The half-hour comedy/drama series Looking premiered on HBO on Sunday, January 19, and the run-up to the debut was heavily promoted, resulting in the series becoming one of the most anticipated gay-themed shows since the days of Queer as Folk and Will & Grace.
Unlike those shows, Looking carves its own path, mainly because it doesn’t promise to be everything to everyone. Creator Michael Lannon and executive producer Andrew Haigh work together to present a world in which being gay is no longer shocking or a novelty, but simply is. The matter-of-fact portrayal of gay people as just any other people has been a long time coming, perhaps jeered in some quarters but praised in many others. Michelle Stark of the Tampa Bay Times writes, “All of the characters feel lived in, especially this core trio, who feel like they’ve been hanging out with each other for years, a testament to the actors and the no-frills writing that never feels like it’s trying too hard.”
Jonathan Groff, who plays Patrick, says about the show to Alison Willmore of IndieWire, “In this show, everybody’s completely fine with the fact that they’re gay, and so the issues become about their relationships and friendships and work. Hopefully it becomes even more relatable to people who aren’t gay, and hopefully it’s a reflection of whatever we are now, or at least where we’re headed — where sexuality is a huge part of who you are, but it doesn’t define who you are.”
Groff’s Patrick is a toned-down Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham’s character on “Girls,” the lead-in program for “Looking”). While older and ostensibly more mature than Hannah, Patrick doesn’t have everything together in his life. He longs for something more while working a job as a video game designer; once his dream, he finds it now does not fulfill him. His friends Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez) and Dom (Murray Bartlett) are at different stages in their lives but find themselves at emotional crossroads as well: Agustín wondering what happens next now that he is moving in with his boyfriend, and Dom, still waiting tables and pushing 40, wondering if he will ever realize his dream of owning his own restaurant.
The reviews for the show have been promising so far; they insist that it’s a show that, given enough time, will grow a decent fan base. “The world has changed, is changing, just as fast and radically for gay men as it is for everyone else and isn’t it time a show dealt with that? Why yes, yes it is,” says Mary McNamara, the television critic at the Los Angeles Times.
McNamara goes on to make a very important point, in this new era we’re living in, gay people are breaking new ground perhaps more so than we realize. “‘Looking’ probably owes more to ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ than it does ‘Queer as Folk.’ Like the lead characters of so many “working gal” shows of the 1970s, gay men young and old face a landscape for which there is no map. They are the first of their kind, but as women, still grappling with the work/family conundrum, have found, freedom can be a burden or a paralytic, just as easily as a gift. ‘Looking’ doesn’t make the mistake of arguing that gay men are just like straight women, or straight men, or gay women, or even each other. Instead it tells the story of three guys who are friends in a strangely wonderful and difficult time and what that looks like. To them.”
Lannan and Haigh were very interested in telling a new story for a new generation of gay men. “The goal was always to do the most contemporary version of the show as possible. What are the most contemporary stories we could tell with gay characters? Gay people can get married. Gay people now face the same pressures from their parents about getting married that non-gay people do. What kind of stories do you tell in that environment? The culture will never be post-gay, but things have changed so much. How do you address that in a show centered around gay characters?” Lannan said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “Things [have] changed so quickly in the last 10 years, that’s what part of the show is about. You grow up with one set of expectations, and then suddenly everything changes. What do you do with all those options that you have now? It’s quite confusing.”
Haigh commented in the same interview, “I think it’s also important that it’s not an issue-based show. Even though we’re exploring issues that gay people deal with, it’s more about their personal relationships and their stories, rather than just being a show that discusses contemporary gay issues.”
It seems clear that the appeal in Looking isn’t about what it is, and not even what it isn’t, but what it could be — a new show on a horizon that feels more exciting than anything that came before.
Looking can be seen on HBO at 10:30 p.m. Sundays. For more information, go to hbo.com/looking.