3 TV Characters Who Could be MY VALENTINE!

It’s Valentine’s Day so I started thinking which tv characters would make the perfect Valentine.  I would accept a rose from any one of these characters!

Richie Donado (LOOKING, HBO)

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During the two seasons of LOOKING on the surface Patrick had a high class problem being torn between earnest barber Richie and his boss video game developer Kevin. But, Kevin is a cheater.  Richie on the other hand always presented himself in an honest way. He wants to love someone purely without agenda. He simply asks for respect. Although he comes from humble beginnings he’s been able to make a life for himself as a barber and although his career choice hasn’t made him rich, he’s happy. And I would love all the free haircuts and shapeups I would get if Richie was my one and only.

Oliver (HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, ABC)

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Oliver has become the heart of HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER. He’s the purest of the bunch, having not committed murder or knowingly been an accessory to murder after the fact.  Ollie is sweet, cute, adorable and smart. He also realizes that we’re all flawed and is willing to accept imperfections in his partner.  The other bonus to dating Ollie is that he’s a computer genius and can hack into the computers of all the people who annoy me and tell me all their secrets!

Brett (UNDATEABLE, NBC)

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Among the diverse cast of characters on UNDATEABLE is Brett, a beefy bartender from the U.K.  Brett is unlucky in love but often gives it the college try, at least if the stories he tells his friends at the bar are to be believed.  Brett’s a nice guy who is alway there for his friends and can make a mean cocktail.  Aside from the sexy British accent, Brett is also an amazing singer and who wouldn’t want to be serenaded by him on a cold winter’s night?

The 5 Best Gifts TV Gave Us in 2015!

With over 400 scripted series on television and countless reality shows, there really is something for every spread across broadcast, cable and digital platforms.  But quantity does not equal quality.  With Christmas right around the corner, here’s my list of the 5 Best Gifts TV (including digital platforms) gave us in 2015 (in no particular order).

