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-looking

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

Scott Bakula as Lynn in “Looking.”

doris-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 | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • The_Fixer

    Concur on “EastSiders”. Very well done, and has very definitely flawed characters who are interesting. It’s worth checking out.

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  • dcinsider

    And this is why there are multiple channels on our television. :)

  • chris10858

    Or move to Miami…. the latin guys in their 20s and 30s often love guys 40 and up.

  • Indigo

    You’d love Spain but Latin America works too.

  • emjayay

    OK, Mad Men dvds tend to come out when the next season is starting or thereabouts.

  • emjayay

    The show that is repeatedly cited today for being a part of the cultural shift toward acceptance of gay people? The one with all kinds of gay jokes sneaked in all the time? The one I watched in a gay bar on a bunch of TV’s along with a full crowd of laughing and applauding guys?

    Yes, I understand the compromises, which resulted in it being on network TV for years and in often in the top ten .

  • Yalma Cuder-Zicci

    I hated the British and American girlfriends too!

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Whipper snapper

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I don’t know about Spain, my experience only extends to Latin America :) Sorry, my “friend’s” experience.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    LOL I think part of it was I hated his girlfriend. Didn’t like the American girlfriend much either. So perhaps that’s they character got on my nerves. And the neuroses. It was so well done, that I didn’t like him!

  • Indigo

    Oh, good! Me too. Let’s run away to Spain!

  • Indigo

    Moi? I went and took a nap. (See how I am?)

  • Indigo

    That’s one of the delights of German that even after the verb they feel comfortable stringing on a preposition or two or three. Delightful! Kompt denn an . . .

  • Indigo

    As Churchill is reputed to have said when asked about ending a sentence with a preposition, “That is something up with which I shall not put.” (jokingly, I’m sure)

  • Indigo

    Oh, yeah. I get it now. You’re right that a big chunk of all them is gone. What I was put off by was the lounge lizard gay bars of yesteryear. I don’t go to the bars any more, drink rarely and lightly and so I don’t know what that scene looks like today. As for an occasional toke, I have no objection and don’t say no if it’s offered. About the crowd that’s gone, I am the only survivor of my social group from the 70s. I have no idea how that happened. What to do? Rebuild. What else is there to do? Socialize, get acquainted with a new group of people, necessarily younger guys, and keep on truckin’ . . .

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    The only reason we’re told to not end sentences in prepositions is because they don’t do it in Latin, which makes sense. English in not a Romance language and shouldn’t be bound to those grammatical rules…it’s always been a pet peeve of mine. Something you could say I’m not a fan of! ;)

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    There are some things that should never be given up. In this case, I don’t mind ending a sentence with a preposition.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    You’re going to love your 50s. The worse thing is that all the guys my age want 30 year olds. WTF is wrong with our community? Fortunately, I have always been fond of older guys. It works out.

  • timncguy

    Maybe so. But, I could just as easily turn the comment around and ask the 40 somethings how many men in their 50s and 60s they are paying attention to. If men are willing to date other men 20 years their junior, then they should also be willing to date men 20 years their senior, right?

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    Good idea. I do speak Spanish…

  • Yalma Cuder-Zicci

    I was a late-comer to the show too, and loved it as well.

    But about Russell Tovey in “Being Human”, after watching the American version as well, I think Tovey brought a lot more to the part that just the way it was written. Can anyone scream like Russell Tovey?

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Right, I saw the American one, didn’t see the Brit one

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Characters and story line felt less fluffy than QAF. To me, at least.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I love that one sad scene with Patrick and Richie. Richie is a really intg character.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    That’s a fair pt. Though “too young for them” I might quibble with.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Kidding :)

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Who are you?

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    You said sobriety help…anyway, I have always hated (even as a younger man) that older men were often ignored and pushed aside. But to be somewhat fair a big chunk of the generation just ahead of me is gone.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Move to France, or Latin America. They appreciate the white hairs and wrinkles :)

  • Indigo

    That’s great. I’m not sure pot has anything to do with it but me too! :-)

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    I think that’s a great attitude. My friend is turning 60 next month and he’s still active in the gay community and has fun. If the kids don’t like it too fucking bad. I will never give up pot though – I like it once or twice a week.

