“It’s San Francisco. It shouldn’t be that hard to meet cool people in this town.” So is the exasperated lament of our hero Patrick, expressed in the midst of what is shaping up to be a horrible date. Awkward banter quickly devolves into pretentious quote corrections (it’s “work is love made visible” FYI) and remarks about careers—Patrick’s a video game developer while his date is a cancer doctor—that are by turns foot-in-mouth and outright condescending. In the end, the good doctor dismisses Patrick as relationship material and departs, leaving him stuck with a bad taste in his mouth, which he washes down with the wine he foot most of the bill for.
Welcome to the world of Looking, the new HBO series created by Michael Lannan and executive producer Andrew Haigh, the force behind the 2011 indie hit Weekend. Set in San Francisco, the series follows the misadventures of three gay men at different places in life and love. Patrick, played by Jonathan Groff, is a 29-year-old video game developer bruising from a recent breakup with his now engaged ex-boyfriend Jason. The recent turn of events has him bumbling through the hookup/dating scene, displaying a naiveté that, although sweet and endearing, borders on Shoshanna-levels of cluelessness. What else could you call babbling through a hand job in the woods with a “gym teacher” hairy guy, then fleeing mid-jerk when his cell phone goes off?
Afterwards, Patrick, also known as Paddy to cohorts Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) and Dom (Murray Bartlett), confesses he bolted from the encounter because he imagined the caller on his phone being his mother, calling “to stop me from becoming one of those gays that hooks up with people in a park.” Clearly, Paddy cares a lot what Mama, and by extension others, think about him and his sexual and romantic choices.
“You’re a pervert now. You gotta wear those colors with pride,” Agustin says. The aspiring artist is leaving the place he shares with in with his boyfriend Frank. If the pervert quote didn’t hint that monogamy doesn’t quite sit well with Agustin, initiating a three-way with young Patrick to movetwink Scotty and Frank, drives the point home. “So, are we gonna be one of those couples?” Frank asks post menage trois. “We can be whatever we wanna be,” Agustin says semi-confidently, before Frank drops what’s destined to be the major issue of their relationship: “Yeah but what if we don’t agree on what we wanna be?”
Dom, the elder statesman of the trio, is struggling with a similar identity crisis, minus a boyfriend. A career waiter and aging muscle queen, he’s staring forty in the face and fretting about whether his good looks are fading, particularly after being turned down by a younger co-worker, a first-time event in his world. It might be why he chooses to leave a message for what sounds like an unstable ex named Ethan, or mull over starting a real estate career.
It would certainly help him compete with the “annoying, overachieving 20-something c*unts” he despises and waits on; but it probably has more to do with Ethan–oh by the way, Ethan’s a real estate agent. Dom doesn’t seem to have much of a grip on what he wants from life, but he does give Patrick the good advice to not care what others think. Judging from the way he approaches the cute guy he met on a bus post-horrific doctor date, he’s taking it to heart, at least for one night.
Compared to say, GIRLS, with its quick cuts, verbose heroines and whiplash witticisms, Looking moves at a snail’s pace. I thought this would be a drawback, but found it perfect for introducing both the characters and San Francisco. There are little to none jarring camera tricks or a blaring, in-your-face soundtrack driving the action. Instead scenes are given room to breath, allowing the viewer to take in the apartments, the bars, sidewalks and coffee shops that populate the city, along with the diverse population (a consistent critique of GIRLS Lannan and Haigh surely didn’t want to endure—not saying it’s Shonda Rhimes diverse, but it’ll do for a pilot).
San Francisco’s reputation as a gay mecca may also explain Looking‘s treatment of sex. From Patrick’s woodland tryst to the jockstrap and furry antics of Jason’s engagement party, and Agustin and Frank’s threesome, all carnal activity is met with a collective “so what?” shrug. That being said, the episode was awful skittish about actually showing sex. This makes sense when it comes to a neurotic like Patrick. But when say, Agustin, Frank and Scotty are getting down with the down, a quick cut to the next scene doesn’t play right. If Agustin’s the type of guy to turn showing a tattoo into a live-action skin flick, we should see some actual skin.
All in all Looking‘s maiden episode provided a fun, intoxicating introduction to three flawed, intriguing characters whose personal journeys are bound to be relatable to most men, whether they call the Castro home or not.
Watch the first full episode HERE.