‘Looking’ Review: HBO's New Gay Series Will Make You Work (Video)

'Looking' Review: HBO's New Gay Series Will Make You Work (Video)

From left, Murray Bartlett, Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez. (John P. Johnson)

The half-hour comedic drama isn't a match for viewers with commitment issues

There's a timeless element to HBO's new gay-centric half-hour comedic drama, “Looking.”

I don't mean that it's going to be this classic show that will stand the test of time. I mean that except for references to OKCupid, Grindr and Instagram, the series feels as if it could have taken place a decade or more ago.

That's to say that the naturalistic style in which it's shot is unlike most shows on television today. And if there weren't all those aforementioned social apps in the show, it could take place in the mid to late 90s.

Also read: Judd Apatow and Lena Dunham Get Mad at Me For Asking Why She's Naked So Much on ‘Girls’

The style is also a nod to its San Francisco setting. It's the kind of city that can feel very anachronistic if you actually live there (and not just visiting for a weekend). It's both high tech, with all the Silicon Valley influence, yet a throwback to its activist roots – from the hippies, to the environmentalists and the booming gay community.

Those will be the two biggest challenges to viewing “Looking.” It doesn't treat gay life like a colorful endless circuit party like Showtime's “Queer as Folk,” which I felt was just an unwatchable adaptation of the amazing British series anyway. And it doesn’t view the characters’ lives as a journey to love, with romantic comedy roots, like HBO's “Sex and the City,” which gay men took ownership over, as well. And for the record, I find that refreshing about “Looking.”

From executive producers David Marshall Grant (“Smash,” “Brothers & Sisters”), Sarah Condon (“Bored to Death”), and writer Andrew Haigh, “Looking” revolves around three oddly matched friends, the young video game designer Patrick, 29 (Jonathan Groff), the slightly older aspiring artist Augustin, 31 (Frankie J. Alvarez), and 39-year-old unfulfilled waiter Dom (Murray Bartlett) as they navigate their careers and dating in “The City by the Bay.”

Also read: ‘Looking’ Producers of Showing a Different Side of San Francisco, and Other Sides of Gay

This core group of friends is probably the show's only fault. There isn’t really a commonality between them that's revealed on the first four (of Season 1's eight) episodes released to media, and it feels unrealistic that they would form a crew. I've come to view it as an unfortunate contrivance that I haven't quite forgiven the producers for.

The good news is that Groff is absolutely believable as the show's late-blooming twink. And Bartlett emits so much charm and pathos as Dom realizes that while he ruled San Fran's gay neighborhood, Castro, everyone else had grown up.

Alvarez gives a good-enough portrayal of a free-living artist who's going through major life changes – moving out of the city with his boyfriend and career paralysis, but gets overshadowed during much of his scenes by others.

Also read: ‘Girls’ Review: Lena Dunham Plumbs Awkward Depths in Funny, Messy New Season

But here's the thing, “Looking” is a good show. It will reward viewers who can hang on beyond the first episode and can adapt to its much slower pace and more naturalistic shooting style.

Viewers will find its characters in some very relatable dating experiences, like finding out that our “type” is probably not what we really need in a partner, that exes are rarely as improved as they believe themselves to be, that sex isn't graceful, and that monogamy is a decision every single day when you're in a relationship.

But, “Looking” will make you work to get there. Like San Francisco, you really can't get to the heart of this series if you aren't planning to put down roots.

Watch the trailer below.

“Looking” premieres after “Girls” at 10:30/9:30c on HBO.

  • BlackPegasus

    Yeah just what we needed, another narcissistic journey that follows the privileged lives of gay white men. I'm sure the Asian and Black men will be added in season 2 for comic relief or sexual fetishes. This gay black male won't be watching!

    • LoveCoates

      That's not fair. There's a light-skinned half-white black guy and several white-looking Latinos (white-tinos are just not white enough to fill the diversity quota, but not so non-white that they actually challenge anything).

      Besides, black guys will always have Noah's Arc — the exception that proved the rule :)

      • check your privilege.

        It lasted two seasons when QAF had 5 and had no proper ending. There are white gays everywhere on tv.

        • Kevin Smith

          Why is it not desirable to enjoy any advantage you might have, be it privilege or victim status, The statuses are in flux anyway and to the benefit of non – whites. Enjoy it while you can……

        • Jeremy Jeriscando

          There are barely gay relationships highlighted on much of any television. LOGO doesn't count. You're turning a topic that should be about celebrating gay folks being represented into a race issue. It's always about race. But never about allowing LGBT to have our one moment. You see things from the prism of only your lens as a person of color. And I say this as a person of color myself who doesn't convolute LGBT issues with race relations, when LGBT are hardly in a place of privilege in a heavily homophobic society.

          • Eric

            Because LGBT people of color don't exist…? LGBT issues ARE race issues, and vice versa.

    • future_man

      I question the concept of privilege as you present it here. I find it too generalized and simplistic. It doesn't take into consideration the real life experience of so many people I know, so I can't relate.