  1. Live Scripted Performances on NBC – In the pioneering days of television almost every program was performed live, but in recent history live performances have mostly been relegated to awards shows, reality show finales, the Super Bowl and 2 soaps during sweeps months (“One Life to Live” & “General Hospital”) and sitcoms like “Roc,””Will & Grace” and more recently “Hot in Cleveland.”  But in the spring of 2015, NBC aired a one hour live edition of its struggling sitcom “Undateable.” With musical performances from British pop star Ed Sheeran and guest stars including “Scandal’s” Scott Foley, the show served up it’s funniest episode up to that point prompting NBC to order of third season of all live episodes.  “Undateable” has become the most creative, daring and by far funniest sitcom on broadcast television this season.  While the live production isn’t without it’s technical problems, which have vastly improved, it all still works.  Watching the cast make each other laugh and use timely, real world references is just plain fun, something most returning sitcoms are missing this season. During the past few years NBC has also been staging live productions of classic musicals during the holiday season.  While “The Sound of Music” and “Peter Pan” fell flat, this year the the network wisely chose to update “The Wiz” featuring new-comer Shanice Williams as Dorothy and an all-star cast (Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, and Ne-Yo). “The Wiz” was a success on all fronts. It was expertly directed, choreographed and performed. The success of “The Wiz”should signal a change in the way NBC approaches its live musical productions. With FOX airing a live production of “Grease” this winter I’m hoping other networks look for creative ways to deliver more live scripted programs, especially on the one hour drama front. I would love to see a live episode of “The Good Wife” set in a courtroom during a big trial.
  2. “Empire” (FOX) – “Empire” premiered it’s first season in January of 2015 and became an instant hit and pop culture sensation.  Oscar nominee Taranji P. Henson gave the break-out performance of the year as mother and ex-con Cookie Lyon, but it should be noted that Terrence Howard’s underrated and under appreciated performance and patriarch Lucious Lyon is giving other classic primetime soap villains JR Ewing (“Dallas”), Alexis Carrington, (“Dynasty”) and Angela Channing (“Falcon Crest”).While season 2, which premiered this fall hasn’t benefited from the strong narrative of season 1, and has had some story missteps (Jamal sleeping with a woman, sigh…) “Empire” overall delivers soapy goodness.
  3. “Looking” – Season 2 (HBO) – In 2015 HBO delivered the second season of “Looking,” the half hour dreamed about a group of gay men in San Francisco facing challenges in romance, family and career. The show delivered a sexy and nuanced love triangle between Patrick, Kevin and Richie which I’m sure the writers planned on diving deeper into in season 3 if there was one.  Unfortunately HBO decided to cancel the quiet series that didn’t make as much noise as the creatively challenged “Girls.”  The second season of the show was also notable for introducing HIV positive character Eddie and being the first tv show to have a characters talk about PreP (Truvada) a drug the FDA has approved for use to help prevent HIV infections in conjunction with other safer sex practices such as condom use. HBO ordered a two-hour wrap up movie of “Looking” to air in early 2016, but it still stings that a thoughtful show about gay men as leads had such a short life.  Luckily, for fans of the show and for those yet to discover it, episodes of “Looking” will live on HBO GO (HBO’s digital platform) forever. And if we’re really lucky, the “Looking” movie will do well enough for HBO to revisit the characters with more tv movies.
  4. Mature Audiences Matter on Digital Platforms – With the broadcast networks still chasing the 18-49 demo, digital platforms such as NETFLIX and AMAZON PRIME proved that stories featuring older characters still matter and can draw an audience. Shows like “Bloodline” (NETFLIX), “Grace and Frankie” (NETFLIX), “Transparent” (AMAZON PRIME) proved that older, mature characters are still compelling and can carry story.  With few exceptions, broadcast television has abandoned storytelling for older characters unless they’re male leads on procedural dramas or supporting characters.  Digital platforms have embraced these characters and delivered high quality series centered around them. A few weeks ago I was watching “The Golden Girls” and realized that today that show wouldn’t exist on broadcast television and if it did, it would be a watered down version not nearly as relatable or timeless as what we got in the 1980s.  Digital platforms have created a space for the diversity in story-telling that doesn’t exist on broadcast television.
  5. Regina King wins an Emmy! (“American Crime, ABC) – Regina King is that rare actress who started out as a child star and was able to stay out of trouble as she transitioned into an amazing adult actress.  I always thought her performance on the NBC/TNT drama “Southland” should have been earned her multiple Emmy nominations but it was her performance in the limited series “American Crime” that earned her an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie.  With every performance, whether on tv or the big screen, comedic or dramatic, King gives strong and nuanced performances.  Based on the reviews and buzz she could find herself back in the race for her performance in HBO’s “The Leftovers.”  King returns for the next edition of “American Crime” in 2016.

CASTING IDEAS FOR NBC’S REBOOT OF “HART TO HART” with GAY LEADS!

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NBC announced this week that the Peacock network is developing a remake of the ABC series HART TO HART featuring a gay couple.  According to Deadline Hollywood the new Hart To Hart is described as a modern and sexy retelling of the classic series that focuses on “by the book” attorney Jonathan Hart and free-spirited investigator Dan Hartman, who must balance the two sides of their life: action-packed crime-solving in the midst of newly found domesticity. Click here for the full story.

While I’m not generally a fan of reboots, I can get behind this version of HART TO HART.  Here are a few of my casting ideas:

BLAIR UNDERWOOD & JONATHAN GROFF

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Blair Underwood has the demeanor to play “by the book” lawyer Jonathan Hart, but is also believable as having an adventurous side.  Jonathan Groff’s current run in Broadway’s HAMILTON showcases his ability to be fun and lighthearted, making him a perfect fit for investigator Dan Hartman.

MATT BOMER & ADAM RODRIGUEZ

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Reuniting MAGIC MIKE’S Matt Bomer and Adam Rodriguez would make for one sexy crime solving duo. In this scenario, Rodriguez would play straight-laced lawyer Jonathan Hart, while Bomer would take on the role of free spirited Dan Hartman.

