‘Looking,’ the gay male version of ‘Girls’

In my desire to move on from “Girls,” or at the very least, take a break, I watched the premiere episode of “Looking,” HBO’s new series about three men “looking” for love in San Francisco. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, HBO. “Looking” is essentially “Girls” for the homosexual man. Within the context of the semi-erotic world in which these three gay males live, everyone speaks in the same manner, responds similarly to events and participates in unplanned yet casual sexual experiences. The characters, at first introduction, seem cute and trite. The show was faintly amusing and easy to digest, like an episode of “New Girl” or leaving “Friends” on for background accompaniment.

In its premiere, “Looking for Now,” main character Patrick (Jonathan Groff) is concerned about an upcoming event: the engagement party of his ex-boyfriend. He begs his two friends to come with him, and Dom (Murray Bartlett) accepts begrudgingly. Patrick’s baby-face antics throughout the first episode are humorous. Bearing the burden of a hypercritical mother, he goes on a date with a man from OkCupid who might have a lazy eye but at least has an impressive degree. The date is a smashing failure.

Patrick drains his wine like a fish, reveals his sketchy relationship past (“I think my longest relationship was six months”) and tries (and fails) to relate to his date’s occupation as an oncologist. The evening comes to an abrupt stop when the “cancer doctor” suggests they pay the check, since chemistry should not feel “so forced.”

Patrick’s other best friend, Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez) embodies a semi-successful relationship. He suggests to his boyfriend Frank (O.T. Fagbenle) that he move in with him in Oakland because San Fran is so expensive. Frank is disappointed by Agustín’s lack of romance, but agrees. Later on, the couple, while constructing an art piece for a client, meet Scotty (Tanner Cohen). Scotty lacks a back story but is replete with a long, lean body and a whimsical tattoo of Dolly Parton’s signature—all grounds for a threesome. Initiated by Agustín, the three men move from casual conversation to casual sex without remark. Afterwards, Agustín comments that “it was exciting” and Frank responds, “Of course it was.” The transition from sex between two members of a relationship to three members is thus prescribed. Exciting, yes, but significant? No.

While somewhat fantastical that nearly every person on “Looking” is a gay male, I suppose we suspend reality when watching shows like these—the worlds are created, obviously. Every person in Brooklyn is not a privileged white female, but we (somewhat) buy that on “Girls.” “Looking” succeeds where “Girls” does not, however, in its accessibility despite its failings in diversity. Just as “Girls” provokes laughs in a very particular subset, an audience that has experienced just the situation of the protagonist, or laugh at the absurdity of the characters, “Looking” provides situational or experiential humor which a more diverse audience can appreciate. For example, while waiting tables at a restaurant, Dom serves a couple of asshole businessmen and complains to the other waiters. Patrick gets hit on while riding public transportation. Agustín deals with the complexities of a relationship in transition. The jokes and situations are easily enjoyed. Nothing feels “so forced.”

The show is set in San Francisco, and unlike other shows which might merely present a facade while shooting in a cheaper locale, “Looking” depicts the real deal. Lengthy shots of the Golden Gate Bridge and apartments on the hill present a loving, if somewhat dark, representation of the city. The shots, in general, feel somewhat darker and more intimate than one might expect in the city. Without being from the area, a viewer can feel welcome in the atmosphere “Looking” presents—one of picturesque views and a lively, if somewhat uncomfortable, park area fraught with potential homosexual grazing.

However, the show sometimes seems torn between reflecting a group of complex male friends and “doing a gay show.” I say that not to offend, but to criticize. It felt at times that I was viewing stereotypes of gay males. Just as “Girls” gives two-dimensional outlines of real women, “Looking” sometimes filled gaps in narrative with “oh my god!”s and “SO cute, right?” in a manner unpleasantly reminiscent of ignorant satire. I worry, then, that in “Looking”’s effort to reach an audience that is not exclusively queer, the writers may be representing a population falsely to meet expectations of stereotypes.

However, thankfully, these moments are few and far between. As opposed to being “a gay show,” as creator Andrew Haigh fears it will be branded, “Looking” is a sweet, comfortable show. It is warm, funny, and telling of the lives of three men, not settled, living in their late thirties and forties in San Francisco, attempting to maneuver relationships in which they can be happy.

I imagine that, ultimately, “Looking” will be able to garner a far larger audience than “Girls” because of its accessibility and (mainly) skillful writing. These are stories of relationships, not specific to a sexuality or locale, but to a moment of transition, whether experienced in your twenties, thirties or fifties. Hopefully the mixed press will attract a broad audience and viewers of all strata can discover whether it is the perfect late night comfort show for them, or not.

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