HBO’s ‘Looking’ Puts Gay Reality On TV: REVIEW

5_lookingReality may be Looking's strength, but its ordinariness is also its weakness. The first four episodes drag on without any real gasp-inducing or even laugh-out-loud moments. While Weekend's whirlwind romance unfolded over a compressed time frame, stretching out a similarly understated story into an ongoing series loses a lot of the electricity that made the film so compelling. Sure, getting such true-to-life gay stories in front of such a wide audience (as opposed to Weekend's indie crowd) is an undeniable feather in this series' cap, but it needs to raise the stakes a bit to sustain interest week to week. Just a little outrageousness would go a long way. 

Despite the lack of drama, there is a charm here that makes me want to keep watching. The chemistry that permeates the friendly (and more-than-friendly) characters only amplifies the series' authenticity. When Dom (Murray Bartlett), Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez) and Patrick (Glee's Jonathan Groff) share a scene, their ease and warmth together radiate from the screen. The way Agustín puts his feet up on Patrick, or how Patrick and Dom throw their arms around each other while walking around the city just feels so natural. You want to invest in these guys, because they seem so genuinely invested in one another. 

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The most persuasive argument to stick with Looking is the show's choice to smartly establish each of its leads at the threshold of change. Patrick is rapidly approaching the end of his 20s and ready to embark on a real, adult relationship (or at least figure out what that means); Dom, on the cusp of 40, is confronting his waning desirability; and Agustín is figuring out what it means to settle down. While these characters are sorting out their own evolution, the culture around them is also in the throes of change as well. These guys are finding themselves as the gay community (and society as a whole) is redefining the gay experience (through things like increased acceptance, marriage equality and the impact of technology on sex and dating — elements touched on by the series). 

The potential for stories to emerge from all this personal and cultural upheaval is exciting. Even if Point A for these characters isn't thrilling yet, it's clear this is still just the beginning of their journeys. 

Considering the transformative experience Weekend gave us in just about 48 hours, that's reason enough to stick around.

Will you be tuning in for Looking's premiere Sunday at 10:30 p.m. on HBO?

(photos: David Moir – HBO)

Comments

  1. Strepsi says

    This looks fantastic: I am so in.

    Having gotten HBO for Game of Thrones, I’m there. 10:30 is an odd time to start, but GIRLS is a good lead-in — I hope it gets the numbers.

  2. Charles says

    How can it be ‘a revolutionary piece of pop culture because of its frank portrayal of gay men’ a decade after the US ‘Queer as Folk’ and fifteen years after the UK trailblazer? How can’something you’ve seen before’ be revolutionary?

    It looks old-fashioned, to be honest, like ‘Tales of the City’ but whiter, maler, more narrowly aged and stylistically informed by Lena Dunham. I doubt there will be any characters as vivid as Anna Madrigal or any plotting as wildly Baroque and romantic, as San Franciso, as Maupin’s

  3. says

    “However, I hope there’s not too much facial hair in it. That seems more Amish than gay to me.”

    Exactly. For far too long, America’s slighting of the smooth and fit has been a nightmare from which I thought we’d never wake up.

    Thank GOD for you, JonnyNyNy2FlFl. You’re the Rosa Parks our generation needs to end the tyranny of the Bearded.

  4. says

    I’ve seen the first four episodes and agree with some of what the writer of the post says….not a lot happens and, yet, there is something about it that makes you want to keep watching.

  5. MARCUS BACHMANN says

    I watched the promo on HBO. It’s embarrassing mostly because the director takes part in gay shaming. “The fact that the characters are gay is the least interesting thing about them.” Sad.

  6. crispy says

    “How can’something you’ve seen before’ be revolutionary?”

    Sigh. It’s like people form their opinions before bothering to actually read the review. The answer is because Queer as Folk was about the experience of being gay with the requisite coming out and gay bashing and HIV testing stories, whereas Looking seems to be about the experience of being human in an era when being gay is not that unusual or even interesting. The revolution here is that gay men have career aspirations that don’t involve hooking up in the corporate bathroom.

    And for the record, Queer as Folk wasn’t that good. It was a heavily stylized world that, like Sex and the City, doesn’t actually exist, and the characters were wan stereotypes who don’t resemble anyone in real life. Looking looks to be about real people, boring as they may be, and that is refreshing.

    PS: There is not a single thing here that resembles the delightful murder mysteries, political scandals, and whore houses of Tales of the City. Give me a break.

  7. Rowan says

    Oh for godsake Bobby must ALL gay shows be full of camp and fawny entertainment?

    Maybe the show should not have tried to pitch it as some mainstream show to gays?

    But it’s about time we get more indie, intelligent and creative shows/films about LGBT people. About time.

