Review: HBO’s “Looking” is surprisingly wonderful

I wasn’t going to watch HBO’s new series, “Looking.”

The name bugged me, for starters.

“Looking” is an annoying (IMHO) term that some gay men use online when looking to hook up.  And rather than, you know, actually engaging you in a conversation, even if it is admittedly a conversation about sex, their very first message to you is simply one-word: “looking?”

Call me old-fashioned, but I enjoy a little more effort exhibited — oh, I don’t know, say, a complete sentence? — before considering a fling with a total stranger.

So the title was an inauspicious beginning to what I suspected was going to be an annoying, and perhaps even embarrassingly tell-all, show about young-gay-kids-I’ll-never-possibly-relate-to.

cast-of-looking The cast of "Looking," Frankie J. Alvarez (l), Jonathan Groff, and Murray Bartlett (r).

The cast of “Looking,” Frankie J. Alvarez (l), Jonathan Groff, and Murray Bartlett (r).

But I got bored. And gdamn HBO skipped the new episodes of VEEP (another WONDERFUL show), Game of Thrones, and Silicon Valley (yet ANOTHER great show) this week, so I gave “Looking” a shot. And I’m glad I did.

The show is great.

(I don’t think I really have any spoilers in here, nothing major – so I think you’re safe reading on.)

It’s half an hour an episode, and the time flies. Basically, it’s about Patrick Murray (played by Jonathan Groff), a youngish (30?) relatively-newly-out gay guy living in San Francisco, and working in the tech industry as a game programmer/designer.

The show also revolves around Patrick’s two best friends, Agustin (played by Frankie J. Alvarez) and Dom (played by Murray Bartlett). Agustín is around Patrick’s age — young, Latino (but not quite as Latino as some other characters might want him to be), and an artist who hasn’t found his muse, and isn’t even sure he is, or ever will be, an “artist.”

Dom is 40, and freaking out about getting old.

The gay community — well, there are many gay communities, I suppose — but the white yuppie/hipster gay community in America has a certain admiration for youth, shall we say. So, Dom is understandably concerned as to whether he’s become, as my friend David warned me years ago, “invisible” to the younger gay boys who may now simply consider him a “troll.” (Though, in all fairness to gayland, all one need do is turn on MSNBC to fully appreciate the invisibility that comes with wrinkles, gay and straight.)

As for the story and the acting, let me just say, right off the bat, that I finally forgive Jesse for being such a jerk to Rachel.

Agustín (l), Patrick, and Dom.

Agustín (l), Patrick, and Dom.

Jonathan Groff is wonderful.

Adorable. Innocent. Caring. Confused. New. Fresh. And incredibly in over his head trying to figure out how the whole gay thing actually works. He’s me, and everyone I knew coming out. And even though I came out 23 years ago (yikes), he’s me. I didn’t expect that. The show’s creator, Michael Lannan, and executive producers David Marshall Grant, Sarah Condon, and Andrew Haigh hit the nail on the head in terms of getting the newly-gay (and not-so-newly-gay) thing just right.


Russell Tovey as Kevin Matheson in “Looking.”

Another surprise, English actor Russell Tovey.

Yummy doesn’t begin to describe Tovey’s performance. Tovey, you might recall from his earlier days on the British series “Being Human.” He played a neurotic werewolf, and drove me nuts. Not that he did a bad job acting — he didn’t — but rather, it was one of those parts that, to quote Jessica Rabbit, was simply drawn that way.

Well, let me just say that, in the same way that I didn’t love Jesse in “Glee,” but really love Patrick in “Looking,” Russell Tovey’s Kevin Matheson is masterful. (Sometimes, it seems, when you don’t like a character, it’s really the character and not the actor that’s the problem.)

The title almost does the show an injustice. I get the double-entendre now. Each character is looking for something in life that he just can’t find, and might not even be able to define. Patrick seeks love, and a roadmap to being gay. Agustín, his muse. And Dom, life after death-at-39.

And I’d be remiss not to mention Scott Bakula, who plays the older-gay maybe-love-interest of Dom, and Laureen Weedman, who plays the straight-girl bff of the gay boys, Doris.


Scott Bakula as Lynn in “Looking.”


Laureen Weedman as Doris in “Looking.”

And last, but definitely not least, is Raúl Castillo, who plays Patrick’s love-interest, Richie.  Yep, more sex-on-a-plate, and yet another great, thoughtful, nunaced actor (who cleans up awfully well). The folks who put this show together really assembled a great cast — and not just for the eye-candy (though it doesn’t hurt), but all the actors are simply great at their roles.

Raul Castill in Looking.

Raúl Castillo (r) in “Looking.”

And here’s Raul cleaned up:

Raúl Castillo as a much-cleaned-up Richie.

Raúl Castillo as a much-cleaned-up Richie.

I’m not saying that “Looking” is the best writing on TV today. It’s no “Frasier.” (But what is?) But it’s a fun show that gets “gay” right, and the half-hours just fly by.

I have to admit, before I watched “Looking,” my inner-Dom wondered if I’d gotten too old for “gay TV.” Apparently, I haven’t :)


Amazon still doesn’t have “Looking” for sale yet, but you can head over there and add your name to the list for when they do.  Oh, and the show has been renewed for another season, with Tovey, Castillo and Weedman coming back as regulars.

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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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