Looking, a new half-hour dramedy premiering Sunday on HBO, follows three closely knit gay men in San Francisco as each enters a period of transition.
At 31, Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez), a frustrated artist, has nervously just agreed to move from the heart of the city to share quarters with his long-term boyfriend (O-T Fagbenle) in suburban Oakland, while Dom (Murray Bartlett) is staring down the barrel of his 40th birthday, painfully aware that he has spent most of his adult life as a waiter and kept his dreams of opening his own restaurant on hold for far too long.
As for their mutual best friend, Patrick (Jonathan Groff, Glee), he has just found out that his ex, the only real boyfriend he’s ever had, is getting married four months after their break-up. True, Patrick is the one who did the dumping, but that doesn’t mean he’s any happier about this development, which sends him, at 29, into a frenzied online search for a new boyfriend (and, since Agustin is moving out of their apartment, a new roommate).
As Looking unfolds during its eight-episode first season, each of these characters will, on some level, come to question where he is in his life – especially Patrick, who likes to present himself as relationship-oriented, but never has stayed with a boyfriend for more than five months. He’s equally unfocused in his job as a video games designer, where he spends too much of his time trolling dating sites like OkCupid.
“I don’t think either of us is very good at being what we think we are,” he tells Agustin in a rare moment of self-candor. “Maybe we need to try a little harder.”
Looking is not, of course, the first premium cable series to take a frank look at the lives of gay men. In that respect, the 2000-05 Showtime series Queer as Folk got there first. QAF often featured simulated sexual content so graphic that the series seemed intent not just on pushing the envelope, but setting it on fire and scattering the ashes. Looking is more interested in charting the emotional life of its characters. Yes, there are same-sex love scenes in this new HBO series, but at least based on the first four episodes HBO made available for preview, audiences saw more explicit footage with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in the Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra.
As more than one character in Looking says, “It’s more about intimacy than sex,” which could almost be a mantra for the series. This show is less interested in getting its characters out of their clothes and into bed with each other than in capturing the relaxed, affectionate closeness between these men: the teasing, the flirting, the shared sense of both joy and regret.
Most of the cast probably will be unfamiliar to HBO subscribers, but they have an easy chemistry together that evokes a mutual history. If you only know Groff, a leading man on Broadway, from his two-dimensional guest role on Glee, you’re in for a revelation here, because he’s sensational, capturing every facet of Patrick’s complex personality – especially in his scenes with British actor Russell Tovey (The History Boys), who joins the show in its third episode as Patrick’s new boss (and, one suspects, future love interest).
Looking may revolve mostly around gay men in a Northern California city, but its issues and themes are universal and relatable to anyone with an open heart and mind. If there’s any justice, this smart, beautifully crafted show will find the audience it (and HBO) deserves.