HBO announced yesterday that it would not renew its critically acclaimed dramedy Looking, about a trio of gay male friends living in San Francisco, for a third season. Like so many undervalued series sent to the television graveyard, the show’s low ratings do not reflect its fiercely loyal fanbase. What made Looking resonate with a diverse audience—I recently overheard an elderly straight couple profess their love for Dom, while a Vogue colleague reports that his 50ish mother tunes in weekly—was the universality of its messily human ensemble.
There will be a special to wrap up Looking’s loose ends: Will the corn-fed-cute but neurotic video gamer Patrick choose soft-spoken barber Richie over his British boss-boyfriend Kevin? Does 40-something Dom find financial success as a peri-peri chicken magnate? Are ex-artist Agustín and his drily funny bearamour Eddie in it for the long haul? But these finely etched characters—maxing out their credit cards to bankroll a dream, staying at home with a joint to nurse a breakup—deserve to have their futures told episodically, in rhythm with the ups-and-downs of real life, not tied up in a neat little bow. Here are seven reasons why HBO should reconsider.
1. It’s a love letter to San Francisco that makes us all want to move there.
Not since Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City—both the 1993 miniseries and the 1978 novel that inspired it (itself adapted from a newspaper serial)—has San Francisco, in all its bud-scented glory, been so faithfully imagined on TV. While certain hallmarks—steep hills, free spirits, breathtaking views of the bay—never change, Looking’s San Francisco reflects the sociocultural shifts of a town experiencing a 21st-century gold rush. As the series’s protagonist, Patrick (played by Jonathan Groff) embodies both the old guard of gay men who flocked there to live openly, and the new guard of Silicon Valley techies, sequestered in their Ubers and Google buses, accused of taking over. Microclimates, vagrants, BDSM street fairs, and Bi-Rite Creamery fill in the shading of this on-point portrait of the city.
2. The characters’ ethnic and economic diversity doesn’t ring false.
Shows about a group of friends can veer either über-homogenous or painfully politically correct, but the men and women who populate Looking are distinct in background without their differences coming off as commentary. When race and class are discussed, it’s with the subjectivity of its characters, who espouse the prejudices particular to them (take the snobbish Cuban-American Agustín, from the affluent Miami enclave Coral Gables, dissing working-class Chicano Richie with a Spanish slur). The show’s writers aren’t above cliché, like when the deliciously sour Doris boasts of her black boyfriend Malik’s anatomical gifts in bed, but because sexuality is the cultural marker on the show, race falls to the wayside. What’s most refreshing is how casually gays and straights comingle: Patrick’s office buddy is the sardonic (and straight) Asian-American Owen, while Malik gamely dresses in drag as Cher at a gay Halloween party without batting a fake eyelash.
3. There’s an HIV-positive character, and it’s no big deal.
Looking isn’t the first cable series about gay life, but the character of Eddie, an HIV-positive youth counselor with a soft spot for Hillary Clinton and sequined flat brims, is a breakthrough for representing people living with HIV/AIDS onscreen. Eddie’s status isn’t limited to a single episode and doesn’t serve as a PSA, and instead of a lesion-covered waif, this bearded hipster (whose viral load is untraceable), is reassuringly rotund. In a bit of black comedy, he even admits to Agustín that he’ll occasionally “pull the HIV card” when he doesn’t feel like going to work. Including a positive character like Eddie (played pitch-perfect by Daniel Franzese) is also a vital reminder to millennials that HIV/AIDS didn’t disappear with the 8-track and remains a very real consequence of unprotected sex.
4. It’s a talent pool of gifted, little-known performers we wish we’d known about sooner.
In addition to Daniel Franzese, Looking has given us numerous other relative unknowns who shine in their breakout roles. Where, for example, has Lauren Weedman, the comedienne who portrays Doris, been all of our television-watching lives? The answer is, all over, according to IMDB: an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm here, a stint on True Blood there. And what about Russell Tovey, the Englishman who torments Patrick as his wandering-eyed lover Kevin? Turns out he was a regular on U.K. hits Gavin & Stacey and Him & Her. Jonathan Groff may be the marquee name from his time on Glee, but the series’s lifeblood is its supporting players. Even if Looking never returns, we can look forward to catching whatever these up-and-comers do next. (Fans of The Good Wife, rejoice: Agustín’s Frankie J. Alvarez will appear in the season finale in April.)
5. The music supervisors have excellent taste.
A show that has its characters regularly cruising bars and clubs (the premiere of season two culminated in a Molly-fueled bacchanal on the Russian River) should have watchers boogying around their living rooms on a Sunday night in January. Looking’s soundtrack—a mix of infectious dance hits (Hercules & Love Affair), underground tracks (Storm Queen), and disco anthems (Sister Sledge)—does just that. Though HBO hasn’t released an official soundtrack on iTunes, some fans have gone the DIY route, creating Spotify playlists and other platforms. Given the characters’ keeping-it-real vibe, doesn’t free Internet streaming make more sense?
6. More Scott Bakula!
Even before the season finale, Looking fans were asking, “What happened to Scott Bakula?” The actor best known as a time-traveling scientist on Quantum Leap won us over as Lynn, the silver-fox Castro florist who first meets Dom in a bathhouse before the two entered into a complicated friends-with-benefits-and-benefactors relationship. Sure, parts of Lynn’s life remain unclear—how does he afford such a swank apartment from the proceeds of a flower shop?—but even after he and Dom were no more, most of us were hoping for a Bakula resurgence. For that, he may need to call on the talents of Quantum’s Sam Beckett.
7. Sex, sex, sex
These days, explicit sex on TV is de rigueur, but the encounters on Looking nevertheless managed to shock, titillate, and inspire the occasional “Hmm . . . there’s an idea.” Most of America might be okay with gay marriage, but it’ll take a while for the mainstream to feel comfortable watching two men unzip for a quickie against a tree. While Looking’s portrayals of promiscuity risked reinforcing stereotypes, the scenes signify the sexual libertinism that gay communities have historically embraced, and which has made San Francisco a mecca for curious misfits.
The post 7 Reasons Why HBO Shouldn’t Cancel Looking appeared first on Vogue.
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