There hasn’t been a successful television show about the lives of gay men since Queer As Folk—not to mention gay men of color. Any color. Well we had Noah’s Arc, which, real talk, was a hot ass mess, but it was still a show you could enjoy with your friends while having some wine and popcorn. And, okay, we have RuPaul’s Drag Everything and Project Runway and really every single show on Bravo, and there was the A-List and the inimitable 1 Girl 5 Gays on MTV Canada. But I’m not talking about a reality show with a bunch of gay dudes on it. I mean a scripted series about the lives of gay men in 2014. Could it be that gay men have become so normalized, so mainstream that we don’t even need a show anymore? Have everyone’s questions about gay male life been completely answered? Do gay guys even want to see their lives on television?
HBO’s new series Looking has a lot of shoes to fill. It’s got to speak to all the gays who are thirsty to finally have a show about their lives, because even when Queer As Folk was on it wasn’t really my life, so the show was more aspirational than anything. It’s got to appeal to the old gays who have seen it all and done it all, everywhere. And you’ve got to appeal to the younger gays, not to mention people of different racial backgrounds, class statuses and life perspectives. And you’ve got to do it in a way that gets viewers thinking: LOLomg this show is literally my exact life!
But no show can be everything to everyone. Or can it? Someone’s going to find a detail to complain about, and that will be the entire basis for their hatred of the show. A friend of mine asked me if I’d seen Looking and like duh. He told me he didn’t like the show because it was too gay. Wait, what? The whole point of Looking is that it’s supposed to be a show about gay dudes that isn’t coated in stereotypes or sassy slang or shopping or catchphrases, like Modern Family for instance. I asked my friend to clarify.
“Yeah man. The show starts with them having sex in the park and then there’s the gay three way and it’s just all so gay,” he said.
So it’s too gay because of the sex? The irony, of course, is that we have millions of hours of heterosexuality thrown in our faces throughout our lives. Somewhere in the world right now somebody is watching a television show or a movie where a straight couple is having sex as part of the story. But when that same human thirst for sex happens to be gay sex, well, then it’s gay. Then it’s pornography. Then it needs to have a different ratings system.
I don’t want to hit too hard on Looking because the show is just getting started. But if I were a director, if I were at HBO or Showtime and given a free pass to create a gay show, here’s what I’d do:
- It would be set in a big city, not New York, since New York is over because a lot of gay men want to live in the city as a way to own their gayness. Maybe Portland? Toronto? Chicago? San Francisco is actually fine, too.
- The romantic main character of the show, the Carrie Bradshaw or the Hannah Horvath, would be a black or Latino or Asian gay male tech type person, because I like the idea of having an underrepresented career like a gaymer or gay software developer. Just please not a white guy. I am getting sick of shows fronted by a force field of white gay men.
- The other three main characters would be: a white guy, maybe a graduate student, and another male of color in a position of power. Maybe a literary agent. A book editor? Something interesting that could lead to funny situations.
- The fourth character would be a diva. A fashion stylist? Now this diva could be a gay dude or a female. I don't care what show you're watching, an ensemble of friends has got to have a diva. The diva adds the comic relief. Divas have sass and funny quips and funny stuff happens to them and you immediately like her or him or you hate-like her or him. No matter what, the diva is in charge.
- The characters would be from various age groups because age is a real thing, hello!
- My show would explore gay relationships and friendships, particularly making friends in a brand new city and navigating that city. My show follows each of the four characters and their story lines individually until they finally all meet up and have something in common that brings this unlikely group of friends together, shifting the show from being about four individual people to a group of four friends.
- There would be lots of sex, just like there is on every other show we watch. It doesn't have to be pornographic to be real.
- It would look great, the way Looking does.
- It would be hilarious, but not intentionally so. A hilarious dramedy.
- And finally, it would explore the complexities of being a gay person in 2014. The anxieties, the problems, the ups and the downs. The scary slip-ups and break downs. Gay relationships with other gay people, with our families, with our friends. Knowing, of course, that gay people don't just do gay stuff. We have to live out in the straight world, too. And isn't every show about learning how to live life?
I’m pretty sure I’ve left some stuff out, and like I said, no gay show can be everything to all. But to me, the best gay show is a show that’s brilliantly written, armed with a diverse main cast, and unafraid to tackle difficult issues, bringing that sense of realness from the street to the screen.