HBO’s “Looking” will not get a third season and rightly so. If ratings, which were consistently low, were the only factor, one could argue the show was canceled too soon, but the problem with the show begins and ends with the main character, Patrick.
Patrick serves as an entry point to a diverse world for white audiences, similar to Piper’s role in “Orange is the New Black.” Patrick is a white, believably attractive, upper-middle class 29-year-old living in San Francisco. The first time we see him, he’s cruising in a park and giggling like a child who found a Playboy. In fact, the first thing any character says to Patrick is “Stop talking,” which might as well have been my mantra while watching the series. Through Patrick, non-gay viewers experience all the awkward moments of growing up and coming out.
Despite having been out and living with a close circle of openly gay friends for a long time, everything is new for him. His boyfriend wants to top? He has bottom shame because of what his mother would think. A character is taking PrEP? Patrick calls him a Truvada whore. His friends invite him to Folsom? He’s embarrassed to be wearing a leather vest.
This could have worked as a character either significantly younger or newly out, but it’s simply not believable for someone so entrenched in the gay community to be so new to it all. Unlike Shoshanna from “Girls,” Patrick didn’t have the excuse of youth, but even she grew up. The creators of the show didn’t even have the decency to make Patrick a side character.
In season one, Patrick can’t see a future with Richie because Richie is Mexican. He instead sees himself with his boss Kevin (a Brit), though Kevin has a boyfriend. Patrick blames his mother for this, which makes absolutely no sense. Later, after leaving Richie, having an affair with and ultimately moving in with Kevin, he realizes Kevin may not always be faithful, as if Kevin wouldn’t cheat again down the road. Was this shocking to anyone but Patrick?
Sure, it’s true that hot messes often make for good TV — maturity and contentment rarely make for compelling drama — but “Looking” never managed to give its audience a reason to care about its lead character.
Another groan-inducing moment was the Halloween party episode because, as he would repeat several times, Patrick wanted to be a “fun gay.” Sorry, Patrick, but somebody has to be the Ross of the group, and it’s you. What’s the least fun thing a host can do? Try to force the fun. He insists on singing karaoke, though nobody is interested. His costume, as he explained several times, was “Gordon Freeman, the most popular video game character of all time!” He gives a drunken speech that embarrasses his friends and exes almost as much as it embarrasses himself. He even tried to make himself the center of attention in the next episode when he invited himself to Doris’s father’s funeral and, in a surprise to exactly nobody, made a fool of himself.
How are people still friends with this guy?
Ironically, said funeral episode was titled “Looking for a Plot,” which is what I’ve been doing with this show since episode one.
“Looking” fans describe the show as “realistic,” but equality means canceling a bad show because it’s bad, not keeping a bad show on the air because it’s gay. Patrick is a forced protagonist. Interesting things keep happening to him, but he is remarkably unremarkable. The show shoved aside any decent conflicts or topics and instead focused on a wholly uninteresting lead character while rich side characters struggled for screen time.
“Looking” will wrap up with a TV special that will hopefully be titled “Looking for a Doris Spinoff.”