January 20, 2014

THE SKED Series Premiere Review: “Looking”


LOOKING:  Sunday 10:30PM on HBO – Worth A Look

HBO’s LOOKING is distinctive for the obvious reason that it’s a dramedy about gay characters, of a completely different order than the network universe of a Sean Saves the World or Glee.  That doesn’t just mean it’s far more sexual than a broadcast network would ever be on the subject (although, in the pilot at least, the camera stays mostly above the waist), but that it’s not built around punchlines about showtunes or overbearing mothers or fashion sense.  Its characters are matter-of-factly gay simply in the way that characters on other TV shows are straight.

Once that demographic fact is taken into account, Looking becomes somewhat less distinctive–certainly its specifics aren’t memorable or adventurous in the way that Girls was instantly arresting.  The pilot, written by series creator Michael Lannan, introduces a trio of protagonists who are friends in San Francisco.  Patrick (Jonathan Groff) is a 29-year old video game designer who’s looking for love and sex, not necessarily in the same place; Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) is Patrick’s longtime friend, who works with an artist and who in the pilot decides to move in with his boyfriend; and Dom (Murray Bartlett) is perhaps a decade older, a waiter who has a female (ex-girlfriend) roommate and appears to be the most sexually busy of the group.  If they weren’t all gay, and if we weren’t unaccustomed to seeing TV shows centering on gay characters, none of them would seem exceptional, although Lannan has given them some funny lines, the actors are all likable, and they’re pleasant enough company for half an hour.

Based on the pilot, Looking doesn’t seem to be particularly plot-based, with the only major development in the first episode being Agustin’s decision to take the next step with his boyfriend.  Patrick half-heartedly (and very briefly) cruises in a local park, then goes on a bad date with an oncologist he met online, and afterward, when he’s on the way to his ex’s bachelor party, he meets a bouncer on the subway who may be a more promising partner.  Meanwhile, Dom worries about his age and lack of career prospects.  The director is the British filmmaker Andrew Haigh, who made the acclaimed film Weekend, and Looking has much more of what might be called a traditional “Sundance” indie aesthetic than other low-budget dramedies like Girls or Louie.  The camera is kept close in on the characters, there’s a lot of handheld camerawork, and the images are lit with an attractive and not quite naturalistic glow.  Although there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of improv, the overall effect is casual to the point of being not quite dramatically shaped.

Looking is interesting without being all that engrossing, moderately amusing with a quiet undertone of heavier character issues.  In its lack of self-regard and cliche, it does represent a step forward, albeit not perhaps in the way its makers intended:  it demonstrates that a show about gay characters can be merely OK, just like one about straights.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."