If you haven’t watched Looking, you need to change that! Do it now! I’ll wait.
I cannot begin to express my excitement and pleasure after viewing the first episode of HBO’s new show, Looking. It is everything (so far) that I’ve desperately wanted in a new LGBT (heavy on the G) show. It’s actually laugh-out-loud funny, endearingly sweet, clever and so perfectly about life in the now that I wouldn’t hesitate to compare it to Queer as Folk.
This first episode begins to address the issues of youth, race, masculinity, relationships and preferences in sexual partners that are a big part of both real and assumed gay/bi culture. The episode as a whole was intriguing from start to finish, fitting enough in to showcase the characters and their relationships, both to one another and to their partners and friends, without leaving in any hollow or forgettable scenes.
Patrick is our lead star, played by the handsome and adorable Jonathan Groff, of Glee fame. Proving that Grindr isn’t for every gay, his brief foray into hooking up in the park with a stranger ends with him asking – ‘‘What would my parents say?’’ It’s a window into the more awkward side of cruising. In addition to this, Patrick is an out and proud video game level designer, providing a much-appreciated injection of nerdy/geek goodness!
Patrick’s flatmate is Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez), an artist’s assistant and boyfriend of Frank (O. T. Fagbenle). Agustín and Frank’s relationship has hit a middle ground where moving forward means more commitment. Agustín is happy to check out other guys, but is also apprehensive that Frank will find someone else more attractive. Their uncertainty leads them into an open relationship which they don’t initially discuss. I’m very much looking forward to future episodes of Looking fleshing out what being in an open relationship means for a couple, in terms of both communication and commitment.
The third main character is Dom, an older man (42, but he doesn’t look it) who personifies the gay culture’s seeming obsession with youth. He worries about his own looks and seeks out the company of younger men; despite berating them for their age (or lack thereof). His flatmate, Doris, is a shining beacon of cold hard truth. She’s the female best friend we all need and I so hope we see more of her as the series progresses.
In gay culture- and especially within the app-dating culture- there is a trend appearing where one goes beyond a preference for a blonde girl or a nerdy guy and into ‘no Asians’ or ‘I’m just not into black guys’ (it often also includes age; but my reasoning on that can be saved for another article). Though two of the three main cast members are white, the third; and also the fourth, are not. Agustín is Latino and the actor who plays Frank is part Nigerian. This variation is something that is often missing from modern television and particularly within LGBT shows. While it may seem like this will be a Caucasian heavy show, the side characters and setting of San Francisco may prove that its not.
The young white gay man reigns supreme in popular TV and film, probably because they’re considered the least controversial expression of homosexuality, readily consumable ‘‘accessible gays’’. This is made all the more clear when Patrick goes on his OK Cupid date with a man that turns out to be the most obnoxious douchebag the writers could conceive of. He asks some horribly flippant and invasive questions about Patrick’s sexual health before cutting the date short due to “a clear incompatibility”. He’s an 88% match, white doctor who is just all kinds of wrong.
After leaving him behind, Patrick stumbles across Richie. There’s an obvious attraction, although at first Patrick doesn’t think Richie is his type. What does this really mean? Is it because he isn’t white and though Patrick isn’t necessarily racist is he ruling him out, initially, because of his race? Thankfully, Patrick does change his mind and seeks Richie out. I mean, who wouldn’t?! He’s incredibly cute, flirty, friendly and just about made me squeal with joy. Plus, he’s the doorman at a Latino drag bar. Win. Win. Win.
Perhaps I’m in post-Looking bliss but I couldn’t find fault with the show, everything was carefully mapped out, there wasn’t a lag in pace and the characters were both lovable and flawed. I instantly wanted more as the episode finished just as Patrick and Ritchie reunited. If I had to pick one scene to explain Looking it would be where Patrick, Agustín and Dom are drinking wine, smoking a spliff and talking about their lives ever so casually. It normalizes the modern non-heterosexual life with a sense of realism and isn’t that the representation we need?
Looking airs in the UK on Sky Atlantic every Monday night at 10.35pm.