So I just finished watching episode 5 of HBO’s new comedy-drama Looking. I’ve been meaning to write some form of a review about this TV show for a while now, but it was only after this fifth episode that I finally felt inspired to discuss it. Looking follows the love lives and careers of three gay friends, Patrick, Dom & Agustín, living in San Francisco, California. The show was created by Michael Lannan and has Andrew Haigh, the writer and director of Weekend (a movie I recently reviewed), attached to it as a main writer. The show fuses comedy with drama while trying to display a realistic depiction of what it is like to be a modern-day gay man.
When I first got wind that HBO was making a series about gay men I was immediately ecstatic. I am a huge lover of Sex and the City, which I watched on dvd after it had been off the air for a few years. I always felt that, since SATC was so wonderful, HBO had the ability to create an amazing and unparalleled gay themed series just like it. Finally my prayers had been answered and here was Looking. Even more exciting, the characters were in my age range so it should be easy to relate to them. A gay show for my generation! So exciting!
First Impressions: Does Length Matter?
I eagerly awaited the series premiere and on that wondrous night my expectations were pretty high. I was ‘schoolboy excited’ and way too smiley as I sat down to watch the pilot. Then as the credits rolled at the end of this first episode, I found myself waiting for the other shoe to drop. Was that it? I felt underwhelmed.
My initial thoughts were confounded. The episode seemed so short. It was like a tiny amuse-bouche before the actual meal. When were they serving the main course? The episode had zoomed by feeling like way less than 30 minutes. I felt cheated. I barely got a taste for the characters or a mood of the show.
Earlier I mentioned Sex and the City for a reason. Was I unfairly expecting Looking to be the gay version of SATC? Each SATC episode always felt very lengthy to me. They were all neatly organized by Carrie Bradshaw’s comforting narrative. Looking simply jumped from one character to another, with no background music to set a mood in any scene (unless if it was naturally playing at a location), and offered no synopsis or moral conclusion to sum up the episode. We are left with hardly any words at the end and then credits and music. It’s almost like, “WTF? It’s over already? I have no idea how I feel about what I just saw.” But if we really pay attention, Gentle Reader, perhaps not knowing how we feel at the end, and being forced to contemplate, is our real reward.
Regardless of my initially underwhelmed feelings, I always expected that I would watch every episode of this first season. But, by the end of episode three I found myself wondering, “Do I even like these characters?” Dom, played by Murray Bartlett, seemed boring and unrelatable to me. Agustín, portrayed by Frankie J. Alvarez, was rude, antagonizing, and constantly acted irritated with everyone else. Even Patrick, our main character brought to life by the handsome Jonathan Groff, seemed too childish, too awkward, and a little too clueless. I began asking myself, “Do I care about where these characters’ story plots are heading?”
Episode 5: My Interest is Piqued
Then suddenly, along comes episode 5 titled “Looking for the Future”, and now I have officially climbed aboard the ‘Looking train’. Way back in episode 1 we are introduced to a love interest for Patrick named Richie. He disappeared after episode 2 and seemed to be out of the picture. But now he has thankfully resurfaced. Episode 5 focused solely on Patrick and Richie. This entire episode followed them around San Francisco as they spent a full day together simply talking and getting to know one another. The dialogue is comforting and relatable. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time on their date. It is important to note that this episode was written by Andrew Haigh (writer and director of the above mentioned Weekend) which explains why the dialogue is so realistic and natural.
I love the character of Richie, played by Raúl Castillo. First off, I find his demeanor, way of talking, and physicality very attractive. He is kind, thoughtful, compassionate and funny. He knows who he is and has a confidence about him. I’m so glad he is back in Patrick’s life. In my opinion, he makes Patrick more interesting. He helps to calm Patrick down a little. Richie is the kind of personality I need in my life. I wish I was dating him. I hope their relationship grows and lasts.
Also, Episode 5 completely rectified the character of Patrick for me. In this episode I finally started to relate to him and I realized that, in many ways, I am Patrick. I too am afraid of silences when I’m on a date. I too push way too much with never ending questions when I’m nervously trying to get to know someone. I too suffer from some level of bottom shame, and I too get tested way too often for STDs even though I hardly ever have hookups. I too sometimes use awkward joking and excessive rambling to cover up feeling nervous and insecure. And I also worry too much and am too scared of the future. So just like that, I’ve decided that I like Patrick and I’m interested in seeing where his journey heads.
‘Looking’ Forward with Hope
I’m glad to be heading into season one’s final 3 episodes with an increased confidence in the series. In fact, I’m sad that there are only 3 episodes left. There is no word yet on whether HBO is renewing Looking for a second season. My schoolboy excitement is beginning to ignite again, and I really hope that HBO takes a chance on a this show for a second run.
If you have not yet watched Looking, I recommend it. Despite the show’s slow start, I think it holds a lot of truth within it’s stories and, if given enough time, I think we will all find more of ourselves within each of its characters. I expect Dom and Agustín to become more likable as I learn to understand them better. Looking’s creators say that the show should be relatable for non gay viewers as well because, first and foremost, it is a show about love. And we all understand and enjoy watching shows about love and relationships, right? I can agree with that. But, I must say, I’m still really glad to finally have a show where I know the characters are gay and dealing with the same topics I am as I navigate this gay ocean that is my life.
I think the show has the promise to become something really special. There is a subtlety to it that makes it very honest. There are gentle moments of silence and sincere glances shared between characters, and these things are rare to find on the loud and attention deficit world of television today. I’m still learning who I am, and as I watch the show I get glimpses of who I want to be as a proud gay man. It is never a bad thing when a television show can help us realize more of who we want to be. Lord knows we can all use as much help as we can get. And maybe these new TV friends of ours can offer us support in our ‘looking’ for ourselves.
Side Note: Episode 5 draws references to the movie The Goonies and the television show Friends. I appreciated these reflections as they were each a huge part of my growing up.
For anyone interested in learning more about Looking, here are some relevant links…
Looking‘s IMDB Page
HBO & Looking‘s YouTube Page
Catching Up With Raúl Castillo, Looking‘s Richie
Jonathan Groff, Looking Star, Responds to Claims that the show is Boring