By Rodger Streitmatter
Patrick had gotten a truncated hand job after exclaiming, “Cold hands!”
My initial reaction, back in January, to the new TV series about three gay men in San Francisco was to cringe. That’s because the first scene had the prettiest member of the trio going cruising in the woods. By the end of the scene, Patrick had gotten a truncated hand job after exclaiming, “Cold hands!”
So I quickly pegged Looking as a program that would consist of sensationalized scenes of handsome gay men having sex. My cringe was accompanied by frustration, as I’d been hoping for something more in line with other HBO programs I’ve enjoyed over the years, such as Sex and the City, True Blood and Game of Thrones.
Despite my disappointment, I kept watching. After all, a show about hot gay men having sex couldn’t be all bad.
As the weekly episodes kept airing, I came to see Looking as sort of a rambling and gauzy recap of the weekly activities of the three main characters.
Patrick, played by Glee alum Jonathan Groff, is definitely at center stage. He’s a 29-year-old video game designer who says he’d like to have a boyfriend but isn’t very good either at first dates or at holding onto that rare guy who makes it to date number 2.
The other two leads are Patrick’s best friends. Agustin, played by Frankie J. Alvarez, is a bored 31-year-old artist who’s the only one of the trio in a committed relationship. Dom, played by hunky Murray Bartlett (in the kind of mustache that went out in the 1980s), is a 40-year-old waiter who’s very good at finding one-night-stands but is now thinking it might be time for something more, both professionally and personally.
I can’t say exactly which episode hooked me on the program, but I think that process started about midway through the eight-episode season when a new character entered the picture. Kevin is Patrick’s boss at the gaming company and is played by Russell Tovey.
On a totally superficial level, I’ll admit that I find Kevin appealing because he’s not the prettiest member of the cast—at least not by conventional measures—but carries himself with a wonderful ease and swagger that I find irresistible. Another big plus is that the guy can actually act. He brings an enticing subtlety to his character that keeps me watching his every move, wondering just what he’s going to do next.
I also increasingly enjoyed the brief glimpses of the only female character with a significant role in the show, Dom’s friend Doris. The part is ably played Dorisby Lauren Weedman, who has a lovely chemistry with her long-time friend and also makes the role much more substantive than a lesser actress would.
On a deeper level, Looking somehow shifted, as the season progressed, into a consistently engaging series. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise, as director Andrew Haigh’s film Weekend drew lots of praise from critics when it was released in 2011.
Like that movie, this premium-channel TV show has a charming honesty about it. That is, the program succeeds in taking the viewer into the gay world for 30 minutes each week, whether by having the characters looking forward to watching Golden Girl reruns or by trying to figure out when the only committed relationship in the series is going to implode.
By the time the final episode of Looking aired in early March, I’d become a huge fan. Probably the main reason for my gradual turnaround about the show is that I came to see that it isn’t so much about sex—despite that first scene in the woods and several others tossed in along the way—as it’s about friendship and meaningful connections.
Each of the three main characters also had become enmeshed in his own storyline. Patrick had become involved with a Puerto Rican barber who has less education but more innate sense than the pretty boy. Agustin had betrayed his art and driven his boyfriend away. Dom had finally committed his culinary talents to launching his own restaurant—while becoming the business partner of a man he’d like to get to know a whole lot better.
I’m clearly not alone in deciding that the show is worth watching, seeing as how viewership grew from 300,000 for the debut episode to upwards of 2 million for the final one. So I’ll be joining lots of other fans when HBO begins airing the new season sometime this coming winter—which is too long to wait.
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