Why HBO Should Look For Any Reason to Keep 'Looking'

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Saturday March 14, 2015

As the second season of HBO's gay dramedy "Looking" wraps up and heads towards its anticipated finale, online chatter that the cable network may not pick up the program for a third season has started up.

For a lot of networks, it comes to the bottom line: It doesn't appear that many people are tuned into "Looking" on HBO's Sunday night comedy block, which is anchored by "Girls" and includes the new mumblecore series "Togetherness." In terms of ratings, most of the episodes in Season 2 of "Looking" brought in a lousy 200,000 viewers. Its lowest point this season was episode five, "Looking For Truth." But since hitting that plateau, ratings have been increasing, with the latest episode, "Looking For Glory," earning over 300,000 viewers.

Still, if HBO is strictly looking at audience, then this doesn't bode well. Despite being one of the best shows on HBO, and of all TV at the moment, the fate of "Looking" remains unknown. You couldn't really blame TV execs for pulling the plug on "Looking" but it would be a tragic call, nevertheless.

Co-produced and mostly directed by Andrew Haigh, "Looking" has an unmistakable point of view, look and feel. A few years before he was involved with the show, Haigh gained critical acclaim for his touching, small (but very powerful) film "Weekend." The tone and micro-examination of gay life in "Weekend" is continued on "Looking," but rather than centering around two gay men forming a new relationship in the United Kingdom, Haigh, along with creator Michael Lannan and show runners David Marshall Grant and Sarah Condon, focus on three gay friends who live in one of the LGBT Meccas in the U.S.: San Francisco.

Haigh's subtle style makes "Looking" something special, and as a show runner he brings the program to life. "Looking For Gordon Freeman," a Halloween episode where the show's lead Patrick (Jonathan Groff) has a public meltdown, is one of the best-directed episodes in the series, as was the first episode this season, "Looking For the Promised Land," where Patrick and his besties, Dom (Murray Barlett) and Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez), go out to the country for a relaxing weekend but end up at a wild party in the woods.

While each episode is slickly filmed, shot with what feels like an Instagram filter that only Haigh has, "Looking" goes further than just aesthetics. The topics explored are complex and hit home for most gay men. Finding love, dating, sex, HIV, hookup culture, open relationships and race are just some of the things the "Looking" writers tackle on the 30-minute episodes. And that's why "Looking" is so important; it has a voice and a direct for the LGBT community.

Like "Girls," the first season of "Looking" was criticized for not being diverse enough, only appealing to a small subset of gay (white) men. But Season Two has attempted to show different facets of gay people by including more characters who represent different walks of life of LGBT people. That show hasn't gotten totally there yet, but unlike other critically acclaimed LGBT shows, like "Orange is the New Black" or "Transparent," there is no gimmick. "Looking" doesn't take place in a upstate New York prison and isn't about family issues - it's modern day life of (many) gay men - and that's not represented on TV at all.

Though there are a lot of parallels to "Queer As Folk," "Looking" goes much deeper than the seminal Showtime program and explores the complexities of the relationships gay men have with each other, their families and people outside the community. "Looking" has moved on from the issues "Queer As Folk" would have explored. The characters are a spot-on depiction of gay men today: They've moved beyond the trite coming-out phase and live in a world where they're (mostly) accepted.

"Looking" transcends the boundaries of sexuality so viewers who are not gay are able to connect with the show; its focus is character development and not trying to teach straight people about The Gay Experience. Gay people are just like you - they fuck up, they cheat, they care, they love, they're good, they're bad.

Last year it wasn't until near the end of the show's freshman year that HBO announced it was renewing "Looking" for a second season. It's getting close to that time for Season 2, but HBO officials have been tight-lipped. It's not surprising "Looking" got the OK for a second season, as HBO almost always renews shows for a sophomore follow up, but things are more foggy for a third installment.

It would be a shame for HBO to pass on "Looking," as it has developed and cultivated a growing fan base. It would also be a hard pill to swallow because of how this season ends. I've had the privilege to watch screeners of the entire season, and without giving too much away, Season Two ends with a few of the story lines still up in the air.

In a worse case scenario there is hope for a "Looking" movie. HBO did that for the short-lived "Hello Ladies," and execs would probably have to do the same for "Looking" or face the wrath of hundreds of gay men on social media. But let's hope it won't have to come to that. Sure, it's very unlikely that "Looking" will be nominated, let alone win, any Emmys; but it's an important show, and HBO is smart enough to know what it's got on its hands.

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