Looking Season 2 ****
With the end of the second season of Looking came the news that HBO have not commissioned the series for a third session. Regardless of the rumours of a one-off two hour special to neatly tie up its loose ends, it's a great shame that the LGBT-centric show was unable to accumulate the viewers it needed to maintain momentum, because this was a landmark show in countless ways. Unlike Queer As Folk or Will & Grace, Looking placed the normality of its characters centre stage, without satire or sensationalising its content. The lives and loves of this trio of friends in San Francisco encapsulated what it's like to be a millennial gay man, where the issues have moved beyond any battle for equality, to be replaced by the problems we all face: money, work and relationships. And it's in this normalcy that Looking found its hook; every gay person in their 20s or 30s could see themselves in these characters, who were unremarkable, frustrating but endearing in equal measure.
BEWARE! SPOILERS AHEAD! The majority of the season focuses around Patrick (Jonathan Groff) as he struggles between his affections. Reeling from the end of his relationship with Richie (Raúl Castillo), he finds himself embroiled with his engaged boss, Kevin (Russell Tovey). Convinced that their affair is leading to something deeper, it doesn't cross Patrick's mind that if Kevin was willing to cheat on his fiancé, maybe monogamy isn't what his lover is looking for. Meanwhile, Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) is on a mission to reassemble his life after his breakup has pulled the rug out from under him. And Dom (Murray Bartlett) focuses on his new business and friendship with Doris (Lauren Weedman) after his relationship with an older man ends exactly as his sugardaddy warned it would. At times, Looking is excruciating to watch. Its characters are flawed human beings, whose neuroses and failures are completely recognisable. As a drunken Patrick addressed the guests at his Halloween party, with both his jilted love interests present, we all knew that this could only end badly. But who hasn't been Agustin or Dom, stifling their inebriated heartbroken friend from making a potentially catastrophic show of themselves? And while many shows would have played for the drama in this situation,Looking's brooding nuanced character study allowed this to play out as it would in real life. The drama came from what was left unsaid, with the complexities of love and trust realistically internalised, played out through pauses and the camera lingering just long enough on a face to catch the tiniest flash of a look.
Unlike similar shows about a group of friends, Looking made no pretence that Patrick wasn't its main character. Sometimes spending whole episodes focusing solely on his storylines, this season saw both Agustin and Dom almost sidelined as the Patrick-Kevin-Richie saga dominated the ten half hour episodes. On the one hand this served to flesh out a realistic account of a relationship burning bright and burning fast, but on the other did a disservice to characters who had previously balanced Patrick's foibles. Agustin's journey from the wreckage of his previous relationship - in which he was a spoiled and painfully entitled hipster - to become altruistic and finally self aware was enriching, albeit sometimes painful, watch. And as we peeled back the layers of Dom and Doris' relationship, we were exposed to the real intricacies beyond the "fag and hag" stereotype. But unfortunately, at times, both were eclipsed by the enormity of Patrick. However, Patrick is an everyman whose flaws don't damn him like Hannah in Girls, or frustrate us like Carrie in Sex And The City.He's a born romantic without an extensive relationship history, who's stumbling through adulthood barely realising how desirable he actually is. His insecurities are endearing, though their expression are, at times, trying. But in the final episode of the season, in which he discovers that too-good-to-be-true Kevin is still using Grindr and potentially wants an eventual open relationship, his idealistic but inherently human reaction is all the more poignant for the gravity we know he has invested. His earnest but puppy-like devotion has been rewarded with anguish and regardless of any modern take on relationships, we know that for Patrick this could never be right. And the result is crushing.
We all know a Patrick. Whether it's ourselves or a partner or a friend, this honesty and emotional openness is something that has become a moniker for young gay men. The character, his relationships and eventual heartbreak all resonate with an entire generation, in the US, the UK and around the world. Because though this is a series about gay men, its themes are wholly universal. But because of its commitment to portraying the Gay Community as so normal, ordinary and everyday, its rich cultural and ethnic diversity was effortless and utopian in the most casual and natural way. Though we know that circumstances can be considerably more extenuating than Looking shows (I don't believe we ever witnessed an incident of homphobia in its entire run), we are left unintentionally with the very core of the 'Same Love' movement - because this just ran as *proof* that love is love is love. So I, for one, am greatly saddened that the show has run its course.
Available to download, stream or buy on DVD.