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Like ‘Girls’, the nudity and sex in the HBO show ‘Looking’ ( a series that follows the lives of 3 gay male friends in San Francisco)  is the thing I find the least shocking about both shows. It’s the satirical tone that fucks with me. Hannah, to me, is as unsettling as a protagonist as Tony Soprano, an entitled monster who remained an entitled monster till the last, defying not only several seasons of onscreen therapy, but also duping an audience accustomed to the soothing arc of redemption. While it’s debatable as to whether Hannah is any kind of villain besides being everything that’s wrong with first world privilege, her genuine moments of empathy or moral propriety may seem as though they light up a path, but I suspect they are just that – ephemeral firefly moments rather than milestones.

Whereas the terminally nice boys of ‘Looking’ are most definitely on ‘paths’ and ‘journeys’ ( guided through the trees by benevolent Midsummer Night drag queens and glow-sticks ) . The insidious agenda of this show is to tell us that gay men are flawed but essentially good people making their way through lives that are just as boring as heterosexuals’ are.  I did watch several episodes wanting to believe that this show was an excruciatingly restrained satire, lampooning the same sorts of white liberal privilege daddy issues as Girls, but unfortunately, apart from all of the gluttonous sex, I’m 95% sure that this is a slow-cooked homage to first world problems. The lo-fi naturalism of the glacial plot and the thoroughly watchable chemistry between the actors obscures what is essentially one of the most low stakes soap-operas to walk the earth. What with the kind of quippy dialogue that makes the characters indistinguishable from one another, apart from the odd backstory appropriate popular culture reference , without the talk of anal fisting or the simulated fellatio with strangers, this could be the Gilmore Girls, recast by HBO for the 21st century.

The nudity in Girls might be the nicest thing that the show might have ever done for women, the sex, not so much. While it was wild at first, the honeymoon period was soon over and now when I think about women having sex on Girls I see a rutting, faceless Adam Driver and the mournful eyes of Lena Dunham fixed on an invisible dust mote floating a few degrees off the fourth wall. I do know that the whole point of Girls is that this universe is the ‘anti-Friends’ and any whiff of  the aspirational is promptly neutralised by failure, however the sex in ‘Looking’ reminds me that, even in a show like Girls which has third wave agenda, I rarely see het couples on TV who are having having genuinely mutual, good sex with any frequency whatsoever. Lena Dunham’s nudity might be revolutionary because it’s about a woman who has no clothes on, rather than sustaining the interest or the erections of the male demographic between 18 and 49, but the prosaic nature of so many of the sex scenes is nothing new at all. On TV and in films, if heterosexual sex is genuinely enjoyable for both partners, it either foreshadows imminent loss, or is just a device to let us know that the protagonist is haunted by existential dread.

OZMG I’m gonna die alonez!

Sex is just nasty biology guys, lets get back to the bromance.

Come to think of it maybe that’s why the domestic short-hairs of Looking are having such a great time in bed – bromance plus sex!

Speaking for my people, I’m not pessimistic about the representation of women or where we are at with heterosexual sex on screen. In fact, there have been several implied oral sex scenes over the past few years that tell me that the female gaze is on the vision board in the writers room of most of the major networks. In fact The TV show Outlander included an entire episode ( The Wedding ) devoted to indulging the kind of romantic and erotic female fantasy that might be commonplace in the most pedestrian romantic fiction, but utterly unprecedented on screen. Even if 50 Shades of Grey is an alarmingly neutered sex movie, which seems to be mostly about doing admin and dating a 12yo girl’s idea of whatever it is that successful men are like ( or even what it is that men are like… ), even as a crude prototype, it’s still a win, because it’s a mainstream film about a woman’s sexual adventure.

And in it’s way, 50 Shades of Grey is probably a far more cruel satire about female masochism than any Girls bit about getting choked out during sex might be. Not every woman who watches the Girls might find Adam’s feral sexuality “a female wank fantasy’ as one astute male friend put it, but they’re probably susceptible to the thinly disguised romantic tropes that make Adam the hero of almost every scene he’s in. Whereas Christian Grey is so entirely composed of romantic tropes, it’s as if he doesn’t exist at all. Which, I suppose, technically makes him the perfect wank fantasy, if you want to get all Lacanian or whatnot about it.

As well as thinking most things could be improved by zombies – House of Cards ( you know it makes sense )  – I like to watch movies as if it was 20 years ago and I’m watching science fiction, which doesn’t turn 50 Shades into anything sexier, but it makes it easier for me to understand Christian Grey as a cyborg in an Ancestor Simulation, because in the future men and women will be so segregated from one another that … oh, never mind.

