Not shockingly, the cast of HBO's Looking was informed yesterday that the cable network would not be renewing the show for a third season, and this morning HBO confirmed the news in a statement. "After two years of following Patrick and his tight-knit group of friends as they explored San Francisco in search of love and lasting relationships, HBO will present the final chapter of their journey as a special," they announced. "We look forward to sharing this adventure with the show's loyal fans."
Towleroad also caught the news via SF-based writer Kevin Sessums on Facebook last night, who said Jonathan Groff emailed him the news. He writes, "This makes me sad but life and television series are about moving on at some point."
It had remained an open question whether HBO would hold on to the series for its art-house-style gay caché, despite only drawing in a few hundred thousand viewers each week and it did manage to gain viewers as the second season went on. (Looking topped out around 325,000 viewers a week, while Girls, whose ratings also flagged this past season, drew in around 700,000 on its better weeks.) But many critics as well as my friends echoed the same sentiment repeatedly during both seasons: It was kind of boring. This criticism got louder particularly after the Looking writing team showed that they had no intentions of speeding things up after hearing that criticism in the first season. And while the last several episodes of the second season, especially Sunday's dramatic finale, tried to make up for this, it may have been too little too late and numbers-wise the show was never able to capture an audience outside the urban gay niche that could most relate to it.
Some have argued that Looking's greatest strengths the ordinariness of its plot lines, the humble relatability of its characters were ultimately its undoing. In fulfilling an implicit promise to the LGBT community to make a gay show that wasn't just about sex and didn't aim for cheap laughs, the writers handicapped themselves and avoided writing scripts that had the audacious oddity of the best of Girls Patrick's neuroses were mostly humdrum and annoying, for instance, and lacked that endearing, specific mania of Shoshana's, and don't even get me started on Augustin. They also failed, with only a few exceptions, to imbue the show with the kind of intimate, wholly believable, unique moments of dialogue that a show like Transparent has the exceptions being the Patrick-Richie date episode from Season 1, this season's Doris episode, and the finale.
As Daniel Wenger writes in the New Yorker this week, "That televised gay angst should have anything to do with committed relationships is a victory for the mainstream gay-rights movement." He harkens back to the first gay kiss televised on Roseanne (with Mariel Hemingway) in 1994, and the various criticisms leveled against subsequent gay series like Will & Grace (not sexy enough), Queer as Folk (too much sex), The L Word (too lipstick, too much sex), and suggests that the critics' call for less sex and fewer stereotypes was finally realized in Looking, despite there being a fair amount of (vanilla) sex.
Despite its novelty for many gay people, “ordinariness” has long been invoked in efforts to sell gay rights to America. The two couples at the center of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the successful challenge to California’s 2008 gay-marriage ban, were presented by their attorneys as exemplars of what Alexander Borinsky, writing in n+1 in 2011, called the “new gay”: “hardworking, wholesome, and unambiguously gendered; adorably installed in a long-term relationship; too busy volunteering at church and attending children’s soccer games to have time for deviant behavior.” For decades, gay advocates have been making the same case on television, and Patrick is the latest result.
I don't know, though, that the show's creators and writing staff had to choose between the shallowness of Queer as Folk and the indie-cinema naturalism of director and writer Andrew Haigh's Weekend, which creator Michael Lannan cited as one of his inspirations. As Transparent has proven, you can tell a novelistic, realistic, multi-character story in half-hour increments and still keep it funny, and warm, and briskly paced. My main criticisms remained the same through both seasons of Looking: the writing seemed to have no urgency despite its half-hour time constraints, and likewise the characters' needs and problems were ordinary to the point of impertinence. Sure, it was not hard to like most of these people especially Doris and Dom, whose relationship deepened the most this past season but it was harder to feel like you were gunning for them, or that they had anything very important to gun for.
Patrick is a sympathetic protagonist for every educated, white, urban gay male in his twenties who's still figuring out the ins and outs of dating, but he always seemed way too absurdly naive for someone who went to Berkeley and had lived in the Bay Area for over a decade already. Ultimately we wanted to see him fail more spectacularly (like he almost did with his Halloween meltdown), or to see a character whose love life was more absurdly comedic the way so many of our love lives can be at his age, rather than watch the emotional journey from A to B that Patrick takes as he chooses between someone who's affectionate and available who he likes a lot, and someone who's more dangerous and unavailable who he has great sex with.
But, we will get a conclusion of some kind, perhaps in the form of a two-hour movie late this year or early next, which Haigh and co. will be able to pace with the same sort of patience and ponderousness with which they paced most of their 18 episodes. And we'll all look back on the show in years to come as a charming and prettily shot artifact of what Wenger calls "a moment when, in the most tolerant regions of the American imagination, the bathhouse has been razed and the single-family home has been built in its place."
I'll just throw it out there that HBO should actually consider a 1970s period comedy about a bathhouse. That would really kill in the ratings.
Update: There's already a petition to get HBO to do another season. It had a modest goal of 1000 signatures, and it's already reached it.