HBO’s new series, Looking, isn’t groundbreaking material and perhaps that’s what is most striking about it. This nonchalant attitude just makes the show all the more charming. Looking follows three gay men in San Francisco, romantically in flux Patrick (Jonathan Groff), his best friend Augustín (Frankie J. Álvarez) who moves in with his boyfriend in Oakland, and their friend Dom (Murray Bartlett) who is nearing 40, but still has dreams to open up his own restaurant.
The show doesn’t set out to represent “the gay experience,” or even “the San Francisco gay experience.” Not that there is a “gay experience,” but popular culture narratives can over-generalize more often than not. More mellow than drama, Looking simply presents their lives as they are. The characters are gay men, but their lives are not dictated by being gay. Sexuality isn’t presented as revolutionary or high-concept. After watching the first two episodes, it’s clear that this a diverse slice-of-life series that is worth examining.
Looking‘s strongest feature is its great sense of character, both in the city of San Francisco and of the three central characters. The stories benefit from their specificity, but they also tell a broader story of relationships, which in turn, makes the show relatable to all viewers. The characters feel like real people and this comfortable nature eases right out of the gate. From Patrick checking himself out in a restaurant window before a promising first date, unbeknownst to the customer on the other side, to Augustín and his boyfriend snuggling on their living room couch debating on whether to go out or stay in, the show is universal in its specificity.
The dialogue is carefully observed and the scenes are well-inhabited. There is so much history presented in such little dialogue, one might feel that they might have missed an episode. And perhaps that’s part of the problem, if there is one, with Looking. The show is not as confrontational as other series, say HBO’s Girls, but rather, it operates at a deliberate pace. Is the show almost too lived-in? Are the situations almost too ephemeral to take hold?
For me, the answer is no. I can see how the cultural weight of Looking‘s expectations may overpower what the series is actually trying to do: present meaningful stories about these three characters who have reached a point of reflection in their lives. The show is concerned with how these characters assess their lives upon reaching transition and in its searching, there’s a wonderfully understated intimacy wrapped up within the heart of Looking. This warm intimacy eschews flashy explicitness (be it sexual, confrontational, provocative, or otherwise), but that doesn’t mean Looking doesn’t have anything to say. By embracing the specificity of its characters’ world as it is, Looking gives voice to stories worth telling.