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    Ray’s mother from Everybody Loves Raymond was always calling herself a trophy wife! SO like that!!! ;)

  • Drew2u

    I watched QAF while in college and I couldn’t relate to any of the characters, hated both versions, and really only came away with a crush on Hal Sparks.

  • Drew2u

    Because myopia is a standard hurdle for character growth (I’m assuming)?

    Take Augustin and Frank as a big example; even Dom’s freaking out at the restaurant I see as myopic. Dom’s threatened by external forces that he can’t or doesn’t know how to control (aging well, food critics). Patrick’s fuck-ups, I do believe, are all explained with his mommy issues.

    But yeah, I know what you’re getting at. I’m of mind that if it didn’t happen on-screen in some fashion, then it didn’t happen at all. All the backstory for Avatar, Pacific Rim, or Cloverfield that was covered in cross-over media, if it didn’t happen within the realm of the film, then it didn’t happen. I’m a Pokemon game player and the 5th generation of the games had a ton of “backstory” that wasn’t present in the games, causing them to have giant plot-holes with the story that was supposed to be developed. Same goes for Harry Potter and whether Dumbledore was gay or Harry was supposed to end up with Hermione. (And everyone knows Han shot first)

  • Drew2u

    But he’s such a privileged white boy! [see: his mother] (In no way am I calling myself privileged; I’ll just stick to the social awkwardness and late-20s man-child)

  • dcinsider

    It happens to the best of us. At 53, no one is paying attention except my husband :)

    Of course, I’m not convinced they were paying attention when I was 30 either.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    For most things you have to wait a week and it shows up on hulu (or something similar). Mad Men requires you to prove you have cable to watch online. It doesn’t take a whole year for the videos to come out. I watched Homeland the same way and some british shows as well. Sometimes it’s actually more enjoyable to binge-watch a good series (1-2 episodes every few days).

    A recent study showed that most people watch between 10-17 channels no matter how many they get. It’s not just ESPN. There are tons of channels I never watched. And then, even though I had the middle package (not the basic but not the biggest one without premium channels) I was constantly clicking on a channel I didn’t get. I’d have to pay even MORE to get a science channel with a show about the big bang? Forget it. What a racket. And worst of all, part of my money went to religious right grifters who get paid for being in my cable package (like the lady with the lavender hair and I don’t mean Dame Edna and her obviously gay husband). Anyway, I finally decided it really wasn’t worth it.

    And forget about getting a digital tv signal if you live in an apartment. I guess the local channels don’t care if we watch or not since they’ve made it too expensive and sometimes next to impossible to watch. I’ll pop some microwave popcorn to eat while I watch the greedy telecoms do under.

  • Indigo

    I understand. I’m astonished that I hit 73 and am still going. I have no idea how I did that. It just happened. But yes . . . invisibility also happens. I have a remedy for that, don’t stop mingling in the community. Get out there and be visible, participate in the life of the community beyond the bars, be helpful but not intrusive and inspire others. Ashtanga yoga, regular cycling, and sobriety help.

  • emjayay

    It’s something that women talk about as well. Probably for basically biological reasons men tend to be attracted to nubile young things no matter what their sexuality. Hence, trophy wives.

  • AdmNaismith

    I get what you’re saying.
    I was just waiting for the show to show us why these guys were all acting like such dopes. Maybe they’re just letting the viewers fill in those blanks (still a weakness of the show, to me).

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    Would that I make it!

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    From everyone. It seems like the other 30/40 somethings are into younger guys and the younger guys these days seem to be into each other or guys who are very very daddy. I’m not evaluating my worth by it, certainly not, but it was nice to get some attention. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it and don’t miss it. But it’s not something to get overly upset over.

  • Indigo

    At least it’s not ‘Will and Grace.’

  • Indigo

    Speaking of invisible, wait’ll you’re in your 70s.

  • timncguy

    This is a comment that I never understand. Invisible to who? Other 40 year olds? Why is it that gay men tend to evaluate their own worth by how much attention they get from men that are too young for them?