PATRICK DEMPSEY & RUSSELL TOVEY

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Patrick Dempsey, who set hearts aflutter as McDreamy on GREY’S ANATOMY, and British heartthrob Russell Tovey would make a dashing and quite debonair pairing. In this case, the younger Tovey would play by the book attorney Jonathan Hart, with Dempsey taking on the role of carefree investigator Dan Hartman.

For the role of “Max,” the Hart’s dependable gal Friday, here are three ideas:

JASMINE GUY

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Jasmine Guy would be great as the couple’s no-nonsense assistant without whom their lives would be in total disarray. This version of Max would try to keep the Harts out of trouble, but would end up getting involved against her better judgement.

DOT MARIE JONES

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Dot Marie Jones, free off of GLEE, would be a more imposing version of Max.  When the Hart’s need back-up, it would be hard for the bad guys to get past Max.

LAUREN WEEDMAN

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Lauren Weedman gave a stellar performance as the Doris on the now-cancelled HBO series LOOKING.  Doris was the resident smart-ass and as Max, Weedman would give a quirky comical spin to the role.

Why “LOOKING” Mattered!

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LOOKING has made my list of favorite shows over the past two seasons and I was disappointed when HBO announced that the show was not renewed for a third season.  The network did however green light a 2 hour movie to wrap up the series that will air in 2016.  LOOKING was a quiet, thoughtful show that shares the same fate as other HBO series with similar qualities like ENLIGHTENED and BORED TO DEATH.

It’s not difficult to find a show centered around a group of friends on the variety of content platforms available to consumers today, but even with all of these numerous platforms there’s still a dearth of programming centering around the lives of gay men as series leads.  Not since Showtime’s QUEER AS FOLK has there been a show that followed the lives of gay men as they navigate the realities of what it means to be a gay man.  Some will ask me, “what about WILL & GRACE and MODERN FAMILY?” They’re definitely important shows in terms of representation, but being on broadcast networks, both were and are limited in dealing with the contemporary conversations happening among gay men.

If you’re not familiar with LOOKING the show centered on three gay men, all close friends trying to navigate their  personal and professional lives not unlike their heterosexual counterparts.  The show, set in San Francisco, has a slice of life feel to it, as it follows the characters of Patrick, Agustin and Dom through what is a very short period of time in their lives.  The show, criticized by some for moving too slowly, doesn’t let a lot of time pass as we get to see the character’s stories play out in what almost feels like real time.  Each character is on a personal journey while knowing that their friends are nearby to give support or sometimes harsh truths.  But, the show does tell juicy stories with attractive leads and is filled with romance, conflict, self reflection and yes, sex. But, the sex always had meaning even when it was casual, the writers used it as an opportunity to give us insight into the characters.  The emotional stakes were always high and never taken for granted.

Patrick, played by Broadway star and GLEE alum, is a twenty-eight year old video game designer, who when we meet him, is recently out of a relationship and shares his apartment with Agustin, his best friend since college.  Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) is an aspiring artist who isn’t producing any art, much to the chagrin of his boyfriend Frank. Dom, played by GUIDING LIGHT alum Murray Bartlett, is a waiter about to turn 40 and is dreading every second that draws him closer to his birthday. Dom lives with Doris, his best friend since childhood. Like Patrick and Agustin, they have a co-dependent relationship that’s keeping them both from fully moving on with their lives.  Patrick and Dom had a brief fling years ago, but now enjoy a purely platonic relationship.  It was refreshing to see that two men who once had a sexual relationship can be close friends without even a hint of sexual tension. LOOKING proved that gay men can just be friends.

