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Tuesday
Feb112014

Looking at "Looking" (Episodes 1-4) 

I wasn't looking for Looking. My experience with gay or gay-adjacent television series has been hit and miss at best, mostly miss. I outright loathed "Queer as Folk" what with its hypersexualized fantasy version of Pittsburgh and occasionally questionable acting. But mostly I hated it because it was populated by sociopathic characters who consistently behaved like no one anyone would ever put up with in real life. Sociopathic characters are fine if its part of the point within your concept or setting but otherwise, nope. Will & Grace was fun but like most sitcoms, once it established its 75 jokes, it basically repeated them for years with new words like a long-running "fabulous!" game of Mad Libs. Recently though it seems like gay characters, at least on non-gay focused shows have been allowed something like two dimensions; we're getting closer and closer to three! 

And so far so good with Looking... 

Gus (Frankie J Alvarez), Dom (Murray Bartlett) and Patrick (Jonathan Groff) in "Looking"

 Like most TV series which are about an under-represented demographic the thinkpieces greeting its arrival a month ago were legion and nitpicky temporarily blanketing the show with aggressive "but it's not about meeeeeeee" smog. It was never going to be all things to all gay people because gay people, like all other types of people, are not a monolith. So now that that fog has dissipated let's talk about it for what it is:  a pretty good and fairly realistic drama about three gay guys living in San Francisco dealing with confusing career and lovelife and friendship issues. It's got at least some of the casually observant heart-tugging subtlety of Andrew Haigh's Weekend - the easiest comparison point since Haigh wrote some of the episodes and has directed all of them thus far. Anything that recalls that great movie in small positive ways, is good by me.

Because "Looking" is largely about sex, relationships and love, let's play the ever popular game of "Do, Dump or Marry" as a quick way to catch up. Instead of making it about people (there are only 3 main characters) which is how we're used to playing it, let's make it about moments in each episode.

Gus, his boyfriend Frank (O.T. Fagbenie), and their sudden third in "Looking"

S1E1 Looking For Now
DO - There have been some hilarious and possibly satiric repeated requests for erect penises on Looking from websites as mainstream as Slate. But you don't need a cable subscription for that. Give me scripted character-revealing sex scenes any day over porn! This threesome was hot without being NSFW and also super incisive about the not quite ambivalent but not quite committed but still intimate Gus/Frankie romance who moved in together at the end of this episode. 
DUMP - I'll sound like a hypocrite now because I loved the threesome but I could have done without the opening joke about Patrick cruising in a public park cruising on a dare. A really offputting 'Queer as Folk' kind of way to start a show that is nothing like that one. 

Patrick: Instagram filters have ruined everything and I can't tell if this guy is hot or not. What d'ya think?
Gus: Oooh, Patty. That is a lazy eye. 

MARRY - I already love the casual organic way this show treats our wifi world. I don't know why this is a rarity in films and television still but people on this show actually react and play with and ignore and use and just live with computers and phones and social media realistically.

S1E2 Looking For Uncut
In which Patrick begins to date Richie but moves to quickly to sex, we realize Gus is artistically stuck when his boyfriend wants to put up an old painting, and Dom confronts an ex who severely disrupted his life years before.

DO -That priceless Golden Girls joke and that wonderful Wicked joke
DUMP - I worry for the Gus storyline because his boyfriend Frank is such a sweet character. I fear imminent dumpage.
MARRY - Doris! Lauren Weedman is wonderful as Dom's best friend / roommate. She's funny and has such great unforced chemistry with Bartlett 

 

S1E3 Looking At Your Browser History
In which Patrick meets his new boss (Russell Tovey) at the launch of his company's new game, Gus gets fired by his artist boss (Holla ANN MAGNUSON cameo!), and Dom meets an older florist Lynn (Scott Bakula, surprisingly well-cast) in a steam room and they become unexpected friends

DO: The scene on the torpedos made me LOL so much inside... which I realize messes with the definition of LOL but shut up. Incidentally Patrick's little thing about always playing female characters in video games is a great identifiable moment (me too) prompting this list at The Advocate
DUMP: That horny kid who interrupts that great chatty scene in the steam room between Dom & Lynn. I loved that scene. Go away, sexcapades!
MARRY: I love the scene between Gus and Patrick pictured above. Looking captures platonic gay intimacy as well as Weekend captured romantic beginnings. Andrew Haigh is a talent. 