I’m just glad I got this far without using the word problematic…

ABC

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This kid Josh Thomas – who some Australians are sneery about for reasons that I can only imagine are about being precocious, or a capitalist – was only 20 when he wrote the first series of Please Like Me and I know that fact that is not an enticement to watch this show, what with it’s terrible title and share house quirk aesthetic and episode titles named for food, it’s a miracle that I ever watched a single episode.

As well as being totes cool about porn, I’ve come round to romantic comedy of late and PLM may as well be described as a coming-of-age rom com centred around Josh – writer /protagonist- who we meet in season 1 just as he agrees that maybe he should split up with his girlfriend because he’s gay. His girlfriend Claire is philosophical about it and they remain friends, just like in actual real life.

Diversity is never a gag or a set up here and it always looks like an ordinary (albiet entitled, white middle-class) life, even when the characters are all thoroughly eccentric. There’s a whole bunch of dominant paradigm subversion going on, but the characters are never maudlin about it in the way that the disappointingly dull housecats of Looking can be. Which is not to say that this just another show about modern manners cut from the’Friends’ template, because things get surprisingly dark and far more grown-up as both seasons progress, revealing Josh’s Spongebob cheerfulness to be just as much of a coping mechanism as a naturally sweet disposition.

Josh’s BFF Tom, is the only note that doesn’t quite play for me. The trope of the  loser bro who fucks with women who are way out of his league isn’t necessarily more offensive than just being a cliche, but in a show with a big heart and a cast of very endearing characters, there’s not a lot to like. Unless I’m missing some deeper commentary, he’s just a standard demographic avatar to get gross penis bros to watch a show about a skinny gay boy . The rest of the cast are stellar however, particularly the parents. Former Home and Away actress Debra Lawrance as Josh’s bipolar mother has done most of the dramatic heavy lifting as well as being a fine comedian. David Roberts’ ( Matrix Reloaded ) and Renee Lim (who happens to be a practicing physician who also acts ) as his bewildered dad and straight-talking step-mother are a spin-off show that I would watch for sure.

I’m not going to pull a quote because I’ve deleted the file, but there’s a really nice opening scene where Josh is on a date with a hippy dude who tells him he’s just had a Reiki massage. Josh proceeds to serve him for believing in snake oil and he’s clever and funny and well-informed and of course I agree with every word.  Hippy dude just says, “Hey, I’m sorry, but I’m going to go. I’m just looking for someone really kind and gentle to be with and I don’t think this is going to work,” and leaves, just as a huge order of vegan food is placed on their table.

 

 

 

HBO Season 1 – 2005, Season 2 – 2014

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Now I don’t want to speculate as to why this HBO show has not done as well as other HBOs, but I’m just going to mention that I do not want any part of this revisionist conspiracy to replace Friends with Seinfeld as the iconic sitcom of the 90s.

You can love Friends and Seinfeld at the same time it’s OK

I missed the first series of The Comeback, which aired in 2005 and watched it after Season 2, which was commissioned by HBO almost 10years later. Disregarding the jealous car-sick losers who hate on Jennifer Aniston and hoped that single cam might just be a passing fad, it’s easy to see how this show got lost in the shuffle of the US Office series and the peaking popularity of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The Comeback is a mockumentary reality show which follows the comeback of ageing sitcom star, Valerie Cherish, played by Lisa Kudrow.

TC shares a lot of it’s satirical DNA with Curb, following the humiliations of another shallow, vain protagonist with less than noble goals and I’ll admit, I did take a couple of episodes to get used to Valerie’s maniacal gurning and shrill affirmations. I’m always a little slow on the uptake and I needed the scene where Valerie visits her former producer at her normal alt person’s home – the pot-smoking, lesbian ‘spider-eyed’ Jane who uses her Oscar as a doorstop –  to beg her to work for her again, to understand that this was actually going to be a lot more ambitious – and funnier – as a critique of the film industry than it first appeared.

Perfectly cast and featuring an immaculately timed Seth Rogen cameo as an easy-going hero bro, the meta plot line of the blow-job episode ‘Valerie is Brought to her Knees” is about a thousand times more well-observed as a parody of contemporary celebrity than the approximate units of narcissistic high capitalism that he and James Franco represent in The Interview.

Must be weird being Seth Rogen. He seems super nice. He’s in heaps of indie stuff. Opens himself up like a flower. Nice guy.

Quote: “No it’s not TV… they don’t do that any more, do they?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(It’s English and they’re in LA and it’s on like the Living Channel or some other karmic punishment for colonisation )

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Well meaning rich and famous person Emily Mortimer of the odious Newsroom and her daft pal Dolly Wells do a vanity project about being BFFs. Stars have cameos. Bradley Cooper is in the title sequence.

Apart from passing the Bechdel test, there is nothing remotely bad-mannered or challenging about this show, including it’s 6 part, half hour format.

If your idea of watching TV is trying not to drink a whole bottle of chardonnay in front of Downton then you’ll love it.

Quote: ” You look just like Jane Birkin