Photo: Courtesy of HBO/David Moir.
I often wonder what goes down when a show like HBO's new series Looking is pitched. Like, picture this: Three guys, all with different lifestyles, just trying to make it in San Francisco. One's lost and single, another is a little older and a little more sexually experienced, and the other friend is the relationship one who has a slew of of skeletons in his closet despite seeming like he has his act together. Sounds pretty progressive, right? A bro comedy/sometimes drama seeking to present less stereotypically masculine characters (think less hero and more honest man). Cool! Oh, wait, these guys are also gay.
Boom. Suddenly the whole vibe of the show has changed. It's no longer a regular, slightly progressive bromance; it's a gay show. And, what happens in gay shows? Gay things. And, even though gay culture has moved away from the zeitgeist's periphery, the gay experience is still a relatively fringe topic. In television and movies, a gay character is a supporting role used to begrudgingly glamorize the main plot — make it a little more fabulous, a little more paunchy. Camp is, by and large, the go-to homosexual trope. Camp, however, is not what Looking's about, which just might be the show's best and worst asset.
Though we're only one episode in, Looking is shaping up to be the anti-Queer as Folk. Screw whatever Girls comparisons you might've been hoping for. Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez, and Murray Bartlett aren't jobless millennials hashtagging their lives away with careless ignorance for anything but themselves. Groff's Patrick is 29, Alvarez's Agustín is presumably a little older than that, and Bartlett's Dom (the token daddy figure with a name made for Grindr hookups) is almost over-the-hill. The quarter-life crises are in the past. These are relatively established men who aren't searching for Likes, re-Tweets, or attention but rather authenticity.
Photo: Courtesy of HBO/John P. Johnson.
Patrick has a sticker on his laptop that reads "Never Not Working." Really, though, it should read "Never Not Looking." Throughout the entire 30 minutes, Patrick, Dom, and Agustín are always wide-eyed (or squinty after a sloppily rolled joint) and on the hunt. Between the awkward backwoods cruising session to the installation space Agustín works at, the quest for human connection is omnipresent. I found myself rolling my eyes the moment Agustín gets paired up with the new guy at work. Maybe it's experience, maybe it's the show's somewhat predictability, but there was no way Agustín, his longterm BF, and this sexy, weirdly tattooed (um, hi Dolly Parton's signature?), furry boy weren't going to partake in a casual menage à trois. Sex, man, it's on the mind even when drilling chairs together to make #art.
I'm wary that, despite how approachable these characters are, Looking will only focus on sex. Don't get me wrong here. I'm eagerly awaiting Dom's first nude scene, but I hesitate to fully appreciate the show's credibility. It's great the whole fabulous gay best friend, toned twink character has been traded in for "real" men, but the highly sexual nature that cliché gay men carry as a burden irks me. "I didn't f*ck someone I wanted to f*ck," Dom says at one point. I'm not too sure whether I rolled my eyes at how shallow and stereotypical that line was, or at how often I've actually heard that statement come out of friends and acquaintances' mouths.
But, perhaps I'm just looking (no pun intended) for something negative to judge the show by. For it really is an honest show. I laughed at how true Patrick's two one-liners about Instagram filters screwing with how hot some guy is and how he felt like he was at the doctors while his date grilled him on his cleanliness. "You're drug- and disease-free, right?" (Man, that sounds a whole lot different when spoken than it does typed into some casual "dating" app.)
I felt like I had just spent a day with my friends by the time the credits started rolling and the too-cool-for-school neo-disco music started playing. I don't know if that's a good thing or not. Do I tune into television to watch something similar to my own life play out before me? Am I comfortable with the whole idea of this show acting as a kind of mirror to reality? Or, do I want to escape into some fantasy of gay culture? I don't know those answers, but, like some discreet Grindr user, I'm curious.