HBO’s Looking is not without its pallid charms, but the pleasures it offers are largely grim ones, like watching a friend suffer through a role in a bad play.
When the new show, which debuts Sunday, was described to me as a gay Girls, I braced myself for deliberately unlikeable characters (no problemo there), but I was unprepared for how derivative it was. The first few episodes — which, yes, center on a group of pretty or pretty-ish young urbanites whose problems haven’t even met real problems — have within them new romances, old ones revisited, a move, a firing and many more of those same big 20something Life Moments as Lena Dunham’s comedy, but Looking won’t look good for being next to the older, bolder show.
This one lacks a lick of Girls’s ammonia wit, perhaps, the snide might say, because it’s set on the opposite coast. And that’s the least of its problems: some scenes have such poor pacing and rhythm you wonder how long they had to rehearse.
Looking gives with one hand and takes away with the other. It gives, for example, a very realistic Grindr hook-up, complete with a sweaty, well-lit O-shot, but it takes all those points off the board and then some when the twink sings Wicked in the shower before leaving. Boo.
The taste, in general, is very hit-and-miss, like, at once. I love the dancing scene set to Erasure’s “Give a Little Respect,” but would a DJ (at a gay club no less) really play it all the way through without at least adding a back-beat or something? And there’s definitely a stop by the Folsom Street Fair, but they can’t quite rise above making fun of it.
This series gets a lot of the details right, but usually the ones you wish it wouldn’t. I hate, for example, the protagonist Patrick, played by Jonathan Groff (Jess St. James from Glee), but he’s very realistic. It takes less than 11 minutes into the pilot for this 29-year-old to end a conversation with a coworker with “I can’t even with you right now,” another 10 to deliver the winner “I mean, it’s San Francisco, right? It shouldn’t be so hard to meet cool people in this town,” and not five minutes into Episode 2 he’s quoting the lyrics to “Thank You for Being a Friend” to a vacating roommate as if they were sage wisdom and not a fearsome platitude.
Gay men really do these things, but do they have to?
There’s a telling line from Dom, the token 40-year-old in this gaggle of gents, immediately after the aforementioned Grindr sex: “I’m such a cliche … thinking sex will make me feel better. I mean, it does, but still.” It’s as if the producers and writers didn’t have any idea how to come at this story except through cliche. The fact that they know it doesn’t make it better.
The “twist” they give Patrick, apart from being a social miscreant who lives with his foot in his mouth, a la Hannah Horvath, is that he’s an attractive, playful, relatively stable Millennial queer who’s “hilariously” bad at getting laid. You know, the way most gay guys aren’t? He fails at anonymous park sex, he fails at OkCupid sex, he even fails at drunk, charming second date sex. Ha … ha?
Making Patrick extra awkward is treated as a learning experience for the audience. He’s out and proud, but because he’s trying to crawl out of his own skin, you see, he’s a way in.
I’m not saying nothing can be done here, or that the story couldn’t grow, but with this little trust between TV and viewer, and with this many recycled tropes, it’ll be an uphill climb as steep as Filbert Street. This show likes its characters, and that makes it redeemable, but it’s starting from a pretty weak position.
Looking? No thanks man, I’m gonna pass tonight.