    I have enough shows to make me LOL. Just let a show be a show.

    This reminds me of crazy stans that always try and change shows-mainly in the US-to make it fake feel good rubbish. It’s like saying the girl with the dragon tattoo did not have enough jokes or that you wish Downtown Abbey had more slapstick.

    NO. Let a show be a show it’s supposed to be.

  8. atomic says

    What made Tales of the City so great–both the miniseries and the novels on which it was based–was how the characters immediately drew you in, and how fully fleshed it was. There was intrigue, humor, mystery, and dimensionality. I just don’t see that here: it’s the same gay white male cliches, dressed up with the current trends.

  9. Charles says

    What struck me about this show, the trailer anyway was the utter awfulness of the very first line.

    If you can’t isolate one good line from a whole season with which to banner your first trailer, then it bodes ill.

  10. Hrm says

    Well, Atomic, if this isn’t your cup of tea, you can always not watch it, and go watch Dante’s Cove instead. There you get all the ethnic fun and dimensionality you can stand.

  11. jazzy says

    Wah wah wah wah wah.

    If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.

    “It’s too straight. It’s too white.” Wah!

    If you want some multicultural queenfest, go watch RuPaul’s drag race or whatever PC show makes you comfortable.

  12. alex says

    The other reviews of Looking have stated the show, unlike other HBO dramas, doesn’t feature sex. Whereas Game of Thrones, True Blood, and Girls feature nudity and lovemaking, Looking quickly pulls away from sex scenes.

    Why? Game of Thrones and True Blood have had gay sex scenes with nudity. Doesn’t that seem odd?

    As for the show’s first four episodes being boring, doesn’t that seem stupid? Why invest time in a TV show to watch just the ordinary boring aspects of life, straight, bi, or gay? Good dramas have conflicts. Characters take journeys. There’s nothing wrong with a little melodrama especially if you want to hook an audience have them come back.

  13. Geoff says

    I’m really, really excited about this! Andrew Haigh (who wrote and directed the film “Weekend”) is part of the creative team. “Weekend” is just superb. Can’t wait!!

  14. Eric says

    Everyone keeps talking about how white this show is. There are three leads, one of whom is Latino. There are other characters of color in multiple episodes. Are people really harping on a show because at least one third of the featured cast aren’t black or Asian?

  15. David says

    I look forward to seeing how many things they show gets wrong about San Francisco.
    First of all, you would never see a creative person and a “hot” waiter hanging out with a techie. We self segregate here and don’t really talk to people who don’t look like us.

  16. Gary says

    For all you people hollering about a “white people show,” Pay attention. Augustin, pleay by Frankie Alavarez, is OBVIOUSLY Latino. as is his partner played by Raul Castillo. I assume by complaining about “White people” you mean there are no black main characters. It is a show about a particular group of friends’ experience. Not all groups of friends are Racially diverse. That is simply how it is in the real world. How many white or Latino or Middle Eastern main charactrs were on Noah’s Arc? Where was the racial diversity there? Double standard much?

  17. ScottCA says

    After seeing the first two episodes at the SF premiere, I have to say I simply do not get the hype. I found nothing compelling about any of the characters and nothing that made me care very much about them.

  18. Ian says

    For the record, Tales of the City was far LESS ethnically diverse than this show appears to be. I can think of only one prominent non-white character (D’Orothea) and [plot spoilers ahead] even she turned out to be white! If anything, it would appear that this show deserves credit for at least pushing the diversity angle a little bit further.

  19. Zlick says

    I’m not encouraged by the reviews foretelling that basically nothing happens in the first four episodes. I believe there are only 8 to this entire “season,” which may be the only season if the show is so “realistic,” it’s boring.

    That needn’t be the case. Sometimes life is dull, and sometimes it’s crazy fun and dramatic. But a TV show must lean a bit towards, ya know, drama. This is supposed to be entertainment, not a documentary. So I hope it has some kind of catch to it. It needn’t be campy or uber-philosophical … but it must be entertaining, and not simply a slice of dull life.

    That said, I have high hopes. And I’m eager to give the show a fighting chance. I’ll watch the whole season of 8 entire half-hour episodes (sheesh, some movies are longer than that!) and I won’t pre-judge. But the reviews have me a little concerned.

  20. johnnzboy says

    The show sounds intriguing enough to warrant a few hours of my time (and the more beards the merrier in my opinion), but on a pointlessly pedantic note, the incongruous turn of phrase “the show drips with the same subtlety of…” perplexed me momentarily. Can subtlety drip?

