Looking has been compared with Sex And The City, and I suppose another easy comparison would be Queer As Folk – the British version, the US version didn’t take with me. But I think a more interesting comparison is with The Golden Girls. Not because gay men are like old women, but because both shows are about friendship. Friendship to overcome tragedy, partners, jobs, but friendship which bonds the characters together.
My friend, Wikipedia says: ‘Looking is an American comedy-drama about a group of gay friends living in San Francisco.’ What’s the link with The Golden Girls? I hear you ask, well, permit me to explain:
- Patrick, the video games designer is Rose, the clueless widow from St Olaf, looking, always looking, and optimistic.
- Agustín, the artist’s assistant is Blanche, the southern man-eater.
- Dom, the wine waiter is Dorothy, the teacher of Italian American descent, trying to work out who she is after her 38 year marriage ends in divorce.
- Lynn – the guy who was in Quantum Leap – is Sophia, Dorothy’s mother, always there with a wise word or story.
There’s often a lot of hoo ha about the portrayal of gay characters in dramas like Looking, and Queer As Folk. People talk about a sympathetic, realistic portrayal of gay men. It’s interesting because people rarely talk about similar things in relation to straight men, or straight women in fiction. No, they’re just characters, for entertainment. I’m not sure why people think gay characters somehow should educate people about gay people in real life. If you want real education, go and meet some real live gay people.
‘I love the gays, you’re all so much fun’ is something I’ve heard from people, trying to engender themselves to me.
‘We’re not all nice. Some of us are vile, just like straight people can be.’ Is my normal reply.
Loving the gays
At first I didn’t like any of the three main characters in Looking. Then Patrick’s cluelessness grew on me. I saw quite a lot of myself in my early twenties in him. When he starts a relationship with the barber, alongside the work thing which was going on in the background, I loved seeing him conflicted between the two. When he talks about how his parents reacted to coming out, lots of that resonated with me too. My favourite episode was Looking for the Future, when Patrick and Richie bunk off work and spend a fairytale day of a first date together, exploring the sites of San Francisco and really talking about their sexual boundaries.
Dom’s seventies moustache distracted me, at first, from the real character. His constant stream of twinky shags bored me as much as it did him. But it wasn’t until later in the series, after talking to his female best friend – another stereotype, which exists for a reason – that he reflected on what he really wanted in life, since he was turning forty. His angst over being condemned to the scrap yard at this age is something I’ve witnessed in friends. Dom had lived his whole life to that point as one particular stereotype of a gay man, and as he reaches the end of that story, he’s not sure what to do with his life. Watching him work it out, was a sight to behold.
Agustin is interesting because, right up until the final scene, I really hated him. He was self-indulgent, self-destructive, self-pitying and when it all came crashing down around his ears, he was surprised that his long term boyfriend had had enough. Really? OK, so I’ve known guys like him too and in common with Agustin, the only thing you can do is watch them hit rock bottom and be there to pick them up. At that rock bottom point, when Patrick was there to rescue him, I finally saw the real scared, childish, clueless person inside Agustin, when you sweep away all the artsy, pretentious, crap. Sitting there with Patrick in the middle of a Golden Girls marathon, I said, ‘That’s the real Agustin!’
This was shown in the same way straight sex is shown in other dramas. It was part of the storyline, to show the characters' development, their feelings and part of their lives. It wasn’t quite as graphic as Queer As Folk, but neither did it need to be. It didn’t show the mechanics, but neither did it need to. I don’t think there’s any need that on TV or writing for gay or straight people. Who needs to see or read who puts what where, how’s that an essential part of the story? If we wanted to see the mechanics, we’d watch pornography, right? Or is that just me, as a man?
Looking shows a variety of sexual relationships the three main characters have, which reflects the variety of our relationships in real life. Agustin’s relationship with his long term boyfriend, Frank is an interesting contrast to Dom’s stream of casual encounters. This contrasts with Patrick’s longing for something more permanent, but shock at the fast-food-ification of relationships made possible by dating apps. I did roll my eyes a bit at how the one long term relationship was also that allegedly best of both worlds, an open relationship, because heaven forbid them showing a monogamous couple of gay men. Maybe that’s for series two. But I realise I’m veering dangerously into the territory of ‘portrayal of gay men’ which I’ve complained about, so I’ll leave that there.
The really interesting relationships, just like in The Golden Girls are between the three main characters, as friends.
Agustin and Patrick have been best friends since college. Watching their dynamic and how they bounce off one another about sexual relationship issues was, I thought very realistic. I also enjoyed how their friendship could withstand disagreements about boyfriends, and the self destruction of Agustin. They also lived together, which gave it a cosy, Golden Girls quality too, which I too have with some of my gay male friends.
Patrick and Dom slept together years ago, and Dom is the third corner of their friendship triangle. He lives with Doris and talks to her, Agustin and Patrick for advice and a sympathetic ear, as he tries to work out how to be a different version of himself. Agustin, Patrick, Doris and Lynn are supportive of his decision to change his work, and of course they both come to the party at his pop up restaurant.
As the Golden Girls song says, ‘And if you threw a party, invited everyone you knew, you would see the biggest gift would be from me. And the card attached would say thank you for being a friend.’
What did you think of Looking?
What drama would you have compared it with?
Is this way off the mark, or do you agree?
I’d love to hear from you,
Until next time,
Liam Livings xx