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Queer Classics: “Looking: The Movie” (2016)

A little over a year ago, I wrote a very heartfelt piece about the end of HBO’s Looking (you can check out here, if you want). At the time, my heart was still bruised by HBO’s (in my view) disingenuous and insulting cancelation of one of the very few gay-centered dramas on television, and the piece reflects this. I was also skeptical and worried about how the announced TV movie finale would turn out.

I needn’t have worried. Looking has, I am happy to say, been brought to a fully satisfying conclusion.

Warning:  Full spoilers follow.

The finale takes place a year after the events of the second season finale. Patrick, having moved to Denver to escape from the ruin of his relationship with Kevin, has returned for the wedding of Agustín and Eddie. Dom’s chicken window is now a flourishing business, and while he has repaired his relationship with Doris, he has seemingly sworn off attempting to find a partner with whom he can share his success. Doris, meanwhile, has seemingly found completeness with Malik, and the two of them have even begun thinking about the future (complete with children). While he’s home, he has to contend with the consequences of his botched relationships, including the messiness and inconclusive state of his connection with Richie.

When I wrote my elegy for Looking, I said that a big part of what made Looking so resonant for me was that “it managed to show how fucked up, joyful, orgiastic, melancholy, and just plain messy modern gay life can be.” Now, to be fair, there are a few moments in this finale that wrap up those ends a bit too neatly. Kevin’s exit, while tremendously satisfying (I was never Team Kevin) was too briskly accomplished to really make sense from a purely narrative standpoint. Still, the moment does serve as a sort of reckoning for Patrick, forcing him to acknowledge his own complicity in the relationship meltdown that ended last season and, just as importantly, allowing him to see that he does indeed run from his problems rather than facing them.

This sense of running away from the danger of feelings is, to my eye, the unifying narrative thread of the entire episode. Just as Patrick has forever been running away from the intensity of his feelings, so both Agustín and Eddie have their own issues with commitment, and Dom remains unwilling to commit after his ill-fated romance last season. Even Richie, one of the most grounded and mature characters in the show, seems uncertain about his future and what he wants out of life. As he tells Patrick in their final, fateful walk around San Francisco, he wants to start his life over.

I’ll admit, I felt a flutter (and maybe let out a little scream) when i saw that Richie had FINALLY abandoned that snarky shrew Brady and returned to the man with whom he is clearly destined to live. It was, I’m not ashamed to admit, the fulfillment of my own deeply-rooted desires for erotic and romantic fulfillment. Even more, though, it was a testament to the fact that sometimes, even in this crazy, tumultuous world, two people can find a really special, meaningful connection that transcends difference.

There is just…something profound about the ending, in which both Patrick and Riche ultimately acknowledge that yes, love and commitment are scary, but they are also sources of tremendous joy that can form the foundation for a life spent together. Sometimes, it seems that people are afraid to feel and to take a chance on that feeling, thinking that they need to spend time getting themselves together, “focusing on me.” In reality, there is, nor will there ever be, an ideal time to get into a relationship and make that leap into commitment. Patrick has learned that lesson the hard way, and it’s nice to see him be able to share that bit of knowledge with Richie. In the end, they both recognize that their love for another–and it’s nice to hear Patrick admit that he’s been in love with Richie from the beginning–is, for the moment, all that they need. The final scene that they share together doesn’t end with a cliché kiss but instead a more tender moment of casual cuddling, as they enjoy this night with their friends. Somehow, to me, that makes it all the more touching.

Now, there are a few weaker spots that it’s worth mentioning. Much as I intensely dislike Brady–because, let’s féce it, the show has never really allowed him to be anything other than obnoxious–it’s hard not to feel at least a bit of compassion for him. How would any of us respond if we could see, as clearly he seemingly can, the fact that Richie is still hopelessly in love with Patrick and Patrick with him? Of course, we’re not really encouraged to think too much about that, and to some extent that’s okay. After all, life and emotions are messy and intractable, and sometimes, no matter how much you might like it to, life doesn’t fall into neat moral binaries.