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    Another thing the show got right was the age thing. Now that I’m 40, basically I am invisible. It happened almost over night. At 39 and 40 I got attention now that I’m closer to 41 it’s like I just don’t exist. Oh well. There’s more to life.

  • emjayay

    Oh, thanks.

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    Isn’t it always?

  • Rambie

    I liked “Looking” well enough, but the characters were as stereotypical as QaF’s cast. Most TV series characters are pretty stereotypical though. The character arcs of the “Looking” cast were pretty standard as well, I was hoping for a few more twists to the story lines to make the series more interesting.

  • dcinsider

    Patrick would not read this blog . . . or read.

  • Elijah Shalis

    Must be a generational issue

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    He’s a bit of a butter face not a complete one. That’s how…something is off about him but I do find him sexy.

  • FLL

    “Looking” was watchable enough, mostly because the characters are very realistic. What’s wrong with a lot of TV programming is that the characters are so flawless that they’re boring. When you transfer that to gay TV, a show becomes an exercise in polemics rather than compelling or entertaining. As a case in point, the American version of “Queer as Folk” was so mawkish, overwrought and cringe-worthy that it was difficult to watch even one episode. By far and away the best piece of gay programming in recent years is a web series with not much funding called “Eastsiders,” which I think Logo TV now has the rights to. A brilliant, insightful look into the complications of infidelity.

  • emjayay

    Had to look up butter face in the Urban Dictionary. (AB continually broadens one’s horizons.) How can you be butter face, and also handsome? Maybe you have a different meaning!

  • emjayay

    I thought both QAF’s had certain unrealistic elements or casting decisions, and Sharon Gless was just consistently way too much playing character, not acting. Liked both a lot and would recommend them to anyone interested. The couple of Looking episodes I’ve been able to see were OK too in their own way.
    Seriously, I swear, I’m not easy.

  • dcinsider

    How exactly was Looking substantive?

  • dcinsider

    Agree.

  • dcinsider

    Could be generational but that’s how they struck us.

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    He’s a bit of a butter face, but handsome. Scott Bakula, however…

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    I recognized no one on the show – no one that I could relate to, really. Although they did get the Mexican-Cuban relationship pretty accurate.

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    The American QAF was a total disaster. The British one was better than the American QAF and better than Looking.

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    I was disappointed. It wasn’t un-watchable, but I didn’t care about any of the characters except for Dom and his love interest (Scott Bakula was the oldest and also the hottest in my opinion). The lead, Paddy, was naive and ridiculously annoying. Giggling at un-cut cock at 29? Really? He also acted with the maturity of a 22 year (maybe) old not a 29 year old. It also got very boring…what worked well in Weekend, the small nuances of a relationship, the subtleties does not translate well into a sitcom format. I found myself falling asleep during the Richie/Paddy dating episode and cringing….

  • Drew2u

    Most adults still act like children at some point for some reason. Over the weekend my best friend was trying to salvage his relationship with his girlfriend who just turned into a total bitch. She eventually dumped him over the course of the holiday, and in my eyes she just needed my BFF to be the bad guy in order to not feel guilty about wanting out.

    At the same time, the age of the characters and your less-tolerance for 20-something angst pretty much complement each other. A lot of people go to college after high school, which – while being independent for the most part – still gives a routine that they have done for about the previous 12 years. Those in the post-college age are struggling with not only the newly found freedom of choices and identity, but also the expectations of a job or work in order to balance the obligations of life (food, shelter, bills, taxes). Of others who may have quit college or high school, the obligations are still there as well as finding identities of ones self and those one becomes a part of. All life is a transition phase into death. Some are able to handle life better and quicker than others.

  • Drew2u

    Doris / Laureen Weedman is by far my favorite character. I have to wonder how much of her lines are improv, but either way her delivery is fantastic.

    Russel Tovey’s great, but I find the Boss/Employee thing to be… typical? I suppose over 8 30min episodes, things have to move somewhere, I guess. I do enjoy the rather laid-back pace of the episodes.