  21. Joseph Singer says

    @JonnyNYNY2FLFL: You mean have them *all* be white and twinky? Please, it’s not as if all the characters are the same. If there’s a character that you don’t care for don’t concentrate on that character. In case anyone’s never told you this it’s really not always about you and what you want.

  22. jar says

    I’d be most interested to know whether the relationships of the characters are believable. Too often shows want to present a range of types, but fail to convince the audience that these people would really be friends. From what I’ve read about this show, it seems much attention was paid to demographics rather than creating a group of friends whose relationships are honest and compelling.

  23. crispy says

    “Augustin, pleay by Frankie Alavarez, is OBVIOUSLY Latino. as is his partner played by Raul Castillo. ”

    Actually, Frankie Alvarez’s boyfriend is played by OT Fagbenle, who appeared on an episode of Happy Endings as Max’s “hot black boyfriend.”

  24. Brandon h says

    For all you haters, it IS season 1. I know ya’ll are expecting the worst, but even if it needs improvment (which we don’t know because no one other than the press has actually seen the show yet)it might find its footing in season 2 like so many shows.

    I have a feeling this show could have benefited from being on Netflix and being released whole-hog just like House of Cards, that way you can marathon to the end and can judge the show on the whole season rather than whether the first 2 episodes caught your attention. I know I almost gave up on Orange is the new Black on the first episode and thank god i stuck with it because it was great.

  25. says

    Yes because asking for one show out of the hundreds of thousands to be more diverse and not have white or white passing characters when 90% of tv is a sea of white faces is just so racist. Also didn’t we already cover this before? Racism against white people is not a thing. They have never been systematically oppressed in this country like people of color and with the way things are going now, never will.

  26. John says

    Hispanic/Latino is not a race. It’s an ethnicity. The Latino character on this show would be considered a blanco in most Latin-American countries. There are black Latinos. So you’re assumption that black Latinos weren’t represented on Noah’s Arc is specious. And let’s be real, Noah’s Arc was never heralded the way Looking has been championed before a single episode aired. Noah’s Arc wasn’t a great show and doesn’t belong in any cinematic cannon…. However, its development is far more groundbreaking than Looking in 2014.

  27. mike says

    “We self segregate here and don’t really talk to people who don’t look like us.”

    I’m a gay man of color living in San Francisco. That statement is not true for me.

  28. David says

    @Mike,
    I’m not talking about skin color necessarily. It’s more like Junior high here.
    The bears hang out with the bears, sweater queens with the other uptight gays, muscle dudes with gym queens, and so on and so forth.
    This trope of three different type of gays, the cute geek, the hot under achiever, and the aloof artist, all hanging out together. It just does’t exist here. or anywhere for that matter.
    But whatever. It’s TV. So I guess anything can happen.

  29. jazzy says

    @DERRICK

    “Racism against white people is not a thing.”

    You’re a moron. I was going to comment more, but I just looked at your Facebook profile and you’re clearly a loser, so I won’t even waste the time.

  30. D.B. says

    I will probably watch “Looking” and decide for myself if I like it or not.

    However, I find it really funny how critics on this and other gay sites/publications seem to be pulling their punches — they all find the show boring, but no one in the gay media is willing to go on the record and give it a straight-up bad review. I imagine they’re not willing to publicly dismiss such a high profile gay-themed project.

  31. luke says

    For a large segment of the Looking audience, the casual sex, casual drug use and casual conversation are going to feel commonplace.

    i’m a minority within a minority, THANKS XZIBIT.

  32. Frank says

    I have to co-sign on what John said. The gay blogs and news sites have been going into overdrive to sell this show, and that’s all without even seeing a single episode. Also, I have to throw side eye to the people crying foul about Noah’s Arc’s predominately black cast, when every other gay series out there has a predominately white (white Hispanic) cast. I mean let’s face it, if it wasn’t for Noah’s Arc, you’d probably, think that black gay couples don’t exist, given that gay media seems to only show gay black men on television when they are either drag queens, sassy fem stereotypes, or are coupled up with non-black men.

  33. Wilberforce says

    The review reminds me of what I thought about Tales of the City. I couldn’t read it because it was too realistic. I had already lived it, said all the dialogue, and known all the characters for years.
    On the other hand, since I’m long away from that town, it would be nice to watch the scenery.

  34. Factoids says

    I don’t have a problem with the show being White.

    I have a problem with the media claiming this as some kind of story about what gay life is like.

    For who?

    Until you stop making overly broad statements about how you represent all gays everywhere, the general impression will be that of exclusion.

  35. Factoids says

    To give a practical example: does the show cover the working class gays out there?

    I doubt it will. Race is only one aspect of how the messaging is that gay people are only White and upper middle class.

    It just would be more honest to say you want to see shows about Gay White Upper class men. You don’t seem to think the stories about someone who is working class, much less a person of color, is also authentically where gays are at in this point in history.

