HBO confirmed Wednesday morning that it had canceled Looking, Michael Lannan’s dramedy series about three gay men searching for purpose and love in San Francisco. This news did not come as a surprise: the show had dismal ratings, even for premium cable, and there were ominous whispers long before the official announcement. Yet seeing this tweet from executive producer Andrew Haigh still sent a surge of despair and frustration through me:
I’m not alone. After a promising but somewhat forgettable freshman season, Looking emerged as a legitimate triumph this year, presenting ten confident, all-around sublime episodes that culminated in Sunday’s gut-punch of a finale. With the threat of cancellation looming, critics started to rally around the show, which had been more or less nonexistent in the cultural conversation aside from a smattering of controversy and contention that accompanied its debut; I’m pretty sure I’ve seen more people talk about it this week than I saw all last year. Needless to say, it was too little, too late.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m hardly guilt-free in this regard; to be honest, I barely thought about, let alone talked about, Looking at all between the end of season one and the beginning of season two. It wasn’t until sometime around the middle of season two that I realized I didn’t just enjoy the show in the fleeting way I enjoy most comedies – I genuinely loved it. I spent a good deal of each week looking forward to the next episode. It may not have been the best show on TV, and it certainly wasn’t the most influential, but its absence leaves me feeling strangely empty. I guess like so many of life’s greatest joys, I didn’t really appreciate it until it was gone.
Here are just a few of the reasons Looking made the TV world a better place:
It was about gay people. Crude, but true nonetheless. Even in our era of “too much of a good thing”, this is a rare phenomenon. Plenty of shows have LGBTQ characters, but few are about LGBTQ characters; even Transparent is as much about Maura’s mostly straight, cisgender children as it is about her. As AVClub’s Brandon Nowalk points out, Looking was the only current American TV show centered exclusively on the gay community, presenting them as a majority rather than a minority, insiders rather than outsiders. Although it stirred understandable discontent among some LGBTQ individuals due to its narrow focus on cisgender, predominantly white men and its normalization of homosexuality, the fact is that one show can’t be expected to represent all queer people and was never intended to. Also, the charges of homonormativity elide the nuanced, rigorous ways in which Looking examined self-acceptance, privilege, HIV and marriage as an institution, among other relevant issues; just this week, it featured a startlingly pointed conversation that challenged the legitimacy of monogamy. In a big sense, Looking was a show expressly concerned with the anxieties of progress and assimilation, subversive in its own right.