In the second-season finale of “Looking,” which turned out to be the HBO show’s final episode, a couple has an argument. They walk in and out of an elevator, down a hallway and into a parking garage, debating whether they really belong together — shot all in one take. Every couple has been there, and it just so happens that these two are men.
In creator Michael Lannon’s version of San Francisco, the city seems to be filled with only LGBTQ people. Almost every character on the show is gay. Still, for some, the first season did not feel gay enough. If this show is about three gay 30-somethings soul-searching in California, where was everything that would make them truly seem gay? The second season fixed that problem by sending the three protagonists to a gay orgy in the woods and having one work at a center for transgender teens.
Excepting these events and the fact that the three men talk about how much they like other men, “Looking” does little to make its characters seem overwhelmingly gay, and that is the point. They spend more time trying to figure out who they are than chasing bears and daddies. “Looking” is proof that, regardless of sexual orientation or gender, everyone tries to figure out who they are at that age.
“Transparent,” the amazon.com dramedy about a patriarch of a Jewish family who realizes that all he ever wanted to be was a matriarch, is similarly effective because it is the rare show with a range of sexual orientations. There are men who like women, women who like men, women who like both, men-turned-women who might be interested in women and more. But despite all the mix-and-match sexuality, the show is ultimately people revealing who they always wanted to be: sexual orientation is only a part of that.
“Transparent,” like “Looking,” has a number of LGBTQ characters, and it often makes it clear that they are not straight. But in the most surprising twist yet, the Jill Soloway-created show also makes it obvious that the straight people on the show are like the LGBTQ characters, not the other way around. That is a testament to the fact that, while these LGBTQ characters have different sexual interests, there is something universal that binds everyone on this show. While “Transparent” and “Looking” are both about LGBTQ characters, they are not about being LGBTQ. Instead, they use gayness to ponder something more universal that everyone has in common, and that is as progressive as television can be.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 9 print edition. Email Alex Greenberger at [email protected]