boring. Don’t tell me to hate the show. I don’t want to hate it. I need a show like Looking (or the basis of the show) in my life. By telling us that you’d rather us hate the show than call it boring is you being lazy and trying to find an easy answer to a valid question a lot of people are asking. Pure and simple.
Why can’t Looking be a memorable show without having to revert to stereotypical situations and characters?
I’m not here to tell them how to do their job or write their scripts for them, but for the question of Looking being boring to stop, these writers need to realize that my life (and probably most others lives) is boring enough without having to watch other people’s boring lives on television.
And to continue this point, I present this article by Drew Grant
2 thoughts on “Is HBO’s Drama ‘Looking’ Boring: Part 2”
Have you seen Andrew Haigh’s Weekend? Episode 05 was definitely reminiscent of that. Judging from what I have heard, episode 05 was loved by many people, even those who hate the show. I think you’re judging the show too harshly. It isn’t meant to be Queer as Folk where you have caricatures of white gay men and women and it was all a giant “fvck you” to straight people and there is sex in every episode and you have your typical homophobes etcetera.
Looking is great because it doesn’t delve too much into typical gay shit. I appreciate the show for being low-key and driving mostly on dialogue rather than plot. You may not like it because you want something like Sex and the City where the gay character is an accessory to straight white women but gosh does Looking delve more into the bare nudity of filming. Fleshed out characters, amazing cinematography and scenery…
The whole appeal of episode 05 was that it was sort of like Before Sunrise and Weekend, and I’m surprised you didn’t enjoy it when a lot of people did (including the haters).
I agree that the beauty of Looking is that it’s the complete opposite of QAF and avoids the typical ‘issues’ usually seen in a gay themed drama but an episode like this, where there is nothing to bounce off besides these two characters, nothing is moving forward. You’re just stuck.
I’m not gnarling on the actors or the cinematography or even the characters…I’m just struggling with a show with so much potential to be a great show that seems to be doing nothing.
Does a show like this have to have your expected idealistic representations of gay characters and situations to be interesting? No. I love the fact that these guys aren’t in the gym every night or hitting the club scene when they can or even sleeping with whomever they can, but for a show to do well and be loved by those that watch it, it needs to make us feel more than just ‘blah’ about its characters.
Patrick for instance, we’re pushed to go with the feeling that he’s an idiot when it comes to men and his romantic life, but suddenly, without prior knowledge of him really learning by his mistakes, by episode five, he’s on the the perfect date being the perfect date with the perfect date. Nothing goes wrong, nothing is left open, nothing to really get our teeth into or continue on with and make us go “what’s going to happen to these two next episode?”
Looking is an 8 episode scripted drama where each episode feels so disconnected from the last that, as you put it, has that feel of a solo stand alone movie like Before Sunrise and Weekend (both of which are really beautiful movies).
Thanks for the comment and thanks for putting forward some positive arguments for this show!
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