Cable subscribers who wish to see men having sex with women need look no further than HBO. From “1st & Ten” to “The Sopranos” to “Game of Thrones,” this network’s programming always veered straight, if not narrow. Sure, there were exceptions — that gay gangster on “The Sopranos,” or that gay vampire on “True Blood,” or that gay cop and that gay stick-up man on “The Wire.” But for the most part, the network offered, as some might put it, Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.
And now, the network’s foray into programming about, if not explicitly for, gay men is over: “Looking” has been canceled. HBO plans a TV movie to wrap things up, but since the show aired its season two finale on Sunday, this is already the middle of the end.
“After two years of following Patrick and his tight-knit group of friends as they explored San Francisco in search of love and lasting relationships, HBO will present the final chapter of their journey as a special,” the network said, as EW reported. “We look forward to sharing this adventure with the show’s loyal fans.”
Few will mourn — and those that do will likely lament the loss of the idea of “Looking” rather than “Looking” itself. If the series broke ground, it was because it was a gay show that didn’t really scan, as the critical theorists say, as a gay show.
“By unburdening itself from any obligation to be a story about gay rights and gay issues, ‘Looking’ makes even the most banal personal crises seem freshly tragic,” The Washington Post’s Hank Stuever wrote. “‘Looking’ feels spot-on and real; it falters only when it occasionally pauses to let one of its characters gaysplain, in dialogue, a subject that it believes a larger audience might not get.”
An alternate view: The banal personal crises presented on “Looking” were, well, just plain banal. A first date gone wrong — or right; looking for love after 40; the trials and tribulations of moving in with a partner. In the age of Khaleesi, mother of dragons, the show put the “blah” in LGBT.
The BBC put it a different way: “Looking is one of the most revolutionary depictions of gay life ever on TV — and that’s because it makes it totally ordinary.”
That’s quite the back-handed compliment. Characters on television don’t have to have magic powers, but they can’t be ordinary, even when they look like everyday folk. Was Archie Bunker ordinary? What about the Keatons of “Family Ties” or Roseanne?
Not long after the show’s debut, Slate asked a withering question: “Why is Looking So Boring?”
“Looking is so boring, so utterly flat in terms of narrative or characterization, so in need of occasional pauses in which to perform a few jumping jacks to bring one’s heart rate up to resting, that I would opt out entirely if we gay men — or at least gay male culture critics — weren’t contractually obliged to watch,” J. Bryan Lowder wrote. “… It is not Looking’s somber lighting or idle pacing that truly bores me; rather, it is the laughable basicness of its presentation of gay male life and culture. For a gay viewer who has any real connection to that title, there is just nothing new to see here.”
Some even thought that when “Looking” tried to be a gayer show, it got into trouble.
“The big why of Looking, of course, is that it’s a show primarily about gay men, a rarity on television or in movies,” Variety wrote in a second-season review. “But the first season’s twinge of over-confidence — a particular vanity or preening, a hint of too self-assured fabulousness — is back. It’s more stringent this year, the show occasionally speaking with more authority than it’s earned.”
Of course, “Looking” faced perhaps insurmountable hurdles in trying to find its place in American culture. “Girls” spoke to millennials; “Game of Thrones,” at least judging by its ratings, spoke to everyone. As gay marriage became legal in more and more places, “Looking” seemed to want to just fit in somehow. It couldn’t be too serious, like AIDS dramas “And the Band Played On” or “Angels in America.” It couldn’t be campy, like “The Liberace Show.”
Perhaps as a result, “Looking” — shrugged at by many, watched by few — was a non-event.
The New York Times summed it up: “Real isn’t always the same as interesting.”