      As a gay man I dedicated many years of my life to liberate all gay men and then witnessed the assassination my of friend Harvey Milk followed by the mass death due to an STD…namely HIV.

      Those who survive in the aftermath have in some cases lost as many as 200-300 people. In SF alone the total number lost to HIV is larger than the losses to all the wars combined.

      After caring for the dying, fighting for gay men's lives and rebuilding a life after their passing many men of my generation, are permanently scarred the the loss…and doing the best they can.

      No matter what race such gay men are if you were one of them you'd be hard pressed to call such a life “privileged”.

      • check your priviledge

        You are white so you still benefit from white privilege. A white gay man is still more privileged than a black gay man and in some cases even moreso than a straight black man.

        • future_man

          Seems to me you are working off some old school academic categories, stereotypes and generalizations. As you get older you may find that real life is sometimes different than the queer theorists imagined it might be, both positively and negatively as well. Hope you get some good breaks and are rewarded handsomely for your efforts.

        • Jordan Dermont

          Oh please. I'm a black gay man, and we have politicians running and WINNING all over the country while comparing my being gay to pedophilia and beastilaity. That would never fly if they said that about interracial marriage. Homophobia can be explicit and implicit in society and it's deemed socially acceptable. Any form of racism is met with severe outrage and backlash. We have a national debate about gay civil liberties and people freely saying “gays should be treated as lesser than under the law of the land” and it's accepted as a reasonable point of view. So spare me the privilege schpeel. Perhaps part of the reason you're not accepted within LGBT is your lack of knowledge or empathy for what LGBT endure. You see things from ONE frame of mind (skin color) and refuse to see the injustices that gay people face. Being kicked out of their own home by their own family for who we are. I sure didn't get rejected by my family for being black. But for being gay? I had to overcome some serious bigotry.

    • Jeremy Jeriscando

      Gay people in general are barely displayed in prominent shows. Much less our relationships and instead of celebrating that gays are finally being highlighted in complex ways, you want to narrow your angst down to the fact that your race isn't showcased? I'm a minority myself, but diversity doesn't just mean showcasing black folks. Somehow in this country we've decided that diversity is reserved for black people, when diversity can mean a number of different things. Including sexual minorities being presented. This show is diverse because of the fact that 99.9999% of television is centered around heterosexuals. If you can only appreciate a show where everyone has your coloring, maybe YOU need to go inward and examine your own prejudice. I assure you it's there (and perhaps some internalized homophobia as well)

    • Jordan Dermont

      I'm a black man and I think this is a weak attempt at the race card. Perhaps if more black men actually CAME OUT and the DL scene wasn't such an epidemic in our community(and it is) we'd be better represented. Until then, machismo obsessed, hyper masculine, DL, closeted black brothers who are too fearful to actually come out are the ones your anger should be directed at.

      • BlackPegasus

        @ Jordan – spoken like a true Snow Queen. How dare you use that “DL” nonsense in this discussion! Based on your comments, I can see that you're the overcompensating , non threatening kiss ass in the office. You probably don't even date our own race so your opinion is irrelevant.

        • CaliTransplant

          Why attack Jordan just because he presents another side of an argument and wasn't coming for you at all; The characteristics of someone who got one of their ‘nerves struck,’ I'd say.

          Plus, why hate on and not watch a good show with strong ethnic characters like Ritchie-the Chicano homie (who is sooo not White!) for not having enough minorities on it when you clearly haven't even seen one episode?!? That's ignorant. Watch, then cast judgment. Do better, homie…

  • Chuck Jones

    This is so old hat…Queer As Folk beat them by a decade. Where's the cutting-edge drama about three people involved in various incestuous relationships with siblings, parents, cousins, and other blood relatives? HBO needs to shed its conservative, old-fashioned approach & stay ahead of the curve.

  • Mason

    I'm quite disappointed in this show. As a local and resident of San Francisco, I hoped that HBO would shine light on all the wonderful characteristics and culture of our city and people. Unfortunately, this show highlights something that is very much not The entirety of Our city. Don't get me wrong, I pride myself in the diversity and open mind-ness of the city by the bay, but there is more to that. If you are going To showcase this gem of a city then please showcase it correctly and spend time getting to know it and the people. So far I am unimpressed and hope that it actually breaks the surface instead of riding an unrealistic facade.

    • jas

      Its been one episode, how can you make such a pronouncement?

    • Sebastian

      Showcase what? What do/did you want/expect to see? I have not seen the show,But, this comment is so vague I must ask what specifically led to your disapproval?

  • Liz Hays

    THIS IS DISGUSTING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Jordan Dermont

      I agree. Homophobia, and religion really are disgusting. Christianity is basically a cult, a tax exempt money making machine that serves to embezzle money from impressionable minds who follow cult leaders (aka preachers). The world wasn't created in less than a week, a man didn't part the sea, and a women didn't give birth as a virgin. These fairy tales and fables are what is disgusting. Keep your religion where it belongs. In fairy tale story telling.

