Looking is the new show on HBO that was supposed to be the queer version of GIRLS, but everyone found too boring to comment on, unless they were making a grandiose statement about how we all have the right to be boring. (See: Salon, Flavorwire, Slate, Gawker, everyone’s commentary on that Esquire article.)
I had geared up to really like Looking. It’s exactly my type of show, where no one does anything but everything is potentially important/life-changing. I have no problem with shows with meandering, go-nowhere plot lines; since Seinfeld, that’s actually been my de facto kind of programming.
But here’s the problem with Looking: No one has a right to be that uninteresting on TV outside of a Ken Burns documentary. And not only does Looking wear its boring-ness with pride, but it’s specifically, unnaturally in-your-face about what a non-entity it is. It’s offensively boring. As a viewer, I’m bothered that HBO would insult my intelligence by putting on a show where even the characters aren’t interested in themselves.
Looking isn’t just boring…it’s boring and completely insular to the point of alienation. I’m talking about insulation not as a gender/sex thing, but in terms of how it portrays the group dynamics of its core characters. Why should I care whether Agustín is moving to Oakland with his boyfriend if I don’t know anything about his and Patrick’s relationship? How long have they lived together as friends? Were they ever lovers? Why does Patrick call Agustín after his failed hook-up with Richie in the middle of the night, if only to lie about the food he’s eating? (Mac’n'cheese over salad, because his mom used to make it in Colorado.)
Augustin spent the whole episode NOT going out this weekend with his new roommate/boyfriend, and that’s supposed to count as a plot line. Dom’s mad with his meth head ex for making him buy a protein box/smoothie, which could have been interesting, as could have Patrick’s “uncut” build-up with Richie, but nothing comes of either. If the show is building the groundwork for some of these plots to circle back in later episodes, that still doesn’t give them the right to be so thoroughly dull while they are happening. If it’s not worth showing, maybe save it for exposition?
You get the sense that the writers of Looking are only giving you the vaguest sketches of something that happened in their own lives that made them think, “There should totally be a show about this.” Which again, would be fine, if the characters weren’t so nice, so bland; so unwilling to be cruel, spiteful or invoke human emotions that are in any way relatable. It’s like watching the OSs in Her go through the motions of dating each other, but without the whole singularity thing.
Even Richie’s rejection of Patrick, based on Patrick’s racist assumption re: circumcision, is done in the cleanest way possible. “I’m tripping,” Richie says. “No hard feelings.” As if hard feelings were a bad thing (which they are, IRL) and not totally necessary for dramatic tension in narratives of any kind.
The problem with Looking, then, isn’t just that it’s boring. It’s boring to an egregious level that feels almost spiteful in its unwillingness to delve into the inner minds of its characters. It’s a show about nice guys who spend the weekends staying in, eating carbs and not hurting anyone’s feelings.
Why would anyone want to watch that?