In Search of a Gay Television Show Review – Looking (Season One)

HBO's Looking Movie Poster

So I just finished watching episode 5 of HBO’s new comedy-drama Looking. I’ve been meaning to write some form of a review about this TV show for a while now, but it was only after this fifth episode that I finally felt inspired to discuss it. Looking follows the love lives and careers of three gay friends, Patrick, Dom & Agustín, living in San Francisco, California. The show was created by Michael Lannan and has Andrew Haigh, the writer and director of Weekend (a movie I recently reviewed), attached to it as a main writer. The show fuses comedy with drama while trying to display a realistic depiction of what it is like to be a modern-day gay man.

When I first got wind that HBO was making a series about gay men I was immediately ecstatic. I am a huge lover of Sex and the City, which I watched on dvd after it had been off the air for a few years. I always felt that, since SATC was so wonderful, HBO had the ability to create an amazing and unparalleled gay themed series just like it. Finally my prayers had been answered and here was Looking. Even more exciting, the characters were in my age range so it should be easy to relate to them. A gay show for my generation! So exciting!

looking_main_characters

Photo compliments of Huffington Post

First Impressions: Does Length Matter?

I eagerly awaited the series premiere and on that wondrous night my expectations were pretty high. I was ‘schoolboy excited’ and way too smiley as I sat down to watch the pilot. Then as the credits rolled at the end of this first episode, I found myself waiting for the other shoe to drop. Was that it? I felt underwhelmed.

My initial thoughts were confounded. The episode seemed so short. It was like a tiny amuse-bouche before the actual meal. When were they serving the main course? The episode had zoomed by feeling like way less than 30 minutes. I felt cheated. I barely got a taste for the characters or a mood of the show.

Earlier I mentioned Sex and the City for a reason. Was I unfairly expecting Looking to be the gay version of SATC? Each SATC episode always felt very lengthy to me. They were all neatly organized by Carrie Bradshaw’s comforting narrative. Looking simply jumped from one character to another, with no background music to set a mood in any scene (unless if it was naturally playing at a location), and offered no synopsis or moral conclusion to sum up the episode. We are left with hardly any words at the end and then credits and music. It’s almost like, “WTF? It’s over already? I have no idea how I feel about what I just saw.” But if we really pay attention, Gentle Reader, perhaps not knowing how we feel at the end, and being forced to contemplate, is our real reward.

Regardless of my initially underwhelmed feelings, I always expected that I would watch every episode of this first season. But, by the end of episode three I found myself wondering, “Do I even like these characters?” Dom, played by Murray Bartlett, seemed boring and unrelatable to me. Agustín, portrayed by Frankie J. Alvarez, was rude, antagonizing, and constantly acted irritated with everyone else.  Even Patrick, our main character brought to life by the handsome Jonathan Groff, seemed too childish, too awkward, and a little too clueless. I began asking myself, “Do I care about where these characters’ story plots are heading?”

Patrick_Richie_date

Photo Compliments of NewNowNext.com

Episode 5: My Interest is Piqued

Then suddenly, along comes episode 5 titled “Looking for the Future”, and now I have officially climbed aboard the ‘Looking train’. Way back in episode 1 we are introduced to a love interest for Patrick named Richie. He disappeared after episode 2 and seemed to be out of the picture. But now he has thankfully resurfaced. Episode 5 focused solely on Patrick and Richie. This entire episode followed them around San Francisco as they spent a full day together simply talking and getting to know one another. The dialogue is comforting and relatable. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time on their date. It is important to note that this episode was written by Andrew Haigh (writer and director of the above mentioned Weekend) which explains why the dialogue is so realistic and natural.

I love the character of Richie, played by Raúl Castillo. First off, I find his demeanor, way of talking, and physicality very attractive. He is kind, thoughtful, compassionate and funny. He knows who he is and has a confidence about him. I’m so glad he is back in Patrick’s life. In my opinion, he makes Patrick more interesting. He helps to calm Patrick down a little. Richie is the kind of personality I need in my life. I wish I was dating him.  I hope their relationship grows and lasts.