S134 Looking For $220 an Hour
In which Patrick flirts with his boss but reignites his romance with Richie, Gus hires a prostitute for his new art project and Dom tries his restaurant idea out on his new (connected) older friend and everyone attends the leather fetish celebration that is the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco

DO - The way Patrick is constantly trying to close his slutty leather vest is such a perfect actor's touch from the always adorable Jonathan Groff (interviewed here). There are few things more attractive than super attractive people who are still awkward about it as if they aren't.
DUMP- I'm already kinda done with this "$220 an hour" plotline with the sex worker and it's just starting!
MARRY - I want to live in these chairs! If you had those at work and you could hang with your boss in them, would you ever leave work? My desk in my home office (aka a small piece of my living room) suddenly feels so unconducive to creativity!

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Reader Comments (22)

I'm so glad you wrote this piece! For me, the show has been improving with each episode. I do think that the sexworker storyline will be wrapped up soon. There are only 4 more episodes left of the season (with a season 2 following, hopefully). I don't imagine they'd continue on with the storyline, unless it serves some bigger purpose.

February 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric C.

I didn't like Queer as Folk either. The British version was okay.

February 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric C.

I'm thoroughly enjoying this series. I learned about it first when I read those negative reviews, then I was surprised to see that only a few episodes had aired, and rather shocked when I actually watched them. This is the closest to fully-formed realistic gay characters we've ever seen on TV, and that's saying something for a show where the gay characters are the leads, and not playing to some stereotype or constantly playing victim. I never really watch or judge a show for how well i identify with it - i rather think that's a cop out to not think critically about any creation - but identifying with these characters has definitely been a plus. Aside from the first scene, the tone has been rather consistent, and it reminds me in a way of Girls in its depiction of daily life, even if it's not as meta about its characters.I do wish that the stories would eventually hit a higher emotional threshold, if only to make it more engaging. A good start.

February 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterG.ShaQ

I love Bakula in this -- world-weary and knowing, feels like a lived-in person. The storyline with him and Dom seems interesting.

I find the younger crew storylines kind of boring. It sounds like my friends talking, and we're not that interesting. I worry that casual tv-making turns into lazy tv-making that never goes anywhere.

February 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Mason

I understand your comment referencing the 'what about me?' crowd.

But!

Who is this show portraying? I can honestly I have never been friends with, encountered, brushed shoulders with anyone even halfway as shallow and idiotic as the characters on this show. I was somewhat excited that the talented (and attractive...) Jonathan Groff was headlining a show about 'modern day' gays...but please. If these are modern day gays I'm headed to conversion camp ASAP.

February 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNate B.

It was a slow start, but things began to click for me in episode 3. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but this definitely isn't a sitcom, not even in the same sense that Girls might be considered one. I wasn't prepared for a style so similar to Weekend, but I'm definitely appreciating it now we seem to be settling into some plot lines. I'm interested to see how the second half of the season plays out and I really hope that they get a shot at a season 2.

February 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVal

Nate -- i'm curious what it is about them you find shallow? or idiotic? I don't see it. I see normal struggles like 'crap i've been in this job forever. what am i doing here?' (100% normal drama) and fears of being stuck (100% normal drama for artists) and the awkwardness of dating (100% normal for single people)...

February 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Love the show so far. QAF was a picture of gay people when I needed ANY picture of gay people so I will always be a fan, but this feels a lot more like reality. It's a little slow but I want to see where things go.

February 12, 2014 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I really like this show. It might be a little more impersonal than Weekend, but it's getting better episode after episode and Jonathan Groff is doing a beautiful job.

PS Lauren Weedman. What a scene stealer! Love her.

February 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

It took me a while to get on the show's wavelength - it's FAR more casual than I was expecting - but now that I'm there, I think I love it. I get the "shallow characters" criticism, in that they are somewhat unable to see anything outside themselves, but if they really are shallow characters, then they're surprisingly introspective (except when they willfully aren't).

I agree with just about everything you said. I'll add that I totally want to marry every scene that involves Patrick and Richie dancing with each other. Sexy AND romantic!

I would also like to marry Russell Tovey, but that's another matter entirely.

February 12, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

The show has gotten SO MUCH better than the very disappointing pilot. Lauren Weedman is really best in show. There are so many great laugh-out-loud lines. Plus Russell Tovey. Oh Russell Tovey. Sigh Russell Tovey.

February 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRahul

So basically you hate everything overtly sexual?

