‘Looking’ deserves the time to find itself

| Staff Writer


When: Sunday, 10:30 p.m.
Channel: HBO

Since it was first announced and even before its premiere date, “Looking”—HBO’s new comedy series about the lives of three gay men in San Francisco—has been inundated with criticisms both fair and unfair. The show, created by Michael Lannan, finally premiered this past Sunday. While it is certainly not a perfect show, the pilot did quell many of my concerns and lived up to my rather lofty expectations. It presented a San Francisco rich with texture and characters I wanted to know more about.

The first character the show stumbles upon, quite literally, is Patrick, played by Jonathan Groff of “Spring Awakening.” He works in a video game development office and is presented as being dangerously close to desperate to find a boyfriend. When he goes on a date with a doctor, his attempts at humor either fall flat or end in embarrassment. He’s trying to be himself, but it’s clear that the doctor is not interested in whatever Patrick wants to put forward. Groff’s performance is suitably bashful while maintaining an edge of sass; he makes the fact that someone with his good looks has somehow not yet found love believable.

The other two main characters are Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) and the older Dom (Murray Bartlett). Agustin’s storyline in the pilot deals with him potentially moving in with his boyfriend while simultaneously exploring an open relationship. Dom, meanwhile, is contemplating a career change as he is still stuck in a thankless job as a waiter. Both actors seem like they’ve been these characters for much longer than we’ve been acquainted with them. Alvarez is particularly good at balancing the quieter moments of his character with his character’s sexual charisma. The supporting cast is great as well, with my personal favorite character being Patrick’s coworker Owen, played by Andrew Law, who makes fun of Patrick’s use of winking smiley faces.

Whereas many television pilots take the time to painstakingly introduce each character, we are thrown into “Looking” without much handholding at all. The relationships between each character are only subtly mentioned, so if you get distracted by trying to take in the atmosphere created by Lannan and Andrew Haigh or are laughing hard from the sight gag of a male stripper with a teddy bear head, you might miss out on the background details that are casually dropped into the conversation: the presumably gay Dom and his female roommate used to date, and Patrick and Dom once hooked up. I found this approach refreshing but at times rushed.

While people seem content to refer to “Looking” as the gay “Girls,” it’s a far subtler, quieter show than that comparison suggests. A more apt comparison would be to director and executive producer Haigh’s earlier film “Weekend,” a work that similarly dropped the viewer into a fully formed world to view a slice of these people’s lives. He has often defended his work as being universal for all couples, not just gay ones. Certainly everyone has been on an awful date like Patrick or called up a terrible ex late at night like Dom. “Looking” does a brilliant job of finding the universal in the specific.

“Looking” does still have kinks to work out, though. The pilot lacked a rhythm that most shows do have; when the episode ended, it was rather abrupt and not in a cliffhanger-y way but more like something had been edited awkwardly. And I would like for the supporting characters to get more screen time than just a single scene per episode. But for me, any show that has lines that capture the modern struggle to find love—like “Instagram filters have ruined everything, and I can’t tell if this guy is hot or not”—and a magnetic lead like Jonathan Groff is worth watching.

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