Also, Episode 5 completely rectified the character of Patrick for me. In this episode I finally started to relate to him and I realized that, in many ways, I am Patrick. I too am afraid of silences when I’m on a date. I too push way too much with never ending questions when I’m nervously trying to get to know someone. I too suffer from some level of bottom shame, and I too get tested way too often for STDs even though I hardly ever have hookups.  I too sometimes use awkward joking and excessive rambling to cover up feeling nervous and insecure. And I also worry too much and am too scared of the future. So just like that, I’ve decided that I like Patrick and I’m interested in seeing where his journey heads.

group_bus

Photo compliments of broadwayworld.com

‘Looking’ Forward with Hope

I’m glad to be heading into season one’s final 3 episodes with an increased confidence in the series. In fact, I’m sad that there are only 3 episodes left. There is no word yet on whether HBO is renewing Looking for a second season. My schoolboy excitement is beginning to ignite again, and I really hope that HBO takes a chance on a this show for a second run.

If you have not yet watched Looking, I recommend it. Despite the show’s slow start, I think it holds a lot of truth within it’s stories and, if given enough time, I think we will all find more of ourselves within each of its characters. I expect Dom and Agustín to become more likable as I learn to understand them better. Looking’s creators say that the show should be relatable for non gay viewers as well because, first and foremost, it is a show about love.  And we all understand and enjoy watching shows about love and relationships, right? I can agree with that. But, I must say, I’m still really glad to finally have a show where I know the characters are gay and dealing with the same topics I am as I navigate this gay ocean that is my life.

I think the show has the promise to become something really special. There is a subtlety to it that makes it very honest. There are gentle moments of silence and sincere glances shared between characters, and these things are rare to find on the loud and attention deficit world of television today. I’m still learning who I am, and as I watch the show I get glimpses of who I want to be as a proud gay man. It is never a bad thing when a television show can help us realize more of who we want to be. Lord knows we can all use as much help as we can get. And maybe these new TV friends of ours can offer us support in our ‘looking’ for ourselves.

patrick_richie_kiss

Photo compliments of Huffington Post

Side Note: Episode 5 draws references to the movie The Goonies and the television show Friends. I appreciated these reflections as they were each a huge part of my growing up.
——————————————
For anyone interested in learning more about Looking, here are some relevant links…
Looking‘s IMDB Page
HBO & Looking‘s YouTube Page
Catching Up With Raúl Castillo, Looking‘s Richie
Jonathan Groff, Looking Star, Responds to Claims that the show is Boring

Advertisements

In Search of a Gay Film Review – Weekend (2011)

weekend-movie-poster

Here it is, Gentle Reader, my first movie review. As a lover of movies and analysis, please, I welcome your feedback. So without further ado, today I would like to discuss the 2011 film Weekend. Weekend is a film about two gay men who find each other through a one night stand, but are soon surprised by their instant connection and by what this connection helps them learn about themselves.

The film is written, edited and directed by Andrew Haigh, who I am sure is about to become a lot more famous for his directing and writing on HBO’s series Looking. (If you are interested, you can find my review of the series Looking here) Weekend stars Tom Cullen as Russell and Chris New as Glen, each superb in their role. Weekend had its world premiere in March 2011 and has since gone on to acquire much critical acclaim, including several award nominations and wins for the film’s director and actors.

If you have not yet seen this film, I strongly recommend it. Its performances are wonderful, the plot is heartfelt and the emotion is relatable. It should be warned that this review does contain some spoilers so beware. Below are my thoughts, for better or worse.

weekend tapesSetting the Scene:

We begin the film by watching Russell bathe, dress and attend a party at his straight friend Jamie’s house. While at the party Russell appears to be disconnect and lonely; distracted and wanting to be somewhere else. He makes an excuse to leave early, ends up at a gay club and eventually meets Glen.

Jump to the next morning, where instead of awkwardly and quickly parting ways, like the end of many gay one night stands, the two men do something rather unusual: they talk about their hookup. Glen, an artist, is working on a project where he tape records people talking about sex, life, etc. and he begins to tape Russell. This rare, morning after reflection on the time they spent together leads both characters down a road of self-reflection that neither saw coming.

