Mar 23, 2014

[TV] Looking: Season 1

As a 30-something gay man, I "grew up" during the Queer as Folk era of television. And what I mean by that is around the time that I was coming to terms with my sexuality and was pretty much trying to figure out how I was going to come out to people. And watching a show like QAF was sort of a window into the world that I was coming into - or at least one version of that world. And while things didn't quite match up my QAF expectations, it still helped me come forward a bit more confident.

When Looking  was first announced, there was a lot of confusion as to how to position. They were billing it as a comedy, and thus the immediate comparison was to the hit HBO series Girls, but instead of girls we now have three gay men. Others tried to compare it to Sex and the City, which is pretty much the fate of any HBO comedy that is set in a city.

But not of those comparisons really work. You can't even compare this show to the tone of QAF either. It's certainly a new direction for more or less mainstream television focused on the LGBT community. But I think this series is growing on me.

Synopsis: Looking is an HBO comedy-drama series created by Michael Lannan. The core concept comes from Lannan's 2011 short film, Lorimer, that was picked up for a production as a TV series last year.

The show is centered around three friends based in San Francisco. First we have Patrick (Jonathan Groff), who is a video game designer who has yet to find love. He continues to go on dates and try out his luck on online dating sites but his rather shy nature coupled with his self-esteem concerns get in the way of things. Then there's Agustín (Frankie J.Álvarez), Patrick's best friend from college and an artist's assistant. He's in a committed relationship with Frank (O.T. Fagbenle), and the two are just about to move in together. And finally there's Dom (Murray Bartlett), a mutual friend who works as a waiter at a restaurant. He's grown increasingly frustrated with serving people and is determined to strike out on his own somehow.

And each of them go through some pretty interesting changes in this series that may lead to their goals. Patrick encounters Richie (Raúl Castillo) on the train one day and he's surprised that Richie openly expresses his attraction to him. Agustin seems a bit unsure about the whole moving in thing and tries to introduce new aspects to their sexual life as a couple. And Dom meets Lynn (Scot Bakula), an older entrepreneur with home he manages to strike up a connection with.

What first surprised me about the show is its relative brevity - especially for a US TV series. It only consists of 8 half-hour episodes, which makes it more akin to a British television series. And I think this did the show a lot of good since it made sure that the writing was a lot more focused and thus the character plots also more at the forefront. And given the relative limited cast involved, it meant that most characters had their fair share of time in focus.

Patrick is a hard character to love. At times he's adorable and endearing. Other times, he's a little pathetic and tiring. But that all works for him and keeps him very human, and very real. And that sets the tone for most of the show - the simple elegance in its often austere and very true-to-life presentation of things. It's not flashy like QAF was. Instead it's a show that remains firmly rooted in reality, something significantly aided to make sure the time-place setting of contemporary San Francisco is pretty strong.

Patrick is obviously the story of focus, but that is not to say that the other threads weren't interesting. I think the story involving Dom was a pretty intriguing one as he tries to find a new path for himself and how tries to resolve his friendship with Lynn. But Agustin's story was pretty messed up and could have used a bit more on-screen development, I think. One could already see where the story was bound to go given the first episode along, but how we get from the beginning to the season ender could have been elaborated upon a bit more.

The inclusion of Russell Tovey as Kevin, Patrick's new boss, was naturally a major squee moment for my partner and myself. He's certainly one of the more interesting openly gay actors in the industry and his television work with shows like the original Being Human already had him blip on our radar. Plus he's pretty adorable in a dorky kind of way and the complexities of his character made for a nice enough mix. Yay for more Russell Tovey!

On the whole, I enjoyed Looking, but I know the show has a bit of a ways to go before it becomes truly significant versus other TV shows. There were a number of complaints about how the show may have traded old stereotypes for new ones, but seriously, what TV show is totally free of stereotypes? A lot of entertainment holds a mirror up to our lives and Looking didn't go too deeply some of the more classic stuff from LGBT shows like a strong AIDS-related sub-plot or a ridiculous amount of substance abuse on a regular basis as part of the circuit scene. This is not QAF - but I think it's addressing a new niche in terms of what LGBT stories can be told.

Looking is a show with a lot of potential and I do plan on sticking around until the second season to see how things go. Admittedly this means that I appreciate the show more for its potential than its actual merits at this point and hopefully this investment of trust will pay off. Thus I rate this first season as 3.5 almost random alternatives the writer could have used to end the season out of a possible 5.

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