Reviewing a Review for “Looking”
Of course I would never review a review for a book. That would be downright blasphemy on my part! However, as a blogger who does not get paid by anyone to kiss any ass, I don’t mind reviewing a review for a TV show, especially if I don’t totally agree with it. In this case the review I’m talking about is for the new LGBTI TV show, Looking, on HBO. I watched it for the first time last night and my first impressions were a little different than this reviewer I’m linking to now.
First, if you’re expecting another Queer as Folk, you will be disappointed in Looking. And this has nothing to do with the storyline in Looking, and all to do with the fact that Queer as Folk was done years ago and a lot of things have changed since that time. And trust me, I was a huge fan of Queer as Folk. We used to leave tea dance on Sunday afternoons early just to go home and watch. This, of course, was pre-DVR days, and I was never very prolific with a video machine.
In any event, a friend sent me this review for Looking and I couldn’t help but comment on a few things. The title is what really floored me: “Why is Looking So Boring?”
Frankly, I didn’t find it boring. I loved it. In fact, the half hour passed so quickly I wished it had been an hour long. But a reviewer for Slate, J. Bryan Lowder, didn’t agree. And he began his review by personifying Looking and how one might feel about Looking if one were to come across it on Grindr. In other words, he states that if you saw a profile of Looking on Grindr you would get excited at first, and then be seriously disappointed once you learned more. In this case, Looking would be the equivalent to someone with “dull replies” and “as interesting as yesterday’s porn clip.” He also goes on to mention sex scenes in Looking. I think he liked them, but I’m not too sure toward the end of the review. In fact, I wasn’t certain where he was going until I reached the end.
I found the sex scenes realistic, but not too over the top. In fact, I wish there had been a few more detailed scenes…something that would have shocked me. But as they stand they weren’t bad, and, all were done with the thought of keeping it real. One in particular was interesting, where a couple of guys in what I assume is an open relationship are hanging around in a studio and a three-way begins. Of course there is the third who can’t wait to play, and the other two are a little apprehensive. All it takes is one look of approval and the games begin. Been there. Done it. They handled it well…to the point where I laughed aloud. That’s often how it works.
And that’s something I didn’t see at all mentioned in Lowder’s review. The humor. There aren’t tons of funny lines, but there were situations, and reactions, that made me laugh more than once. And done in an unexpected way I thought was interesting because I really didn’t see them coming. One of the things I think we’re missing these days all around is humor, and I think so many are lacking a sense of humor it’s hard to take some reviews seriously.
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.
I’ve only watched one show and I thought the characterization was better than most things I’ve seen recently. In that one half hour I figured each character out, knew where they were going, and even received a little surprise at the end that I had been hoping for all along. No spoilers. But I enjoyed the ending of that episode most of all. And I think my readership, the women who love gay romance, will agree with me on that one point alone. It wasn’t exactly HEA, but close to it. But more than that, I thought it was real. In real life, even in gay real life, you often have to lower your standards just a little if you’re going to get what you want. And I don’t know one single person in life who hasn’t been there at one point or another.
The only character I didn’t like was a throw away character and he was meant to be disliked. At least I think that’s what he was. He’s a doctor and one of the most pretentious, annoying gay men I’ve seen since a former “friend” I had once moved to Palms Springs for good. And even that had so much realism I found myself laughing again, because if you haven’t run across a pretentious gay man who thinks he knows it all, you’re missing out on one of the more amusing aspects of life.
Lowder does mention in his review that it’s all a matter of taste and that some viewers might find Looking “subtle and sweet.” I didn’t find Looking boring, or subtle and sweet. I found it real, and something to which many gay men and straight women can relate. I agree that it is a matter of taste, and I fully respect Lowder’s taste. But I don’t have to agree with it just as he doesn’t have to agree with mine.
Toward the middle of his review Lowder asks a few rhetorical questions I found interesting. Taking them all into consideration, he seems to draw the conclusion that Looking was meant for an audience of average taste, with limited knowledge, that is both gay and straight. He also doesn’t think it was shocking enough, yet never mentions that as gays begin to gravitate more toward heteronormative lifestyles this is exactly what is happening out there in the real world. I also think he fails to realize that not all gay men are the same, or should be expected to be the same. And this lack of recognition for the diversity within the gay community always gets me more than anything.
He goes on to mention something from Out magazine…blah, blah, blah. And then there’s a long self-indulgent diatribe about Scott Bakula and aging gay men. I’ve known more older gay men in my lifetime than I can even count. I’m a middle aged gay man right now, and I couldn’t agree with Lowder less. He really gets a little over the top at that point, and he takes a simple show that was intended to entertain more than it was to offer a graduate course about gay men to a completely different level. Sometimes, and you can quote me on this one, a TV show only needs to be entertaining. It doesn’t have to save the world and all the gay men as we know them.
The continued bashing of “campy gay men”—who despite being somewhat overrepresented in older media, are just as real as (and far more engaging than) Patrick—is grating but de rigueur at this point: Neither Looking nor its audience need fear the queen—she has already sashayed on over to the isolation of Logo.
You know what, for the first time I think what I liked most about Looking is that it represented a segment of gay men who have not been heard all that often. I have nothing against campy gay men and I now how real they are. But when I watched Looking I was surprised to see the characters depicted a different segment of gay culture this time, and one that isn’t represented often enough. I could identify with them to a certain extent and I’ve been married for twenty-one years to the same person. And most of all, I didn’t cringe once. And I think what Lowder fails to recognize in his quest to review Looking is that there is a huge segment of gay men that have never been heard at all. The ones living in the closet who haven’t figured out a way to come out yet. And a show like Looking offers them hope that not all gays are the same, and that not all gay life is what they’ve seen on TV or in films of the past. I loved Queer as Folk, and to a certain extent could relate to it, but it did NOT in any way remotely resemble my life as a gay man; just my fantasy life as a gay man.
At the end of Lowder’s review he comes to this conclusion:
For if the campy Stanford Blatches of old were, on some level, products of a culture that needed to see gay men as clowns, Patrick and his Looking companions are the product of a culture that doesn’t really want to see them at all.
It’s interesting to read something like that, especially knowing how some gay men have always wondered why all they ever saw or read about in the mainstream were the campy Stanford Blatches. And as gay men we haven’t heard from yet gain more equality and louder voices and they become more integrated into the mainstream (Yes, there are gay Republicans.), I predict we’ll see the end of gay shows altogether and we’ll find gay characters being incorporated into all forms of entertainment, even in books. It’s already started, and if anything Looking could be considered a little behind in the times. And that by no means draws the conclusion that gay men are invisible. Far from it.
I would also bet Lowder knows nothing about the large audience of women who have come to love gay characters and gay fiction through TV shows and films like Queer as Folk and Brokeback Mountain. How could he? You don’t hear about it often anywhere. And in this case he’s not only dismissing a large segment of gay men, and understanding how gay men have been evolving, but he’s also dismissing all the straight women who find entertainment in any gay storyline, including those with campy characters.
I really do respect Mr. Lowder’s opinion. But I also think it’s time we start to hear from more gay men who haven’t had voices and can’t relate to Lowder’s personal reality of being gay. There seems to be this fear that we’re going to lose gay culture and I’m not so sure I feel as strongly about this as I should. There are reasons for this that go much deeper than I can get into in a post like this. I only hope Looking continues to entertain me the way it did last night, because right now that’s all I’m looking for, pardon that bad pun.
You can read Lowden’s full review here. So far most of the gay people I know have had mixed reactions to Looking. Some love it and some think it’s “not Queer as Folk ” but we’ll continue to watch.