LOOKING . . . For a Bi Man in San Francisco: A review

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HBO’s new series Looking, set in San Francisco, centers around the life of four gay friends: Patrick, a video game designer; his best friend Agustin, a struggling artist, and Agustin’s boyfriend, Frank, a musician; and Dom, a waiter with dreams of opening his own restaurant. The series premiered on January 19 to mixed reviews comparing it, unfairly, to everything from Queer As Folk to Sex and the City to Girls. Tony nominee and openly gay actor Jonathan Groff, as Patrick, leads a talented cast of men and the token female – and comic relief – Lauren Weedman.

Looking is co-created by Andrew Haigh, director of the extraordinary film Weekend in which he trademarked and perfected the two-person scene. Looking pulses to life when one character confronts another on a deeply emotional level. It gives actors a chance to uncover layers and subtext to make their characters believable although not necessarily likeable. Everyone, including Scott Bakula in an excellent cameo, is good in this show.

Looking’s second asset is the insightful writing (Michael Lannan leading a team of writers with impressive film, television, and theater credits). Each episode reveals a bit more about these idiosyncratic and insecure characters. While the spotlight is on their hopes and desires, the show also makes clever digs at San Francisco life – like the constant search for a good ethnic food restaurant, lavish parties for employees of the high tech industry, or the exodus of artists from the overcrowded and overpriced city to the affordable oasis across the bay: Oakland.

Particularly refreshing, although not original in concept, is episode 5 that follows Patrick on his day-long date with Richie (the charming Raul Castillo). The writing is sharp and acutely in tune with the cadence of gay men’s verbal and non-verbal language. Noticeably, the show features multiracial characters and in just eight short episodes has already touched on ageism and classism with unapologetic frankness.

What Looking is definitely not about is the L, B and T of our community. There isn’t even a drag queen in sight. And this is supposed to be San Francisco! Among all the men running around on this show there is not a single bisexual man. Maybe that’s a good thing. Do we really want a male version of the disastrous Alice Pieszecki (The L Word) or the shrill drunk Karen Walker (Will & Grace)? On the other hand, it begs the question, “What do queer themed television shows have against bisexual characters?” From Greys Anatomy to House and The Good Wife, some mainstream shows have accommodated bisexual storylines.

So, why the absence of a bisexual character from a queer show based in San Francisco? Are we back to that old myth that bisexuals don’t exist? That the legacy of bay area bi activists David Lourea, Bill Mack, Alan Rockway, Lani Ka’ahumanu, Maggi Rubenstein, Arlene Krantz, and many others is just urban legend? That the LGBT pride movement rose on the backs of transgender people or bisexual leaders like Brenda Howard and Stephen Donaldson is made up? That the Bay Area Bisexual Network, which just celebrated its twenty-fith anniversay, is a secret society? Is there only the hegemony of gay men and their infinitesimally narcissistic issues now glorified in Looking?

Remember, in your biology class in high school, looking at blood through a microscope to identify cells and platelets? That is the show Looking. It is just a drop and does not, by any stretch of the imagination, represent the lifeblood of our entire community. Still, it would benefit from an infusion of the B cell. How about Maulik Pancholy as a bisexual Indian software engineer struggling with biphobia from the gay male and the South Asian queer community? Now that would be real in this fictional set-up, in the fictional San Francisco of Looking and only fitting for a show whose tagline, ironically, is “Find something real”!

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About Author

Anil Vora

Anil Vora is based in Seattle, Washington and is a regular contributor to Bi Magazine. As a result of his series of articles about bisexuality in India, written exclusively for Bi Magazine, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs included bisexual content in their development of a global charter on LGBT rights. He has been a queer activist for more than three decades starting with HIV prevention, treatment, and advocacy issues and is now focusing on the health and wellness of LGBTQ elders.

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