There aren't many current TV series that feature real, honest, storylines for gay characters, let alone an entire show devoted to them, but that's what Looking is. The new HBO dramedy has been compared to its lead-in Girls for obvious reasons: It follows the lives of three gay men—Patrick, Agustín, and Dom—as they live, work, and search for love in San Francisco.
I knew as soon as I saw one of the first scenes, when Jonathan Groff's Patrick zoned out on the bus and turned to ask his friends if they had any bourbon, that I was going to like Looking, because I zone out and think about bourbon at least once every ten minutes—but I didn't expect it to grab me the way it did. The series is funny—way more so than Girls has ever been—and awkward, while still realistic in its portrayal of human interaction. And if you'll excuse me, I need to get on a soapbox for a minute (I promise it'll just be a minute). It doesn't matter at all that these men are gay; you could replace them with any number of other characters—gay or straight, male or female—and tell very similar, if not the same stories. That's because Looking's stories aren't "gay" stories, they're human stories. [/soapbox] However, by focusing on three gay men living in the very gay-friendly San Francisco Bay Area, the show definitely stands out in today's TV landscape, which means it's a good thing the series is as good as it is.
The best part of Looking (besides J Groff's face, I mean) is easily the fact that it doesn't make a big deal out of its characters being gay. This isn't a Ryan Murphy show that's gunning to Make a Statement. It's a way more understated project from relative unknowns about three dudes who are trying to get their shit together and hoping to find someone to love along the way. The opening scene where Patrick went cruising in the park might've been too much of a GOTCHA! moment for me to believe it was meant to be anything more than that, but it also introduced us to Looking's subject matter and showed viewers that it isn't going to shy away from sex, or the discussion of sex, simply because it's between two (and sometimes three) men.
But let's stop talking about Looking as if the only thing that stands out about it or that's noteworthy about it is the sexual orientation of its characters, because that's not even remotely true. The show does a wonderful job of making its characters feel relatable to viewers in 2014. Jokes about Instagram filters and hairy hipsters might feel dated in a few years, but for now, they're spot-on. The conversations between Patrick and Agustín about sex and relationships feel like real conversations that people have with their friends. Agustín's fear of being tied down in Oakland with his long-time boyfriend and Dom's insecurities about being 39 and single and waiting tables are situations that many people deal with every day—they're rooted in a fear of the unknown and the sense of being dissatisfied with your life. Unless you're one of the very few people who's fortunate enough to have experienced immediate success and happiness, all of these stories will probably resonate with you on some level. All too often, TV shows attempt to grab our attention by overloading on drama that most viewers can't even begin to relate to, but the problems that plague these three guys are universal problems faced by most, if not all, of us.
Let's move on from the deep stuff, though, because while it's important for a series to feel real, Looking's real kicker is that it's funny. Because Looking has been compared to Girls pretty much since HBO first picked it up, I won't stop now, but for all the similarities between the two, the series is actually much funnier than Girls has been in quite awhile. Its humor is more universal and less self-deprecating than Girls' which should make it easy for viewers to laugh alongside it. The jokes about emoticons and Instagram covering up someone's lazy eye are easy to make, but they're still funny. Lauren Weedman, who plays Doris, the lone female on the male-dominated series, is Dom's roommate, and she's probably the funniest character of all, despite not having much screen time. What she does have, she makes count with a sarcastic, inappropriate sense of humor that also serves to knock some sense into Dom as he spins around trying to figure his life out. More Doris, please, writers!
The final piece of the Looking puzzle is its wonderful cast. It's made up mostly of unknowns, like Frankie J. Alvarez, whose only credits so far include Actor #6 in a handful of Smash episodes, or actors who've been around for awhile but haven't really found a mainstream audience, like Murray Bartlett and Jonathan Groff. But there isn't really a weak link in the cast, and it's great to see Groff score a leading role that's worthy of his talent. For those unfamiliar with Groffles (he and I are really close, so I can call him that), he rose to fame on Broadway as Melchior in Spring Awakening and a guest-starring role on Fox's Glee. It's actually kind of silly that he hasn't found a recurring TV role before now, with his easy smile and relaxed charm. His portrayal of Patrick, a 29-year-old video game designer, is the perfect balance of awkward and earnest as he stumbles back into the dating world after his ex gets engaged (and then invites him to his bachelor party?). Alvarez is immediately likable as artist Agustin, and Barlett brings a sense of having been around the block a few times to Dom that makes you feel like you've known him or someone like him for years.
Looking might not be for everyone, and it might not make it past its original eight-episode order, but it really deserves a chance. It's just the type of show that HBO needs and it's a perfect companion to Girls, even thought it deserves to stand on its own two feet. I think that as the season progresses, Looking will eventually stop being "the gay version of Girls" and start being "Looking, that funny series on HBO that just happens to be on after Girls." At the very least, it's a fun showcase of the modern dating world.
What did you think of Looking's debut? Will you be back for Episode 2?
AIRED ON 3/9/2014
Season 1 : Episode 8