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by Peter Knegt
January 20, 2014 8:13 AM
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Looking at 'Looking': Recapping the Debut Episode of HBO's Highly Anticipated Series

The article below -- the first in a series of recaps for the new HBO series "Looking" -- contains spoilers for "Looking For Now," the January 19th premiere episode.

After a good six months of increasingly intense anticipation (at least within certain circles), Michael Lannan and Andrew Haigh's San Francisco-set HBO series "Looking" finally made its official debut last night. With it came some pretty remarkable expectations that are really no surprise when a show is representing an oft-ignored demographic that's been, uh, looking for the next "Queer as Folk" for nearly a decade. And surely as a result there were many a living room last night where conversations echoed many of the premature criticisms the show has received in its reviews (though certainly not in all of them -- check out our own very positive one here): There's not enough sex. They talk about sex too much. Why are they all so masculine and good-looking? It's not body positive enough. Why are they all hipsters? It's not as good as "Weekend." It's too much like a gay "Girls"!

Let's all just calm down a bit. It's only the pilot episode, and let's all remember that pilot episodes are not easy to pull off, particularly when expectations are this high. Lannan, Haigh and company were clearly handed a huge opportunity here which a certain demographic of folks are probably just as excited to tear down as they are to watch it.  "Looking" is never going to pull off an all-encompassing representation of the queer men of today in its entire run, let alone in its first 30 minutes -- and that's okay. The primary thing I for one expect from "Looking" -- at least for now -- is that it's a good show. A good show with strong writing and strong acting and interesting ideas. I've been waiting for this with just as much anticipation as the next gay, and I'm happy to say I think things are off to a good start.

Basically, what "Looking" was trying to pull off in its first episode -- titled "Looking For Now" -- is to offer up an introduction to its trio of protagonists, Patrick (Jonathan Groff), Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez) and Dom (Murray Bartlett). Where do they live, what to do they do and -- at least right now -- what (and who) are they looking for?

Patrick (or Paddy, as his friends call him -- though frankly I'm not so into that nickname so I'll mostly refrain) is our primary character -- the Carrie Bradshaw or Hannah Horvath of this world, if I must. He's 29, works as a video game developer, and has been roommates with Agustín since they moved to San Francisco after college.

Agustín is presumably around Patrick's age (though they never say), and works as an artist's assistant (and clearly aspires to remove the word "assistant" from that equation). He's in a long-term relationship with Frank (O. T. Fagbenle), and by mid-episode the two of them have decided to move into together, leaving Paddy all by his lonesome. Oh, and I suppose notably given the aforementioned representational concerns, Agustín is Cuban-American and Frank is black (which off the bat gives "Looking" a diversity one up on the primary quartets of "Girls" and "Sex and the City").

And there's Dom -- who as far as I'm concerned is the most interesting (not to mention most physically attractive) character of the pilot. Pushing 40, Dom works as a waiter at a high-end restaurant (which he has since at least 1999), sports an epic moustache, and lives with his ex-girlfriend (from what we can assume was a very long time ago) and current BFF Doris (Lauren Weedman, who is hilarious in this first installment).  We don't know how Dom met the others, though its suggested his first encounter with Paddy resulted in sex (which is a flashback episode I'd be very happy to see).

So what are they all looking for? Well, we're introduced to Patrick -- and the series altogether -- in the bushes of a park, about to get a handjob from a bear with cold hands who is annoyed at Patrick's request to both kiss him and exchange names. But its quickly apparent this kind of throwback cruising isn't everyday Paddy. When his iPhone rings and interrupts the bear's handjob (oh, park cruising in 2014), he uses it as an excuse to rush off and find Agustín and Dom. The three of them had all gone to park seemingly for reasons of nostalgic novelty, and its clear Patrick wasn't entirely comfortable with it to begin with (he says he half-expected the phone call to be his mom stopping him from "being one of those gays who hooks up in a park").

But while he may not be so into finding sex in the park, Patrick sure is looking for it via more contemporary venues. He spends a good chunk of the episode's first half on OkCupid, eventually finding himself a date with a douchey oncologist named Benjamin.  They meet at an overpriced bar, and Benjamin immediately starts condescendingly grilling Patrick, first asking whether "he's drug and disease free" (a valid question, sure, but not during the first five minutes of a date) and then -- after Patrick offers him the story of his trip to the park -- whether Patrick's just "looking to hook up." Here's where we learn that Patrick sorta kinda considers himself "a relationship person," even though his longest relationship lasted only six months (which we learn later on from Dom is a slight overstatement). This information is somehow a dealbreaker for Dr. Douchebag, who shuts things down immediately and doesn't even pick up the tab.

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  • liz | February 24, 2014 4:20 PMReply

    I think the show show portrays more than just gay guys looking for sex. There are a lot of things that anyone can relate to like the character's aspirations and search for their true self.

  • JakeLX | January 21, 2014 12:41 PMReply

    I too was bothered by Patrick's nickname. When they first said it, I was left thinking, please no! Other than that I think the show was good. It was just the pilot. I think it will improve, much like other shows before it.

  • Jill | January 20, 2014 11:14 PMReply

    I've only seen one episode and I'm going to give it a few weeks, but honestly, I thought it portrayed gay men as doing nothing but look for sex. Maybe I blinked and missed a character I could actually care about. If it turns out to be nothing but a hunt for the next hook up, count me out.

  • DJF | January 20, 2014 10:06 PMReply

    *Some very soft spoilers below*

    I've seen the first four episodes as well and I agree that each one improves on the last. Episode three is when I thought the show really started to offer an idea of its direction. I love Scott Bakula's character and I love how the workplace eventually factors into the overall drama.

    It's hard not to watch this with a critical eye. One episode includes a bathhouse and as a gay man I immediately saw this as a negative, but then when I watched it the second time (I rewatched the four episodes) I realized there was a positive angle that came out of it all -- regardless of how you feel about those types of atmospheres.

    Some of the audience will think this goes too far, and some not far enough. After thinking it over, I think Looking is fine just where it is -- not the greatest show but potentially one that could provide a pathway for the other shows that will follow in its footsteps.

  • arshadfilms | January 20, 2014 9:43 PMReply

    Great review. I am so jealous that you already got to watch four episodes. It was a slow start and some conservative, heteronormative notions were thrown around and I definitely think there is not enough sex. However, it is a really promising show. Not like 'Queer as (White) Folk' or (White) 'Girls' or 'Sex and the (White) City'. I think if there are more people of colour and more diverse characters, this show can be the bomb!

  • Bill | January 20, 2014 1:22 PMReply

    I thought the show was a cheap-shot at a story. Using every stereotype as its base. Guys hooking up a public park, 3 ways, drugs...There are more interesting stories to be told. I thought writing about gay life would have evolved by now. For some people, shows like this are the only introspection they have into gay life. And for those on the fence about gay rights, a show like this could unravel any progress they have made. To the writers of Looking: find a smarter, more interesting way to tell a story. If only 1 character was a hedonistic sodomite that could be passable, but making all your main characters sluts, it just seems cheap.

  • Peggy | January 20, 2014 9:10 AMReply

    Maybe because I'm not a gay male, but I couldn't tell one guy from another and didn't see half of what you said was happening. I didn't realize one was black, he sort of looked dark. So, I'll take your word for it. The other seemed cuban-like so chalk another minority up. Although they didn't seem to be central to the plot. The main character is obviously white. So, yeah, it's like girls but with less psychopathy.