Right from the start, HBO’s Looking was up against unfair categorization. ‘Oh, it’s just the gay version of Girls,’ they said. “They” being that mythical group of Internetters looking for a pithy logline to grab onto for opinion formulation purposes; but from second one of the series’ premiere, the comparisons rang hollow. If HBO was looking for a gay version of the Lena Dunham series, this was not it. And thank goodness for that.
Listen: I’m a fan of Dunham, and of Girls. But I’m an even bigger fan of HBO’s drive to create programming that’s different, nuanced, and not simply pre-fab versions of the things they (and other networks) have already done or attempted to emulate. They tell stories. Interesting ones that often rub up against people’s comfort zones. But to delineate something as a ‘gay’ show is insipidly one-dimensional and a disservice to the actors, writers, directors, and everyone else involved.
Think about it: wouldn’t it piss you right the fuck off if someone tried to distill something you created through hard work and with a thoughtful vision with a hackneyed, lazy categorization? Of course you would. So don’t be that way. Be informed by making your own opinion (Not even everyone on this site feels the same about this series.) To get you started, here are a few ways in which the series’ premiere episode, “Looking For Now,” proved itself to be anything but a gay version of that Greenpoint world.
Patrick is No Hannah
Jonathan Groff’s Patrick is quite naïve — a trait he shares with Hannah — but the two of them handle their naïveté very differently. Hannah, essentially, tries to monetize it, throwing herself into situations in the name of sourcing material for her book in hopes that she’ll make herself seem and feel more interesting. Patrick may be rash in his decision-making, but he tows a much more straight-and-narrow line. There’s a reason his roommate Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez) called him a sweet boy, with all that ho-hummy knowing in his voice. I doubt if Agustín and Hannah were to meet, he’d say the same about her. Hannah wants a story, Patrick just wants to feel.
Like I said before, I really do enjoy Girls, but no one would ever accuse the show of being all that subtle in its execution. Nuanced? Sure, at times. Looking approaches scenarios with a gentle touch, a warm smile accompanies most of the laughs involved — even the more audacious ones. Andrew Haigh, the series’ director (who also directed the film Weekend) has a far quieter point of view, one that works especially well in the series’ quieter moments, quick glances, and emotional touch points, matched wonderfully by Michael Lannan’s words.
It’s Not Looking for Laughs
The show is definitely funny. From the quippy beats while Patrick and his coworker debate emoji usage to Dom (Murray Bartlett)’s hilariously frank and hard-worn opinions on sex and relations, the show fires on all cylinders but doesn’t go hunting for laughs just for the sake of it. In fact, the series opening moments, where we see Patrick getting a handy-j in the park like he’s living out a George Michael fever dream, is an emotionally evocative jumble upon first encounter. The viewer is made to feel the myriad of emotions that Patrick exhibits in his face as he apprehensively clamors into the bush to get his rocks off.
It’s Way More Unrealistic
One thing that may be considered a negative is the fact that there’s hardly anything realistic about the highly attractive and perma-hard bodied world that Looking inhabits. This is a series that is far more, well, fancy — and the show is conscious of that fact. You won’t find a glossier-looking bunch of boys on TV.
At 29 years old, Patrick is the baby of the bunch, which puts him and his series compatriots in entirely different life stages than the girls on Dunham’s show. People that are between 30 and 40 are not dealing with the same shit that 23 year olds are: that’s just science.
It’s About Relationships, Not People
Listen if you’re one of those types of people that needs to relate to the characters on screen in order to enjoy something, allow me to let you in on a little secret: gay or not, these three men are all searching for the same things as the rest of us: Love, happiness, a sense of self, security. Sure, it is an entirely different world for gay folks than it is for us straighties out there — they are, after all, have only really started to get the respect the rest of us have been afforded for eons simply because we’re interested in the opposite sex. And wherein the focus on Girls is slightly more millenialy bent, Looking focuses more on the subject matter than the kooky tropes and outlandish character beats of Dunham’s series. Love, relationships, social and personal interactions are all highlighted here. That lost feeling we all experience as we muddle, grope, and fondle our way towards some sort of collective sameness or sense of compatibility in another person. And that is something that’s both incredibly heartwarming and universal.