For us bookish heteros of a particular age, Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series of books provided (as well as entertainment) part of our consciousness-raising education about one facet of gay life, and gay San Francisco culture in particular. HBO’s new series Looking covers a bit of the same ground, although it would be doing both Maupin and Looking a disservice to claim that the latter is anything other than original. What connects the two, though, is a free-wheeling spirit, and the sense that San Francisco is a place where a young gay man can find himself, and then be himself.
This first episode, ‘Looking For Now’ was directed by Andrew Haigh, who also exec produces; Haigh was the writer/director of the excellent Weekend (2011), which for UK viewers is being shown on Channel 4 at 11.20pm on Friday 7 February. The main focus of the show is on three friends in their 20s and 30s, all attractive, and all in jobs that my late father would not have recognised as “work”. We first encounter games designer Patrick (Jonathan Groff) getting a “very, very small hand-job” in a park from a “gym-teacher hairy” dude with cold hands; Dom (Murray Bartlett) is the sommelier at an upmarket restaurant; and Agustín (Frankie J. Álvarez) makes art installations with what looks like bits of chair.
The episode is loosely about their love lives: Patrick, spurred into action by the news that a former lover is getting engaged, goes online and sets up a date with a doctor, although he makes the mistake of adding a “winking smiley-face” to his reply (“What are you, a Japanese teenager?” snarks a work friend, who used to be a Japanese teenager). The date goes delightfully, horrifyingly badly, although on the way home Patrick is chatted up on the train. Agustín, Patrick’s flatmate, decides it’s time to move in with his boyfriend. Dom fails to pick up the cute new boy at the restaurant, and leaves a voicemail message for an ex-boyfriend who, it is hinted, was bad news.
And that’s pretty much it. It’s not really a show about plot, though; it’s about people. To succeed, therefore, it’s going to have to make characters that you want to hang out with. About which I have two things to say: firstly, the amount of detail and backstory crammed into a thirty-minute episode, which never felt crowded or hectoring, was something of a minor miracle. And, secondly, I have to say that I loved it: I like the characters, and I found the show charming, amusing, and beguiling. With a few Unpopcult favourites returning shortly, further reviews will probably depend on whether I have the time. I’ll be making time to watch, though.