‘Looking’ – Where Normal is Refreshing

When HBO’s new series Looking premiered, the majority of the reactions I read to the pilot – whether positive or negative – came back to the fact that the characters were all pretty normal. Well, “normal” was used in the more positive reviews. “Boring” was the most frequent negative version of the term I read.

I can understand where both sides come from on this series. Looking may air on HBO, but this isn’t an update on Queer as Folk. While sex is an important component on the show, as evidenced by the opening cruising scene, threesomes, joint bachelor parties, etc., sex is treated in a way that’s more intimate than titillating.

While others may (okay, will) disagree, I think it’s refreshing to have gay men and relationships treated as normal on a consistent basis. We’ve gone through years of stereotypes in how gays are portrayed on television: frequently flamboyant, typically fashion-forward, and either single-mindedly focused on sex or completely neutered. And while there’s been growth in recent years – Happy Endings’ Max comes to mind – there are still plenty of gay characters I can’t stand watching on a regular basis. Case in point: while I applaud Modern Family’s inclusion of a gay couple, it frustrates me that Mitchell and Cam are frequently the couple most likely to be openly nasty toward each other, and the least likely to be romantic.

Which brings me back to Looking. Maybe having a show where all of the leads, and the majority of the characters overall, are gay helps, but the show picks up on things that are unique to our community, like the aforementioned openness of sexual behavior, and uses them as parts of life in a matter-of-fact way. Simple, done, the end. If you watch Looking and find it boring, that’s fine. But for me, seeing parts of culture I can recognize in some way is comforting.

Now, do I think there’s room for a more diverse representation of the broader LGBT community on television? Of course. If anything, I welcome seeing different types of characters on television, since it helps break down this false idea that we are all just one type of person. As our community becomes more accepted by the larger society, some members are concerned we’ll begin to lose our gay identity. It’s a valid concern, and one we should watch carefully.

Still, I don’t think that’s an issue when it comes to Looking. If anything, Looking is more representative of parts of our community – for better and worse – than a lot of television shows in the past. That doesn’t make Looking a perfect show, by the way. But it does make looking normal a refreshing quality.

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