Finally, a good, new gay show to kick off 2014. And when I say gay, I mean it in all the right ways.
But before flashbacks of The New Normal or Queer As Folk come to your mind, think of HBO’s new show Looking not as a cliche gay drama but as a show that can reflect anyone’s life as they reach adulthood, straight or gay or anywhere in between.
Looking premiered last night and promises a refreshing, authentic look at contemporary gay culture. The show follows Patrick, played by the talented and charming Jonathan Groff, and his two best friends Agustín and Dom as they navigate the challenges of dating and relationships in the modern era. Despite expectations to be a gay version of HBO's Girls, Looking has proved itself to be distinct thanks to its earnest and naturalistic look on the lives of well-rounded and compelling men in San Francisco’s vibrant gay scene.
What’s so clever about the show is its awareness that we live in a time when people’s understandings of gay culture are rapidly transforming. Let me explain: people no longer think of gay culture as it was 30 years ago. In the '80s and '90s, gay culture involved leather bars and sex clubs and an irreverent attitude of “I’m here, I’m queer, so get over it.” But with the turn of the century, gay culture has toned down and has become something more family-friendly and socially acceptable. Just look at Modern Family or The New Normal. According to this perspective, gay people just want to get married and have families like straight people!
This is where Looking shines through. The opening scene is of Patrick cruising through a park and having a brief, awkward sexual encounter with a stranger (if you don’t know what cruising is, it’s when gay men go to a public place to have anonymous sex). He’s interrupted by a call from his friends and meets up with them later when they reveal that they were cruising as a half-joke. These men, fully aware of what gay culture once was, are exploring what it means to be gay in 2014 and the range of possibilities open to them – from having sex in a park with an unnamed stranger to having a long-term and committed relationship.
The multiracial cast also reflects a more contemporary setting for Looking. Two of the characters, Agustín and Richie, are of Latin descent with the latter working the door at a Latino gay club! Patrick’s straight coworker is Japanese-American whose most interesting line is a self-deprecating joke about his ethnicity. Agustín also happens to be dating a non-white man, which is certainly refreshing compared to all of the white gay couples on other television shows (I’m looking at you, Modern Family, Glee, and The New Normal).
While Looking appeals to gay audiences from all generations, it also takes on themes that certainly anyone reaching adulthood can relate to. Our lead, Patrick, copes with the reminders of a past relationship and the challenges of dating in the digital age. In a cute and funny scene, Patrick asks Agustín if a guy on OkCupid is hot because “Instagram filters have ruined everything” and he can’t tell that the guy actually has a lazy eye. Agustín begins to explore his relationship with his long-term boyfriend Frank, which means deciding to move in with him and opening up their relationship to new experiences. And Dom, an aging gay man who used to be able to get laid whenever he wanted to, is unhappy with his career and considers returning to an ex whose success only reminds Dom of his own dissatisfaction.
Looking is definitely one of those shows to be paying attention to in 2014. If not for its real and heartfelt characters, the chemistry and talent of the cast or its earnest depiction of modern gay life, just watch it for Jonathan Groff. He’s just so cute.