LOOKING Review: HBO’s New Series Is Stylish and Sincere

     January 18, 2014


There will be a desire to compare HBO’s new half-hour series, Looking, with the one that airs just before it, Girls.  But that conversation is a non-starter.  Created by Michael LannanLooking is a low-key, yet intimate, look at the lives of three gay men living in present day San Francisco, and it proceeds with a sincerity that never brushes on satire.  There’s even a desperate authenticity to the emotional core of the series, which is sure to resonate with both gay and straight audiences.

The significance of Looking‘s time frame is that it finally has the freedom to be a show about gay men that’s not fixated on the idea of gay men.  Instead, it’s just about their lives, which are without novelty.  As of the first four episode (of an eventual eight), no one is coming out, or facing hatred or bigotry, or subscribing to stereotypes.  Instead, the show is more of a character study about relationships, which may not be groundbreaking, but is still and always will be a worthy topic of exploration.  Hit the jump for more.

looking-jonathan-groff-frankie-j-alvarez-murray-bartlettLooking focuses the most on Patrick (Jonathan Groff), a 29-year-old video game developer.  As Patrick, Groff is natural and magnetic, but also believable in his confusion about why he goes on so many bad dates, and never had a relationship that has lasted more than six months.  Patrick is always sending out the wrong signals — afraid to admit to the intimacy he desires but doesn’t seem to accept, he messes things up with a string of attractive, interesting men because he (wrongly) indicates to them that he only wants casual sex.

Early on, in an interesting inversion, Patrick meets a man on the BART, and is turned off by his seemingly overt sexual nature.  But later, when he takes a chance, the man (Richie, played by Raul Castillo) turns out to be a gentle soul interested in a real relationship, whereas Patrick ends up acting like a lush and, ultimately, a jerk.

But what makes Patrick remain likable is his bewilderment about his own actions, and the universality of his clumsy fits and starts of flirting, especially with his boss Kevin (Russell Tovey), who has a boyfriend, but with whom he clearly shares a connection.  Patrick’s interest in Kevin is tempered by his friends’ advice to not let himself get used, but it’s a line he walks with indelicacy, giving the plot emotional authenticity.

looking-frankie-j-alvarez-jonathan-groff-murray-bartlettPatrick is friends and formerly roommates with Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez), a 31-year-old struggling artist who recently moved in with his boyfriend Frank (O.T. Fagbenle) in Oakland, and is facing his own denial-soaked emotional crises because of it.  Then there’s Dom (Murray Bartlett), the duo’s 39-year-old friend, who is somewhat of a throwback to an earlier era of gay life in San Francisco, and he navigates that along with his desire to do something more than be a waiter on the eve of his 40th birthday.

Looking quickly and stylishly establishes its world, then lets its characters meander through it.  There’s a poetic flow to each episode, and plenty of honest conversations about the nature of intimacy and sex.  Unlike Girls (here we go …!) the protagonists have jobs, and those jobs are important to each of their stories.  The cast is also noticeably diverse (featuring several Latino actors who are there fully-formed, and not there to fill quotas).  Diversity extends even to the ages of the three protagonists, whose age differences give them unique perspectives.

looking-season-1-posterThe sex of Looking is fairly chaste, especially when compared with just about any other HBO show, which brings with it its own discussions about the network’s comfort level with male nudity, and the role of the penis on screen.  But that’s another conversation.  Looking is really just an invitation into a friend group, who navigate relationships and city life from a particular perspective (there are almost no heterosexuals featured in the series).  It does so less like Girls, and more like another HBO series that garnered far less attention: How To Make It In America.  That’s exactly what the men are seeking, in addition to real love.  First though, they need to take a look at themselves.  As Patrick wisely says to Agustin, “I don’t know if either of us are very good at being who we think we are.”  That sort of coming out, by way of coming through life’s uncertainties with such honesty, is what really sticks the landing.

Looking premieres Sunday, January 19th at 10:30 p.m. on HBO

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