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

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

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.

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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.