The new HBO series charts similar terrain to the drama that was ground-breaking for its depiction of gay men in the noughties. It ran for 5 seasons in the US, following its miniseries debut in the UK, centering around a circle of gay males in their 20s falling in and out of love. It was frank, explicit and honest.
But so much has changed since then.
The post-HIV / AIDs age has matured, same-sex marriage is legal in a number of western countries (and even a few besides), social media has impacted on dating, gay families are widely accepted. Yet there are still battles to be fought, still a yearning to belong and isolation is ever-prevalent for singles in the big city.
The city in Looking is San Francisco, famed for its gay ghettos and rainbow history. The circle of friends is a trio of thirty-something men, and in broadening prime-time conventions, two of them are decidedly hirsute.
At the centre is Patrick (Jonathan Groff), a boyishly charming video-game developer. Not unlike Queer as Folk‘s Brian, he’s good-looking, likeable and down to earth. We meet him in the most awkward and confronting situation: a beat. Just as a perfect stranger is about to make his move, Patrick’s phone rings. In between talking way too much and the call interruption, he apologises and exits, momentarily dropping his phone amid used condoms in the dirt.
Yes, Looking is that kind of show.
The other two principal characters are aspiring artist Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez) who is bravely moving in with his boyfriend and waiter Dom (Australian actor Murray Bartlett) who is wiser and blunter about his personal needs.
“We could just go back to your place,” Dom says to one potential conquest. “I’ll put my positive energy into your universe.”
There’s a lot of conversation in this series by by Michael Lannan, some of which feels improvised. At just thirty minutes long, it’s hard not see the influence of Girls, HBO’s other urban relationship drama.
Indeed, this may well be Girls for gay men, given the three share an intimate bond. That said, these men are rarely effeminate (usually left to peripheral characters) and so far there is nowhere near as much neurosis.
The series title is reflected in episode titles, the first is Looking for Now. It will be followed by Looking for Uncut, Looking at Your Browser History, Looking for $220/Hour and more. In case you haven’t guessed, Sex is just as big a part of the theme as Love.
Also worth a mention is the look of the series. There’s considerable hand-held camera use as well as filters on San Francisco that drain it of its sunny, glamorous backdrop. It barely looks like the same city used for Tales of the City, another rich gay drama filmed in 1993. If not for the lighter themes, this metropolis could almost be Philadelphia.
If you’re looking for a smart, contemporary, frank portrayal of gay men in 2014, look no further.
Looking premieres 8:05pm Monday January 20 on Showcase.