If there’s one truly unfortunate thing about this finale, though, it would have to be the resolution of Dom’s storyline. He meets someone new, but it doesn’t really seem to have a great deal of meaning in and of itself; it feels very much an afterthought, as if the writers realized they needed to grant this major character some measure of resolution. Still, I will say that it was nice to see all of our main characters paired off; the future may be messy, but at least it is somewhat stable.

When the episode was over, I was left laughing and crying, a particular mix that only comes upon me at moments of peak emotional experience. On the one hand, I was crying because this moment was just so damned emotional, so intensely fulfilling of all of my displaced desires for these characters. On the other, I was crying because it was all the things that are missing in my own life (at this moment), and for all the bittersweet memories this show always conjures up for me, of my own past loves and the mistakes both I and my former lovers have made. Looking doesn’t shy away from those, and it leaves a room for ambiguity. There will be struggles ahead and that’s okay, because that’s life.

And that ambiguity–poignant, irresolvable, exquisite–remains Looking‘s most brilliant and  accomplishment.

Review–“Looking”–“Looking for Now”

I now I’m a couple days late with this, but I just got around to viewing the pilot episode of HBO’s new series Looking, and I have to say that I am quite pleased with what I have seen so far.  At long last, after the conclusion of Queer as Folk, The L Word, and Will and Grace, the series that foregrounded the gay experience, we have another series that attempts to illuminate the lives of today’s gay men (now, if we can get a series that does the same for lesbians, that will be an excellent step forward indeed).  With a combination of dazzling star power (led by Jonathan Groff), a light comedic touch, and just a hint a pathos and sorrow, Looking manages to capture the gay experience of those who are saying (or have said) goodbye to their 20s.

Indeed, it is precisely this focus on the lives of those who are not 20-somethings (except in the most literal sense of the word), that makes this series so refreshing.  These are young(ish) men who stand on that precarious ledge separating the world of youthful craziness and adult responsibility.  What the pilot shows us, however, with Patrick’s (Groff) attempts to find the perfect partner, Agustin’s (Frankie J. Alvarez) struggling with his impending commitment to his boyfriend, and Dom (Murray Bartlett) impending mid-life crisis as he recognizes that his youth (and possibly his sex appeal) is fading at last.  This is the not the glamorous, hedonistic world of Queer as Folk (as much as that was a pleasure to watch), but instead a glimpse into what comprises the life of a gay man who has a stable job and a stable life and, basically, wants to find someone to share that with (or, in Frankie’s case, building on what he already has).

Thus, the series also shows what life is like for everyday gay men, especially those who have average jobs and occupations.  These are not superstars, and these are not wealthy.  Indeed, in Dom’s case they are not even successful in the ways in which such things are usually measured.  These characters exert a strong pull upon us as viewers, asking us to identify with them in a way that many other series that preceded did not, or at least not in the same way.  Theirs is not necessarily a life to be envied–though perhaps it will come to that as the season progresses.  Their struggles are ones that most of us have experienced at one time or another:  a horrible first date, which we try so hard to make work that it ultimately fails despite (or perhaps because of) all our efforts; a job that we hate, even as we watch our ex succeed beautifully.  These are the plots that drive Looking and I, for one, found them compelling and, in some cases, heartwarming.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this is a gay-male themed show that is consciously not all about sex.  As one of the series’ creators remarked in a recent interview, in this first episode they strove to convey gay intimacy, not just gay sex.  While these two things are often related, we should be careful not to confuse one with the other or to let one (usually sex) overcome or completely overshadow the other.  While sex is certainly a key part of many gay men’s lives, this show actually allows us to see it connected to the strong emotional bonds that can and do exist between men.

All in all, Looking promises to be another fine addition to HBO’s already outstanding line-up of comedies.  It manages to capture, in some ways at least, the zeitgeist of my generation of gay men in a way that few series have attempted yet in this second decade of the millennium.  And I say it’s about time.