By Christopher Glazek
At left: Murray Bartlett
The first time I saw Weekend, in the fall of 2011, I recoiled from its indie sensibility. This was not an art film, I huffed to friends, but artisanal cinema — an orthodox translation of a sentimental format to a dismal gay context. The film was contemporary without being cutting-edge, slavishly beholden to a boring, now superseded ethic of authenticity, which made it a perfect sell for global Brooklyn’s “artisanal everything” hipster apocalypse. I didn’t see what the Chris New character — attractive, funny, articulate — saw in his larger, lumbering screenmate, played by Tom Cullen. At the time, I had recently moved to Chinatown from Fort Greene, where my artist friends and I used to make fun of the gay “beardos,” Brooklyn professionals who had adopted Vice fashions without ever embracing a Vice lifestyle. Didn’t these mumblers know that indie was over? That it was time to wear cheeky athletic wear, get high on ketamine, and watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills? There was, of course, a bitter edge to my denunciations. Happy people don’t make fun of beardos.
When I recently watched Weekend again, I found it much more affecting. Was it because I was two years older and almost out of my 20s? Was it because I had moved to Los Angeles, where people aren’t interested in anger and elitism the way they are in New York? Had I developed a more generous propensity for love?
Watching the first minutes of Looking triggered all of my nervous defenses. The characters were boring, it seemed to me. They were terribly dressed (costumes were procured from vintage shops on the Lower Haight, Alvarez told me, which looked about right). They were recognizable as the type of earnest gays I would see out at bars singing along to bad music, the sort that aspire to domestic triviality and read as “straight-acting” not because they are macho but because they are so sensitive. Once I let my guard down, though, I warmed to the characters and became invested in what Haigh and his cast members each described as their “journeys.” “I’m not interested in angry, bad people,” Haigh says. “I like stories about nice people. They get left out sometimes.”
Looking is a show that will be watched religiously by millions of gay and straight people around the world. Many of them will like and look forward to it. Others will dread it but watch anyway. “It’s always hard when you make a show about gay people because you just cannot — no matter how hard you try — represent every gay person in the world,” Haigh says. “Because there’s so little out there, everyone wants it to reflect their own experiences. All you can do is focus on a set of characters and who they are.”
The way you feel about Looking may well line up with how you feel about life in general. Do you like most people? Do you appreciate the everyday? You can be a perfect misanthrope and still love Sex and the City. Looking, like life, is more demanding, but even snobby viewers will likely rise to the challenge. After all, if you can’t bring yourself to like a show starring Jonathan Groff, your quest may never end.