      • Julia Dat

        You are sort of right, but I'm pretty sure she was commenting the show. Which is sort of meh.

        • Guest

          no. I was commenting the show and being a homo. thank u. :)

          • Julia Dat

            I said “she”, I was referring to the comment you answered to, not your own. To the fact that you went on a long, even agreeable, rant as an answer to someone who found the show disgusting. Not disgusting because it has gay characters,but, as far as we know, disgusting because it’ a bad show.

  • David B

    I only read Wikipedia's synopsis of the first episdoe and this article but a show built around a stereotype (the one that puts women and gay men in the same category as relationship-obsessed), seems like a bore. I hope the show is actually, or becomes, more than this.

  • Bones Bones

    This show better not be about hookups…. I will kill myself if it is.

  • jondavwal

    It's horrible. Obviously no gay person under the age of 70 was involved. Awful dialogue, unlikeable characters, and ridiculous situations (cruising in a park in 2014??). Anybody who saw the first episode won't watch the second. What a piece of garbage.

    • Nathan Kemp

      They actually commented about that in the show. You might not have been paying attention. “Do people still cruise in parks” was the whole reason he was there in the first place. This show is extremely realistic, maybe you're too used to the over-sensationalized, over-the-top shows that flood TV nowadays.

      • jondavwal

        No, I'm a gay man who knows the reality. This show is ridiculous. He would have gone online if he were “desperate”. The show is not realistic at all. People don't talk to each other like that. And no couple would have a three-way without discussing it first. The show is garbage.

        • Nathan Kemp

          I will say the show was moving at a glacial pace. Definitely a little boring. But I do have to argue my point about cruising in the park. He did it as a joke for his friend, as said multiple times in the show. I don't understand what you mean by “People don't talk to each other like that.” And three-ways without discussion do happen all the time. I have lots of friends where it just kind of happened, at a party or else where. Everyone is different, just because they don't follow your rules doesn't mean that it is unrealistic…..

          • jondavwal

            You have friends doesn't cut it. Trust me. It was discussed that the possibility was there before anything happens. If you're monogamous you don't just start kissing another guy in front of your partner, husband whatever. Cruising in the park was a plot device because cruising on grindr wouldn't have been interesting on TV. The dialogue is terrible. The bad date was painful. Nobody is that awkward or stupid. It's just another bad gay show.

  • Yeb Bebe

    I'm a straight female and I have to be honest, I really did love the show. It was engaging and had heart. The boy meets girl, falls in love and gets married with babies story line is STILL being done on every show. This was a refreshing change of perspective and people for me. And that's what life is all about. Viewing things outside just your own lens.

    • jondavwal

      Unfortunately it's indistinguishable from shows about gay life made in the 70s. It might be new to you but it's the same old stereotypical crap to us.

  • Jeremy Jeriscando

    I really enjoyed the show. It had soul. I'm glad gay people are finally being exposed in shows.

  • Jordan Dermont

    I'm thrilled that same sex relationships are finally being shown on mass media. Not just the gay best friend. It's time to challenge this idea television presents that same sex attraction doesn't exist, when in society, there are gays in every bracket of life. Television needs to reflect that.

  • SimGen

    It's horrible, vapid, and ineffectual. After watching one episode, I will be “Looking” elsewhere for gay entertainment.

  • BJC

    This show will tank, nobody wants to see this crap

  • yvo84

    I've now watched the first four eps. It's very good and I've grown attached to a few of the characters.

  • Jamie Williamson

    I just don't find it entertaining. And I don't care about the characters enough to hang-on. I've tried through several episodes now, and I've maybe liked one?

  • Tristan

    AWFUL awful awful, bad writing, bad acting, its hard to believe that the writers, directors and actors actually have prior experience. But here we are, a perfect storm of bad, unbelievable, just plain boring storylines. I feel like I'm watching a high-school play, the actors are trying so hard. Oh and nice title, it would seem to suggest something edge, while this show is anything but.

  • Kipp

    Well, I am a gay “man of color” and I don't know why every single time we have some gay themed show, we have to get into who is “missing” in whatever series it happens to be. So what if there isn't a rep from each ethnicity in America on the show. Give the series a chance, it's only had one year and I think the Richie/Patrick storyline is a good one, it actually goes beyond racial issues, to class issues (and yes, I know for myself there are ‘racial’ issues in the LGBT world, plenty of them, actually), and who knows maybe the next season will be even more enlightening. The only thing I didn't like about this series is the lighting/color, seriously. And the length. I want an hour per episode with 12 episodes.

    • LoveCoates

      Probably because it's always the same people missing.

  • poshash

    I love the show so far to be honest, it was a bit boring at the start but it's growing on me. Love the chemistry between Kevin and Patrick, but Patrick/Richie, not so much.
    Not sure about the lighting tho…