‘Looking’ At Relationships. How HBO’s New Series Lays Bare Our Struggle To Find Sex and Love.

January 22, 2014

After months of anticipation, HBO’s new series “Looking” premiered this past Sunday. Reaction so far appears mixed at best, with gays either loving its “honest and realistic” portrayal of a group of twenty- and thirty- something, single gay men in San Francisco, or finding its merry band of rainbow boys and their “gay people problems” unrelatable, clichéd, and (perhaps worst of all for an HBO show) boring.

Show creators Andrew Haigh and Michael Lannan get some things right (more on that later), but just as many things wrong. Like, really wrong. Asking someone if they’re “drug- and disease-free” is, strictly Grindr-speak and unrealistic for an in-person conversation. I’m also sure all the hot, BART-riding Latino guys that have picked me up over the years knew not only how to pronounce the word “oncology” without difficulty but also knew what it meant. Cancer and oncologia are not just white-girl problems.

Minor quibbles, perhaps, for a half-hour comedy, but queens have gotten the boot from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” for far lesser offenses. That being said, “Looking” does get a few things right; namely, its honest depiction of the difficulties we have when it comes to finding our internal, moral, and sexual compasses as we make our way into adulthood.

All of us—homo and hetero alike—grow up under the influence of what society and our parents tell us, from the kind of sex we should have to the kind of relationships we should work toward. But for many gay men and women, these voices often carry an added level of shame and judgment. So, it was totally believable, to me, that in “Looking”’s first five minutes, Jonathan Groff’s character, Patrick, stumbled awkwardly between two seemingly incongruous desires: having anonymous sex in a public park and logging on to OkCupid to arrange a “respectable” date with his future doctor-husband, played by Matthew Wilkas.

Like so many men in their twenties (and more than a few well into their thirties and forties), Patrick is caught between two competing worlds: a dominant gay culture that celebrates, even encourages, us to take pleasure in easy promiscuity and those not-so-silent voices from our childhood telling us to strive for a “meaningful” hetero-normative relationship—preferably one with a hot doctor.

Patrick is clearly unsure of what he wants, where he fits in, and what kind of gay man he wants to grow up to be. Sound familiar? Is he the marrying type, the park slut or a bit of both? We don’t yet know either, of course, but by the end of the first episode, he has at least made a choice to do something that didn’t come from his friends or his mother, but rather from his own internal compass. He chooses to meet up with that aforementioned hot, BART-riding Latino, who may not be hooked on phonics but who clearly knows how to get what he wants.

My guess is that things between them aren’t going to become a SF version of West Side Story. The good folks at HBO know there is more drama (and ratings) in continuously “looking” for something real, rather than actually finding it—but nevertheless, it was encouraging to see Patrick take a first step toward exploring his desires on his own terms. It’s a process that all of us must ultimately figure out as we stumble headfirst into adulthood, leaving our conflicted younger selves behind, where they belong.

We’ll see if Patrick can make some ‘good choices’ in future episodes and if we’ll get to see even a smidgeon of the kind of nudity we see on Girls or GOT, Because apparently gay people in SF are having sex all the time…without ever having to take their clothes off.

This article is from Daddyhunt and MISTER CEO Carl Sandler's Huffington Post column on gay life and dating. Click here to read more.

Trailer 1:

Interviews with the creators and character breakdown:

Want more? HBO is showing the full first episode for a limited time on Youtube. Go check it out and come back to tell us what you think.

Tags: TV, dating, gay men, HBO, Looking
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Comments

First, I am glad for the LOOKING series. Any insights into the Gay community (the good & the unconventional) for the Hetero community, I feel, is constructive. Ultimately, we are one species, regardless of sexual orientation. I will say, as I did in my review of the series, I am Gay, have lived in San Francisco & the Castro and this is an Old story. It is the dilemma that each (recent) generation of Gay men goes through...being a Gay slut or a pseudo-heterosexual. As a contented & active Senior Gay man, I advise being true to yourself & go for whatever truly makes you happy. You own your life. Make it whatever you want it to be & enjoy it!

I've watched the first episode 3 times now. Of course, I'm a big fan of director Andrew Haigh. From the reaction of my friends, they were all expecting--or maybe hoping--for a "gay" version of "Sex and the City". They've missed the fact that--at least from the first episode and the various clips of future episodes--this series is much more "slice of life". I think, too, they are taken aback that these characters aren't all fabulous. However, what I've found so appealing is that these guys could be all gay, all straight, or a combination. It's far less about their sexuality than about the ways in which they cope with the world. For me, that's FAR more interesting--and insightful.

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There are very few shows that I like from the episode one mainly because the first episode is devoted to establishing the characters, relationships, situation immediately. This one is no exception. Based on this episode alone, I think the answer to Patrick's question "why do I go on so many bad dates?" is because he's an ass. Jonathan Groff is a likeable actor but his character certainly isn't. Here's hoping that the show will develop and become more interesting or at least they'll start throwing in gratuitous nudity.

Still a better show than that snooze fest known as "Hung." Still hoping that this new show wont devolve into a Will & Grace during their later seasons.

BTW. You are the first blogger that I have read that used the term "hetero-normative" without using it as flame-baiting and/or ad hominem attacks.

I agree show is boring if you are 20 or 30 it's great when you're 50 yawn city watch Downton Abby instead!!