"Looking" just wants to exist

You may know that I'm a huge fan of Girls, so much so that I wrote 85 pages on it. So when HBO slotted Looking into the Sunday night spot after Girls, I enthusiastically started comparing the two: "Looking is the gay Girls!" "Replace New York with San Francisco and Lena Dunham with Jonathan Groff, and it's the same series!"

Patrick and Richie have a pretty awesome date. 

But despite similar premises (a group of friends trying to make it work in love, career, and play), Looking and Girls are actually quite different. If Girls wants to alienate, Looking just wants to exist. After five compelling episodes, Looking has constructed a narrative for its protagonists (Dom, Patrick and Augustin) that feels decidedly OK--not alienating, problematic, or harsh in the way that Girls treats its characters with (empathetic) disdain. The boys have jobs that are just fine, relationships that are maybe a little lackluster, and designs for their futures that they may or may not execute--and therein lies the dramatic tension. Queer as Folk, the most similar series about a group of gay men, featured a hostile, homophobic outside world that the characters were constantly struggling against. That series went off the air ten years ago--and now, in Looking, the fact that there's not much homophobia or discrimination in the characters' world signals just how much has changed. Now, Patrick, Dom, and Augustin are just free to exist and figure themselves out. This banalizing force is refreshing because it means not only that queer lives are no longer problematic on screen, but also that the true character work to be done in the narrative will be internally, and not societally, motivated. For example, last's night's message-in-a-bottle episode spent a day with Patrick and his new boyfriend Richie on their first real date. The tone is meandering and explorative as the connection builds and subtle character differences arise. Tough topics are broached, like dating someone who's positive or coming out to family, but the real tension is in how, and to what ends, Patrick and Richie reveal themselves to one another. In Girls, those revelations usually lead to emotional explosions, but in Looking, they just happen.

I think this ease of story feels so different now because we are still in the age of the televisual male antihero: Walter White, Hank Moody, Don Draper, and newcomer Rust Cohle from True Detective, to name a few. These characters rage against their lot, both stunted and propelled by their deep character flaws and philosophical positions. It's the me-against-everything-else-including-myself pattern, but in Looking, perhaps it's more the me-with-everything-else story. And frankly, I'd much rather watch Patrick try to understand why his longest relationship is five months than see Walter White stagger into the monstrosities of his own making; the former just feels more authentic, somehow. Maybe it's because we all just want to exist?

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