    Thats the sad part. You limit the story telling by presenting this as a break through. A breakthrough is where a wide range of stories can be told. Not just the one’s that the media establishment wants to tell.

  36. Factoids says

    Okay, one final example: Right now at Sundance, they are going to screen a story about an older gay couple facing financial hardship.

    I am a Black gay male. I won’t to go see that although the leads are White? Why? because the story line legitimately seems off the path of what I have seen before.

    So its not about whether someone has to look like me or not. Its about the lack of any attempt to challenge the beaten path way.

    This isn’t to say that Looking may not turnout to be wonderful. Its to say I am sadden by the attempt to narrow what gay is.

  37. canuck duck says

    If this series is anything like Haigh’s film “Weekend”, it will be riveting. That is one of the best films (gay or straight or whatever) I have ever ever seen.

  38. Epic says

    Good lord everyone is so boring, it’s so excruciating reading these overwrought diatribes…”This doesn’t represent me!”, “Where are black/Jew/Nordic/Indian/blatino/blasian/transbisexuals???!!!” “More/Less facial hair!!!” How do you get up in the morning with such weighty social injustices weighing you down WHILE YOU WATCH HBO! I never thought I would identify with that flighty twit on Girls, but how do you have the energy putting up this front of moral outrage over a television show…come on how shallow are you? watch, don’t watch but please stop whining you are terribly ordinary and we can see it.

  39. Jacknasty says

    Personally, I’m outraged the show doesn’t feature any half-black / half-Asian, transexual, dwarf, paraplegic, Sunni Muslim, morbidly obese characters with eczema and schizophrenia who work as toll collectors. Once again, these under-represented people remain invisible on American television.

    Just how many programs about teh gayz do you hyper-PC imbeciles think mainstream television can support? A couple dozen? Try maybe one. Stop bitching because the show doesn’t hit every single racial / economic / social / ethnic / religious checkbox on some inane list. Any show which tried to do that would suck harder than George Michael in a park restroom, and would be lucky to have an audience beyond the producer’s mom.

  40. Factoids says

    What’s interesting is the same gay men who want to whine about how everyone should respect and treat them equally have a problem applying that same respect to everyone else. If we applied your “logic” why should we even have any shows about gays at all? You aren’t the norm. No one in the majority really spends much time thinking about you at all unless you whine to the nth degree about how they should make shows about you. Heaven forbid, other gays should want the same thing. Suddenly its a cause for the inner White bigot to come out.

    I know this site is a cesspool of the eternally ignorant, but some of you really do need to stop for moment, and think for a second about exactly why no one feels the need to see multiple shows about gay vapid men such as yourselves. Its because its not interesting or relatable. Its why i say above I would rather see the movie about the older White gay couple with financial troubles. What makes it relatable is that there is something more in their lives other than looking in the mirror.

    I have no idea if that’s Looking. I just know if you are the types that the show is is capturing it will be about as fun as watching paint dry.

  41. Helio Figueiredo (me) says

    Not to belabour the race and representation point, some of the comments that I read here do annoy me.

    Our “community” has to admit that it has issues with race or, for instance size. Not all series have to feature the full plethora of the gay experience throughout existence. It would be impossible. The problem is that series like “looking” and “girls” are marketed to the general public as universal, when they are not. The white, upper class, western centric cultural experience isn’t the only cultural experience worth seeing plastered in books and films. And that is disheartening and disappointing, for people who do not fit in that specific pattern. It’s as if all the changes the were wrought the last century did not matter. But I digress.

    I think a good way if avoiding these debates is having honest marketing campaigns. Instead of saying that this is a honest view of gay life, state that this is the experience of white, attractive, slim/fit, educated males in a particularly affluent city in the US, because there is no harm in that. I would guarantee that there would be less disappointment.

  42. JimmyD says

    Bowls of milk all around!
    (I enjoyed the first episode. Looking forward to next week!)

    Fact: Not all White.
    Fact: Esta Noche and El Rio were fun to see on screen (not White bars).
    Fact: Cute boy on MUNI, not White.
    Fact: Guy in park, Bearded.
    Fact: Fun seeing cards/ads with Peaches Christ on them! (She IS White but…)

  43. tyrone says

    I am sooo sick of shows that portray gays in relation to white men only and gay people of color as their anecdotal footnote to their lives. How about showing a show, a movie or a document that portrays what its like for a black man living with HIV or any other racial group dealing with their lives as a gay person of color. I tell you most of the time its not going to be as predictable as this show and by pointing this out does not make a person racist what it means is that they are frustrated and bored of seeing the same formulaic crap on tv.

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