Sit Back and Observe:

This film has very few edited cuts within scenes. We, the audience, watch the characters talk, eat, walk and lie in bed for lengthy, uninterrupted shots. These lengthy shots place us as silent observers sitting in Russell’s apartment or the bar simply watching them interact across this three-day affair. All of this creates a calm, real-time feel to their interactions filled with dialogue that feels more like improvisation than pre-written words (It has been noted by the director in interviews that much of the film ended up being improvised by the two leads). The film doesn’t even have background music for setting tones and moods. The only music we ever hear is situational, like at the club.  

russellRussell – The Quiet One:

Russell is more of a watcher than a talker. Mostly he seems lonely, set apart from the world around him and a little sad. His world is quiet, boring and mundane. At one point I found myself wondering, “Do I have as much silence in my life as Russell does?”.

I enjoyed the insecurities he displayed because they were relatable. I could find myself in his awkwardness and shyness, especially in relation to his budding sexuality. He is not necessarily closeted, but he is still ‘trying on’ being gay, like a new suit. He’s still stiff and afraid that he’s not wearing it right. Straight people mostly surround him, and we can feel him longing for a gay outlet.

glenGlen – Not So Quiet:

Glen is the opposite of Russell. He is spontaneous and loud; very outspoken and confident in his sexuality.  Gay people surround him in his daily life, and although his gay friends can annoy him, he seems mostly happy to have the gay company. Glen, like Russell, is searching for meaning and something better in life.  He wants to escape his current location and has plans to move to Oregon in two days. Glen wants to create a new version of himself so he will feel free and not get stuck in ‘old friend concrete’.

Repetition Leads to Change:

This film uses repetition, with slight variance, to display character arches.  Glen leaves Russell’s apartment three times in the film. Each time Russell stands at his window and watches Glen far below as he walks away. The first time Glen simply walks away. The second time Glen looks back as he walks, showing he is thinking about Russell. As Glen walks away the last time, he moves noticeably slower and at one point completely stops and turns around to look back at Russell’s window before he continues on. The variance is subtle but effective in conveying how the characters’ connection is growing.

One final act of repetition worth noting: At the beginning of the film Russell brings Glen coffee as he wakes up, then towards the end of the film, in an almost identically shot scene, Glen brings Russell coffee in bed. This may seem too slight, but it shows their time together has come full circle.

togetherGay in a Straight World:

Weekend opens an important discussion about what it is like to be a minority, homosexual man in a majority, heterosexual world. After their first night together, Glen and Russell hesitate and end up not hugging or kissing as they say goodbye in Russell’s hallway. A straight couple is hovering nearby and the two gays censor themselves because of this.

At several points in the film, Glen verbalizes his frustrations with gay censorship in a straight world. Below is one such expression…

Glen: “Gay people never talk about it ‘sex’ in public unless its just cheap innuendo. I think it’s cause they’re ashamed.”

Russell: “Maybe it’s just they’re a little bit embarrassed.”

Glen: “Isn’t that the same thing?”

This movie raises the question, “How much do straights repress gays and how much do we repress ourselves?”. Regardless, different people react differently in the face of repression. Glen responds by constantly yelling his gayness and individual rights at the world, trying to shock straight people with his voice. Conversely, Russell turns inward, becoming quiet and respectful, not wanting to make himself or straight people feel uncomfortable. At one point in the film, as Russell and Glen are walking around the city talking and flirting, I did find myself wishing they would hold hands.

My Favorite Moment:

After their second night together, Russell and Glen discuss the act of ‘coming out’ to parents. Russell keeps a journal dictating people’s coming out stories as told to him by various gay men he has come across. As an orphan Russell never came out to his biological parents, and Glen thinks that Russell collects other people’s ‘parent’ coming out stories since he does not have one of his own. In a moment that at first feels silly, Glen pretends to be Russell’s dad and Russell tells him he is gay. I was so moved by Glen’s reaction that I would rather show it to you than describe it.

Love Yourself First:

Perhaps this is Weekend’s real message. Russell and Glen seem perfect together, but neither seems completely ready to give themselves fully to someone else. Both characters need to learn to love and accept themselves more fully before they will ever be able to fully love and accept someone else. Love Yourself. A theme that keeps presenting itself in this blog, and I guess in life for anyone who is truly paying attention. Who knows, perhaps after a few years, Glen will return to Russell and they will finally be able to complete each other. We should all be so lucky.

weekend kiss

To learn more about Weekend please check out its page at IMDB or it’s spot at Wikipedia.