    And oh, Richie. I was in a kind of Patrick/Richie relationship for less dates than episodes of this show. Guess that goes to show how generic some of us really are? (and yes, I’m totally Patrick, no questions)

  • Strepsi

    Mmmmmm Dom. Also, so happy Scott Bakula and Lauren Weedman and Tovey apparently made regulars next season, all 3 were spectacular.

    http://instinctmagazine.com/sites/instinctmagazine.com/files/styles/large/public/images/blog_posts/Nigel%20Campbell/2014/01/11/looking%20murray%20bartlett.jpg?itok=9QtEVa8i

  • Strepsi

    That was what I loved about it — it was dreamy. Which is perfect for the city, and the situation… it was a mood piece. It was more like reading a novella than watching a series, as you slowly unpeeled the characters. The whole episode with JUST Patrick and Richie was like a short story. My hubby is notoriously impatient but he and I LOVED it.

  • emjayay

    I’m probably (ahem) a bit older. If you add up what cable costs, including HBO, you are talking about a shitload of money a year. And half of it goes to pay for ESPN, which I would never watch ever. While there’s that pesky little one year or so delay with getting the DVD later from the library, the good part if you like them is commentary tracks. And I do. Mad Men DVDs for example has usually about two separate ones per episode.

  • emjayay

    For those who missed it, the 2011 movie Weekend was the director’s calling card that got him Looking. Weekend is a super low budget British indie, and is just plain wonderful. OK, too much time spent doing coke and smoking dope, but that’s a very minor criticism. Plus, a completely different side to Lord Gillingham, to say the least. Do yourself a favor and check it out, even if you weren’t charmed by Looking.

  • BlueIdaho

    My partner and I watched it a couple of months ago. We liked it (didn’t love it) and think it is situated to appeal to the 18-39 year old gay man (we are much older). Although some of the characters are stereotypes, having grown up in a large metropolis with a large gay community, we knew several men who were these characters. Don’t take it too seriously, it’s just television.

  • emjayay

    I liked both QAF’s a whole lot, with of course some reservations. Also like what I’ve seen of Looking. No, I’m not easy.

  • emjayay

    Really.

    Now, I’m a shower-a-day always shave middle class kind of college educated guy, and work in a uniformed position, formerly a high school teacher. My friends are similar. The guys on Looking look pretty typical to me.

  • AdmNaismith

    I like Looking well enough, but all these guys all act like children. Even Dom, who should know better. Not even in a ‘I need to fix my life’ sort of way, or even dramatically illuminating the reasons these people act this way. I guess this is just the way people are. ugh.
    And don’t get me started on Patrick’s manipulative prick of a boss (even as Russell Tovey goes from cute to devastating).

    My favorite scene in the whole season was when Ritchie called Partrick on all his shit.
    I future seasons, I hope Scott Bakula’s character is able to add some perspective to the proceedings

    As I get older, I just have less and less tolerance for 20-someting angst.

    Still, at 8 eps, it goes down easy enough.

    And in the end I suppose I see myself in these characters a bit more than I have in the characters in other ‘gay’ shows. Maybe that’s why these guys infuriate me so much.

  • jomicur

    I watched the first three episodes and was bored in a way I seldom am by gay-themed entertainment. Weak writing, stereotypically shallow characters, messy direction. No more, thanks.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    I’m in grad school. I don’t even have cable much less HBO so this (and other things) will have to wait until it’s on DVD. I hope that happens soon.

  • dcinsider

    I must have watched a different show. The writing is AWFUL. The characters are thin stereotypes, and the story arc, to the extent one exists, is lame. I could not care less about any of these shallow guys.

    My husband and I tried real hard to like the show. We just felt that the characters needed to (1) shower, and (2) wear deodorant. If the TV were scratch and sniff these guys would reek. Does no one that age clean up?

    Can’t wait for Season 2.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    See and I liked QAF less because I felt it was less substantive.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    “I enjoy a little more effort exhibited — oh, I don’t know, say, a complete sentence? — before considering a fling with a total stranger.” Pic-key!!!!!

    Actually, I’m surprised you waited so long to watch this. I fell in love with Dom a couple of months ago.

  • Elijah Shalis

    We watched it too. It is nothing like Queer as Folk and in a bad way. I don’t like it.

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