I now I’m a couple days late with this, but I just got around to viewing the pilot episode of HBO’s new series Looking, and I have to say that I am quite pleased with what I have seen so far. At long last, after the conclusion of Queer as Folk, The L Word, and Will and Grace, the series that foregrounded the gay experience, we have another series that attempts to illuminate the lives of today’s gay men (now, if we can get a series that does the same for lesbians, that will be an excellent step forward indeed). With a combination of dazzling star power (led by Jonathan Groff), a light comedic touch, and just a hint a pathos and sorrow, Looking manages to capture the gay experience of those who are saying (or have said) goodbye to their 20s.
Indeed, it is precisely this focus on the lives of those who are not 20-somethings (except in the most literal sense of the word), that makes this series so refreshing. These are young(ish) men who stand on that precarious ledge separating the world of youthful craziness and adult responsibility. What the pilot shows us, however, with Patrick’s (Groff) attempts to find the perfect partner, Agustin’s (Frankie J. Alvarez) struggling with his impending commitment to his boyfriend, and Dom (Murray Bartlett) impending mid-life crisis as he recognizes that his youth (and possibly his sex appeal) is fading at last. This is the not the glamorous, hedonistic world of Queer as Folk (as much as that was a pleasure to watch), but instead a glimpse into what comprises the life of a gay man who has a stable job and a stable life and, basically, wants to find someone to share that with (or, in Frankie’s case, building on what he already has).
Thus, the series also shows what life is like for everyday gay men, especially those who have average jobs and occupations. These are not superstars, and these are not wealthy. Indeed, in Dom’s case they are not even successful in the ways in which such things are usually measured. These characters exert a strong pull upon us as viewers, asking us to identify with them in a way that many other series that preceded did not, or at least not in the same way. Theirs is not necessarily a life to be envied–though perhaps it will come to that as the season progresses. Their struggles are ones that most of us have experienced at one time or another: a horrible first date, which we try so hard to make work that it ultimately fails despite (or perhaps because of) all our efforts; a job that we hate, even as we watch our ex succeed beautifully. These are the plots that drive Looking and I, for one, found them compelling and, in some cases, heartwarming.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this is a gay-male themed show that is consciously not all about sex. As one of the series’ creators remarked in a recent interview, in this first episode they strove to convey gay intimacy, not just gay sex. While these two things are often related, we should be careful not to confuse one with the other or to let one (usually sex) overcome or completely overshadow the other. While sex is certainly a key part of many gay men’s lives, this show actually allows us to see it connected to the strong emotional bonds that can and do exist between men.
All in all, Looking promises to be another fine addition to HBO’s already outstanding line-up of comedies. It manages to capture, in some ways at least, the zeitgeist of my generation of gay men in a way that few series have attempted yet in this second decade of the millennium. And I say it’s about time.