10 Things We Learned About HBO's Looking
By Jerry Portwood
By now you know that this coming Sunday, January 19, is the big series premiere of Looking. Many men (and women!) around the country (and soon, around the globe, wer'e sure) will be glued to their TVs (or whatever screen they prefer) watching how things play out for Patrick, Augustin, and Dom (along with their boyfriends, tricks, hookups, and other pals). In Out's February cover story, "Modern Love," writer Christopher Glazek ponders whether this could be the big, gay show "for the rest of us?"
Everyone we know has been calling this the "gay Girls" or the "gay Sex and the City" or assuming it's "just like Queer as Folk, and I didn't like that show anyway." Well, you're all wrong. The show, from Weekend filmmaker Andrew Haigh, stars gay actors Jonathan Groff (Patrick) and Murray Bartlett (Dom), along with Frankie J. Alvarez (Augustin), who does an amazing job of channeling his inner queer boy. It is one of the sexiest, most original, and unusual television shows we've seen in quite some time (and we don't just mean because it looks like it was run through an Instagram filter).
As Glazek writes:
"The way you feel about Looking may well line up with how you feel about life in general. Do you like most people? Do you appreciate the everyday? You can be a perfect misanthrope and still love Sex and the City. Looking, like life, is more demanding, but even snobby viewers will likely rise to the challenge. After all, if you can’t bring yourself to like a show starring Jonathan Groff, your quest may never end."
Here are 10 things we thought you'd want to know to get you in the mood for the upcoming premiere.
1. Why it's different from Girls:
"Our show is less about people at the beginning in their twenties figuring out who they are,” says Groff, “and more about people stepping into their lives in their thirties and forties and finding their place in the world.”
2. Why it's different from both Girls AND Sex and the City:
“All the characters are from different socioeconomic backgrounds, different ethnicities — that can happen a lot more readily in the gay community,” Haigh says. “What you connect to initially is your sexuality, not your age or where you’ve been to school.” The characters in Looking, he says, are “not aspiring to be rich. They’re not aspiring to have lots of sex. They’re aspiring to have happier lives, more fulfilled lives.”
3. And a THIRD reason why it's different from Girls:
In comparison to Girls, says Alvarez, who was doing regional theater in Louisville when he mailed in his audition tape, “our show is sweeter.”
4. Why it's titled Looking:
In a nod, perhaps, to straight viewers’ relentless fascination with the lingo and mechanics of gay hook-up apps, the series would be called Looking, a word that usually appears on Grindr followed by a question mark. To those familiar with Weekend, which chronicles 48 hours in the life of a mismatched gay couple in the dreary East Midlands city of Nottingham, it was clear that the characters in Looking would be, in the words of the show’s adorable star, Jonathan Groff, looking “for love” instead of “for right now.”
5. Why it's set in San Francisco:
“When I came on board,” Haigh says, “it was still unclear whether we’d shoot in L.A. or San Francisco — everyone always says it’s easier to shoot in L.A. — but for me, it was like, ‘We have to shoot in San Francisco. It needs to be about that city.’ ” Haigh also made sure the crew was drawn from locals. Like Groff, he speaks about the city in metaphysical terms: “Maybe it’s the trams — there’s a melancholy to it. Fog coming in. Something wistful.”
6. What San Francisco meant to Groff:
For Groff, who first visited the city two years ago, San Francisco feels like “the gay Oz.” He says he was particularly struck by the legend that San Francisco became a gay haven for sailors returning from the Pacific after World War II: “It was the last port of call for all the guys in the Navy, and the ones who were gay just stayed there because they didn’t want to go back to their lives.” Groff adds that the show’s three-month shoot, which took the characters to well-known San Francisco haunts like the Stud, the Café, and El Rio, was like a dream. “The street where I was staying smelled like jasmine,” he says. “I rode my bike every day to set. I was in heaven.”
7. What Jonathan Groff thought when he first saw Queer as Folk:
The actor says he was roughly the same age as Justin, the rimmed twink from the Showtime QAF series premiere, when it aired and recalls: “I was in high school. I remember I was visiting people who were in college and we went to a party and it was on TV. The scene I saw was somebody fucking somebody in a steam room. I remember thinking, Oh my god! It was very salacious to me. I knew I was gay at the time, but I was still in school and totally in the closet. It was like ‘Whoaaa, that’s a lot. That’s a lot to see.’ ”
8. What Australian actor Murray Bartlett, who plays Dom, thinks of his character, a well-built waiter edging on 40:
“Dom has coasted by on his looks,” says Bartlett, whose last major gig was on CBS’s daytime soap opera Guiding Light. “He’s at a point where he wants more depth in his life."
9. Why the show doesn't contain "jokes":
On most shows, if a character mangles an attempt at cruising, it’s an occasion for uproarious slapstick. But Looking, whose hyperrealism borders on cinema verité, doesn’t contain “jokes.” As Haigh explains, “It’s slice of life. Instead of ‘Here’s a joke, here’s a joke,’ you’re watching these people’s lives. Sometimes it’s funny; sometimes it’s not so funny.” Whereas most comedies use awkwardness as an engine of humor, embarrassing a character to get a laugh, in Haigh’s hands awkwardness becomes relatable, even erotic. Patrick’s fumbling is not simply endearing — it’s what makes him an object of desire.
10. Why there's no music or score in the show:
“I told HBO in our first meeting that I don’t like having a score,” Haigh says. “There can be music, but it has to be playing in the scene. I wanted a naturalistic approach. I also didn’t want it to be super cutty — I wanted to do longer takes.”