February 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBD

It's growing on me but I find the rhythm to be so slow (witch is not a bad thing) that I feel sometimes that it should an hour instead of 30 min. show. It's like there trying to tell to many stories for the format & it gets frustrating. But I like that the caracters are not cute or even sympathetic. It's refreshing!

February 12, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterstjeans

I just wish we had a drama about 2 gay men living their lives and in deep love with each other,where is the love in any of these shows,instead of presenting us with the same tired old cliches and cliched characters.

February 12, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

I completely disagree with your view of the show. It's still much closer to Queer as Folk (the cruising in the first episode, the flirting with your boss, really?, the threesome, etc.) than to Girls. While Girls is completely aware of the characters douchebaggery (is that a word?) because one of the premises is that we all can be douchebags at some point, Looking not only is not aware of how clichéd and insufferable Jonathan Groff character is, but forbids all his douchebaggery as "adorable flaws", and expects the viewer to fall in love with Groff due to his adorability factor. Too much asking, to be honest. Even though he's probably one of the few actors who can pull it off, the show does him no favours.
I think it stills has room for improvement if they develp the supporting characters who look mucho more interesting than Groff's. I won't hold my breath, though. Something tells me they'll go the easy route and make the character who's in a relationship to break up because he's secretly in love with Groff (zzz).

February 12, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

BD -- are you talking to me? No. I love all the Patrick/Richie sexually charged scenes and that threesome scene. otherwise though some of the sex scenes feel obligatory rather than character oriented.

mark -- like sex & the city the love here seems to be between the friends. which is fine. but basically dramas about happy couples are boring. the only time it's not boring is when the drama is not about that (see: once & again... which was more about blended families. and friday night lights: which was more about everything than about the central marriage though that anchored everything.

February 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Also, deciding if someone is gay by checking if he plays female roles in video games? seriously? what's next, checking how guys cross their legs, or move their wrists while talking? Sometimes I have to double check to see which blog I am reading...

February 12, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

iggy -- whoever said that? i did not say that. I was just recalling a story point i liked that Patrick admits he always plays female avatars. It was a cute detail and not something i've really heard discussed elsewhere.

February 12, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

wow. I'm really - and still - surprised at the reactions. Have we arrived at the first generation of gay people whose difference is defined but the characters that have been portrayed of them? These characters might as well be straight - but if they were, they would be cliche, and that's the novelty here.

February 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterG.ShaQ

On the female avatars thing, I don't play video games, but in other ways (I am drawn to female roles in literature or theatre for scene study for example) because femininity in men isn't explored in writing. I connect just fine with that idea and thought it was great to see that included for Patrick.

Liked this show, glad to see you write about something like this--- also totally agree about Groff's nervousness in the leather vest.

February 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDanny Hall

I'm more or less grateful that there's a refreshing gay show on the air (on fabulous HBO, no less) that I'm gonna be compelled to watch it until it ends. Still, it's a big mixed bag for me so far. That recent episode was probably its strongest outing yet.

LOVE: Almost everything in Dom's storyline work well or rings very true for me. From his funny yet no-nonsense girl bestie/roommate to the perfect casting of Scott Bakula (that sauna scene!) to his crazy fucked up ex-bf who's now 'enlightened', it all works for me in anchoring the show in such a grounded, lively and lived-in way. I wish he was the main character, honestly. Bonus points: Andrew Keenan-Bolger as one of his grindr hookups. LAWD, that was hilarious for me as someone who follows him on social media as an interesting persona but hasn't seen too much of him onscreen. What did Celia think?! LOL.

MEH: Oh, Jonathan Groff. I like his acting here but the character isn't well thought out. Or maybe he's not projecting all the shades that we're supposed to see - I dunno, something's not adding up. Either way, he feels like a drip. A judgmental, insecure drip. Bonus points for Russell Tovey tho, finally something big that isn't on BBC.

HATE: That bullshit artist character. Ugh. Like we don't already know he's a total flake and gonna cheat on his puppy-dog bf at some point and cause some boring drama. Much too flighty for his screentime and I avoid people like that in real life as though they were a plague. My major problem tho is that I seriously question whether anything new can be said with him. I do like the confident male escort character but there's only so many ways that plot will develop and none of them seem all too interesting.

BTW I, too, think it should be 30 mins longer. There's just so much to digest in each episode and still so much more they could do.

February 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

@Mark the first
It was fun to read that you think the show is a mix bag, and you MEH this and HATE that, and yet you want the episode to be longer. Makes me thing of the Annie Hall quote: the food is terrible... And such small portions! Lol.

February 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSeisgrados

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