So just three episodes in (two episodes for those of you without HBO Go) is too early to truly review the new series Looking. To be fair, I had impossibly high hopes for this series, from the same creator as one of my favorite movies Weekend (so good it’s warranted not one but TWO blog posts on here), about young gay men living in San Francisco’s Castro. Despite a couple problems, I think this show is heading in a very good direction.
Like any brand-new TV show, even one from glorious HBO, there have been some bumps along the way. I can frankly say I don’t even like two of the three main characters yet, whose overall glum and mopeyness are hard to sit through.
Dom is a hopeless loser who is too old to not have his act together, and even his exposition doesn’t make sense; at the latest, he and his wife would have gotten married in 1990, a time when homosexuality was WAY more acceptable than say 1980. And Agustin the artist (who somehow affords a pretty nice apartment) is so grumpy and stubborn it’s hard to root for him. I just look forward to his scenes ending so we can get to my favorite character.
The main protagonist (or is he?) Patrick, played with casual ease by Jonathan Groff, is what keeps me fascinated with this show. In this one, seemingly straight-man type character who on the one hand seems naive and sheltered, but on the other just as morally empty as those around him, we get a lot of the complexity and, honestly, hypocrisy embodied by so many young gay men.
Even in the first scene, he goes cruising in a public park as a “joke,” and just scenes later, on a first date, he insists he is the boyfriend “type” who doesn’t do the casual thing. One episode later, he teases his romantic interest Richie for a, let’s say, physical attribute that isn’t what Patrick expected.
I’m really interested to see how Looking is going to develop this main character who’s kind of an asshole; he’s not the gay best friend that you know so much of the audience is hoping to find in this series, and he’s definitely not boyfriend material. He makes a quiet revelation in the third episode: “I don’t think either of us are good at being who we think we are.”
And Richie, a character who’s barely been in the show at all, has already captivated me as one of the knockout figures in the series. Just like Patrick, he isn’t quite what you expect at first, and his decisions are surprising not just for him, but frankly for young gay men in general. Even a couple episodes in, we feel the surprise Patrick does by being eased into this world.
I truly resent Looking being referred to as a gay Girls or Sex & the City a) because I think those are terrible shows, and b) it reduces Looking and even those shows to just being a tight group of friends and their adventures in an urban setting. I’m not an avid viewer of those latter two shows, but I’m sure they have unique messages and themes all their own, just as Looking does.
The criticism around this show is pretty ill-informed, too – the most common complaint you’ll hear is how “boring” the series is (it’s not), or how being gay is not enough of a plot point. It’s disappointing to think that mainstream critics can’t handle a series about gay characters, without gayness being a storyline in and of itself; would most late-20somethings and early-30somethings really be going through “coming out” stories? Or facing discrimination, living in a neighborhood like the Castro? Gimme a break.
Despite some iffy characters and storylines, Looking has already demonstrated some fascinating insight and shows undeniable promise as to how far this show can go to illuminate the complexity of life as a gay man in the modern world.