Three Reasons Why HBO's Looking is the Perfect Show for Women

Three Reasons Why HBO's <i>Looking</i> is the Perfect Show for Women

(Spoiler alert: The following piece discusses up to the February 16 episode of Looking.)


HBO's Looking has had a tough time winning over its intended fans. Upon its premiere, Gawker's Rich Juzwiak yawningly summed up the political achievement of creator Michael Lannan's wonderful half-hour dramedy about three homosexual men in San Francisco as "gay men get to be boring on TV at last." Slate's Bryan Lowder was similarly unimpressed, decrying the show's lack of political edge by describing it as "gay that's polite and comfortable and maybe a little titillating but definitely not all up in your face about it."

But Looking, which has just been renewed for a second season, obviously isn't relying solely on dutiful gay armchair-activists for ratings. Its three main characters -- midlevel video game designer Patrick (Jonathan Groff), artist-turned-artist's assistant Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez), and waiter and aspiring restaurateur Dom (Murray Bartlett) -- resonate beyond gay culture. There doesn't seem to be any public analysis of male vs. female viewers for the show, but I'd bet a huge chunk of its audience is women, since the series offers female viewers something they can't find anywhere else on TV.

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Looking isn't feminist, at least not overtly. There's only one female character: Dom's roommate and friend Doris (Lauren Weedman), a loud, fun broad whose screen time in six episodes totals about five minutes. And yet Looking is a perfect show for women because it offers them -- or more specifically, feminists -- the chance to see reflected on screen their aspiration of living in a world almost wiped clean of sexism. And that world is wonderful: Wedding bells are reduced to a distant ping, biological clocks disappear, and Erica Jong's elusive zipless fuck suddenly becomes not just an everyday reality but a really hot three-way.

Here's how Looking makes all our feminist dreams come true:

1. The gay male characters are easy to identify with.
Gay men are not and never have been women, but the show offers a comforting acknowledgment that Dorothy and her friends can find solidarity in their shared marginalization in a straight male world. In the show's third episode, "Looking at Your Browser History," Patrick explains the frustration of living in a culture where the default mode is Straight Dude at a work party for his video game company: "They keep telling us that we have to expand our demographic, and then they force us to make a game where you can't even play as a female. And I'm a guy and I always play as a female, and before you say it, it's not because I'm gay. … Women are the outsiders in games, and I relate to that." Since Patrick spends the most time with straight men, it's natural that he would feel this commonality between gay men and straight women -- and the hetero-derived pressure to be a top (more on this below) -- most acutely.

Then there are the activities that would be familiar to virtually all twenty- and thirtysomething women (yet alien to most straight men): quoting Golden Girls to friends, playing the gaydar game about strangers ("he has got a very gay laugh"), and opining about circumcised versus uncircumcised.

2. The (relative) lack of heteronormativity.
Lookinglets its thirtysomethings be thirtysomethings, instead of a pair of rapidly rotting ovaries or a collection of wrinkles and sags -- a tendency found even in a lighthearted sitcom like Zooey Deschanel's New Girl, which devoted an entire episode to thirtysomething women's declining fertility last year. In that sense, Looking offers an escape from pressures of biological doom and a reflection of the 20 percent of American women today who are childless. Likewise, the idea of marriage flits through this universe like an errant fly: Weddings are about as relevant to these characters' lives as dental dams.

Sure, the central trio date and kiss and Grindr, but Looking is as much a show about that make-or-break point in your thirties when the pressure to succeed suddenly gains the mass of a grand piano, since everyone else around you is suddenly doing much better than you are. In that same episode when Patrick refuses to celebrate the debut of his employers' new game, Agustín is fired from his position as an artist's assistant. It seems like a blessing in disguise -- he's finally free to pursue his own vision -- but it's not clear that he has anything to say. Dom, who turns 40 in the sixth episode, undergoes a similar crisis of identity when he realizes that he can't serve Silicon Valley assholes overpriced wine forever, and so takes the first steps toward opening his own restaurant.

The show also argues against the straight-derived roles of "top" and "bottom" in "Looking for the Future," the lovely fifth episode devoted to Patrick's blossoming relationship with Latino barber Richie (Raúl Castillo). As they gaze at fake stars at a planetarium, Patrick and Richie remark that they're echoing a date between Ross and Rachel on Friends. Patrick wants to claim malehood -- "I want to be Ross … you're the one that's crazy into hair and I'm the geek" -- but Richie won't be emasculated: "[Rachel's] kind of like the boss, which is kind of like the top." Then he proposes they leave the "top" and "bottom" labels by the wayside: "Those terms are for people on websites. How do you know with a guy sexually until you're with them? You gotta be adaptable." In other words, focusing on someone's gender (or gendered role) keeps us from appreciating them as a full person. There couldn't be a better summary of feminism.

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4 comments
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dreamingdan
dreamingdan

So Looking, a gay show (yes I said gay show) can't be judged by "armchair" gay activists but by "armchair" feminists? 

Desperate times indeed when women need to look for a show full of men to have something to identify with. 

Looking doesn't want to represent feminists it doesn't even want to represent women which is why they're are largely absent, together with straight men. 

Looking is set in a gay world where the gays might bemoan the pressure of a straight society but that society is none existence in a show where you are gay, all your friends are gay your boss and work colleagues are gay and all the guys you meet on the street are gay. It is set in a fantasy world and that fact alone loses it massive reality and relate-able points.

You pretend there are all those political comments and references there but they're not. You criticize  others for pointing out the lack of  issues being acknowledged in any way but at the same time confirm the much louder criticism of the show, that it is bland, shallow and boring. Only difference is you seem to find that as a positive as this way you can project every meaning, agenda and theme into it that you desire whether it is actually thee or not. 

That would be okay but the way you perceive the sex on the show is downright delusional. 

Nothing we have seen was even remotely casual or unjudged or anything but  a plot-device. 

Doms frequent hook ups are being judged by himself as he finds his life at a turning point, it's his whole storyline actually. It mirrors his career move from something that leads no where to something purposeful. waiter/hook up vs own restaurant/proper relationship with Lynn.

All the sex Patrick had was only there to portray is awkwardness/stupidity which is why it always ends badly (we already know he will screw up the Richie thing with Kevin). 

And lastly the threesome (how can anyone say this was a threesome which was just a threesome???) which was nothing but a demonstration of how selfish Agustin is, how he puts his desires over his boyfriend Frank who was anything but comfortable with this. You would think a women knows a thing or two about putting her needs behind those of her partners. But apparently not. 

I wonder if we were watching the same show here. 


enlightenone
enlightenone

@dreamingdan  Dan, on point and insightful comment! I also thought I had lost my mind after discussing with a couple of friends, listening to the HBO Looking site's podcasts that included the disjointed, non-reflective comments by the writers themselves and the weak actor who plays the immature, deer in the headlights, neurotic Patrick! Time would have been well-spent if you had wrote the piece!

 

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