Don’t be mistaken, there’s plenty of romantic messiness for all three of our heroes. Patrick falls quickly for a barber named Richie (Raul Castillo) who he meets on a bus one night after a bad date with a doctor he met online.  Richie takes an instant liking to Patrick who is more hesitant during the encounter but later decides to throw caution to the wind and go on a date with Richie.  This is new territory for Patrick as he comes from a an affluent, somewhat uptight family who he believes has certain expectations about the type of man with whom he should spend his life.  Richie, in Patrick’s eyes, is none of those things.  Patrick describes Richie to his mother Richie as “Mexican,with no money, and is just a barber with no aspirations of being anything more.”  Even though we know Richie has many other qualities Patrick finds attractive, it’s how he perceives the outside world’s view of Richie that gets in his way.  At work, Patrick is enamored with his new boss, the charming British hunk Kevin (Russell Tovey).  Kevin knows Patrick is attracted to him and as he gets to know Patrick the attraction becomes mutual. While Kevin looks good on paper, he come with his own baggage, which includes a boyfriend.  This love triangle is the gay equivalent to the SEX AND THE CITY Carrie/Big/Aidan story.

Agustin is  truly a lost soul as the show begins. He has no direction and acts like the world owes him something.  He decides to move in with his boyfriend Frank, but neither really knows what they’re getting into, especially after they engage in an impromptu threesome with a guy they meet at Agustin’s job.  In season 1, Agustin was LOOKING’S most unlikeable character.  On the surface he’s a self-involved spoiled brat who doesn’t take responsibility for his life. But those traits mostly manifest because he’s without purpose. His journey throughout the two seasons is the biggest.  When he meets Eddie (Daniel Franzese) who is HIV positive, his world opens up and we see more layers to the character unveiling a  childlike vulnerability.

As Dom’s 40th birthday approaches, he’s taking stock of his life and realizes it’s time to make casual sex with younger guys less of a priority and working towards his career goals his main focus.  He’s been a waiter at a popular neighborhood restaurant for over ten years and dreams of opening up a place of his own featuring peri peri chicken, a dish he learned to make from his late father.  While he has the support of his roommate Doris, pitch perfectly played by Lauren Weedman, their relationship shows signs of cracking as their only successful relationships has been with each other.  When Dom meets an older man, florist Lynn, played by a still very hot Scott Bakula he finally believes it’s possible to achieve his career dreams while realizing that he wants a stable long-term relationship.

Each episode of LOOKING is filled with small character moments that the writers smartly return to in later episodes. But, such nuance can easily be missed by the casual viewer.  As I binged season one this past weekend, it was much easier to notice how a moment in episode 2 connected to another moment in episode 6. There were even times when I would realize how a moment in season two connected all the way back to an early episode from season 1.  The writers didn’t hit you over the head telling viewers “THIS IS A MOMENT,” which is the beauty of LOOKING.  Something as simple as two characters dancing in one episode resonates in a much bigger way during a later episode.  It’s clear that the writers really thought about the character and story arcs of LOOKING with great detail.  Every moment had purpose and there no “throw-away” stories.   The show allowed characters to have conversations about real life issues facing gay men, including: what it’s like to live with HIV in a time where treatment is readily available and its not a death sentence, but a stigma is still attached to being positive; the decision to date someone who is HIV positive and the discussion about the pros and cons of PrEP, a medication that can help prevent contracting HIV; dating outside of your race and social status; the anxiety of growing older as gay man; the impact having an open relationship has on a couple; and allowing yourself to believe that you deserve to be loved on your own terms.

LOOKING was an important show for me.  I mostly identified with Patrick, as I cringed watching him make a number of the same mistakes I’ve made over the years. I’ve never been in a relationship with one of my bosses, but aside from that, I often thought Patrick was based on me.  That’s the point, isn’t it? We have to make some mistakes in order to learn what we want and most importantly don’t want. Like Patrick, Agustin and Dom, we’re all searching for our purpose and LOOKING provided us with a window into a world with relatable characters sharing the same dreams and struggles as the rest of us. When I talk to friends about the show, I get choked up recounting the stories of these characters because they resonate so deeply.

I understand that HBO had to make a business decision regarding not moving forward with another full season of LOOKING and i’m happy they ordered a two-hour movie to wrap up the stories.  I wish Netflix or Logo had done a co-production deal with Warner Brothers to keep the show going.  I hope other networks and content providers don’t shy away from green-lighting another ensemble series focused on telling contemporary stories about gay men. These stories are important and need to be told.

Take a look at some highlights from Patrick and Richie’s romance below: