One of the latest offerings from US cable giant HBO, Looking gets off to an unremarkable start but quickly becomes a hugely confident offering from the network, as it ever so gradually reveals its characters and rounds out its first season as one of the few truly authentic portraits of contemporary gay men to ever hit our TV screens.
Looking follows three gay men navigating different points in their personal and professional lives – Patrick (Jonathan Groff), a video game designer struggling with commitment and intimacy; Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez), an artist who’s having second thoughts about settling down with his long term boyfriend; and Dom (Murray Bartlett), who is encroaching on middle age with romantic and professional goals unfulfilled.
While a show chronicling the day-to-day, sometimes mundane, lives of three gay men inevitably draws superficial comparisons to Lena Dunham’s Girls, Looking firmly establishes itself as something completely different from the outset. The thriving culture of San Francisco – and what is represents to the gay community – is a vastly different atmosphere than Girls’ hipster Brooklyn habitat. The shows share some of the same mundane candour, but while Girls frequently finds itself swept up in the narcissism of its main character, Looking is preoccupied with the naturalism of everyday interactions with friends, acquaintances, and significant others. Looking thrives on perfect moments in the midst of an otherwise boring day – and questions of authenticity in coming to terms with who you are. Patrick laments to Agustin in one of the series’ most telling lines, “I don’t know if either of us are very good at being who we think we are”, a sentiment that echoes through each episode.
Patrick provides the focal point for much of the series, his complex relationships with barber Richie (Raul Castillo) and his boss Kevin (Russell Tovey) occupying the bulk of the eight episodes of the series. But showrunner Michael Lannan is equally concerned with each of this three characters, neatly paralleling their day to day lives by way of some neat scripting several times in the series – most obviously, in the pilot as they are introduced, and in the series finale.
The show is undoubtedly a product of the so-called Golden Age of Television we’re currently living in, with each episode’s production practically impossible to fault. The cinematography is stunningly calculated, the writing is patient and understated, and each episode’s conclusion is so precisely edited that it’ll leave you instantly hungry for more.
It’s been fifteen years since Queer As Folk offended the delicate sensibilities of television audiences the world over, but for all the talk that trailblazing series generated, in the years since we’ve become rather used to seeing the same recycled gay male stereotypes on TV. Looking smashes these tropes by being so refreshingly casual – it’s an impressively revolutionary slice of life that never makes a fuss about it, and that’s the single biggest reason to sit down and watch. I can’t wait to tackle season 2.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Looking: The Complete First Season is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray.