February 2

Television: ‘Looking’ marks another milestone in the evolution of gay roles

The HBO series centers on three out-and-proud gay friends navigating adulthood in progressive San Francisco.

By Yvonne Villarreal
McClatchy Newspapers

LOS ANGELES — It was just over a week before the leads of HBO’s gay-centered new series “Looking” would ultimately be seen – and examined closely – and the trio of friends (or “dream team,” as they dub themselves) were too occupied to be overwhelmed by the burden, thumbing through humorous cellphone videos of one another taken from the set.

click image to enlarge

Murray Bartlett, left, Jonathan Groff and Frankie J. Alvarez in “Looking.”

HBO

“I hope my phone is never stolen because these are so humiliating,” said Jonathan Groff, an impish grin tugging at his face as he shared a video of regrettable singing moments by costars Frankie J. Alvarez and Murray Bartlett. (Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” among them.)

The carefree scene unfolded on a recent afternoon at the Palomar Hotel in Westwood; all the while a mass of billboards of the wistful-looking threesome heavily dots the surrounding neighborhoods, promising viewers will “find something real.” It’s a profusion that prompted Bartlett to inquire, as a spread of quinoa salads arrived, “Do you think people know there’s a show called ‘Looking’?”

“Looking,” which premiered Jan. 19, centers on three out-and-proud gay friends navigating adulthood in progressive San Francisco. It comes from writer Michael Lannan and is being helmed by writer-director Andrew Haigh, who directed the 2011 gay indie-romance film “Weekend.”

“Looking” lands at an interesting moment in the gay narrative: Last year, marriage equality gained steam in the United States just as Russia instituted anti-gay laws. At a time when television may be less stingy with its offering of gay characters (3.3 percent of series regulars on scripted prime-time broadcast television were LGBT, according to a GLAAD study), few series have zoomed in on the nuances of contemporary gay relationships. “Looking” appears to be a descendant of groundbreakers such as “Tales of the City,” “Queer as Folk” (the U.K. and American versions) and “The L Word.”

“Our show is less about people just finding themselves,” said Lannan, 36, in a separate interview with Haigh, 40, in their Hollywood office. “It’s not about coming out and accepting your sexuality and being a twentysomething. We wanted a stage of life that was a little more formed. People in their 30s now who are gay grew up with a different set of expectations. Whereas, when Andrew and I were teenagers, it was such a different world.”

Haigh added: “Even just the idea of being completely open – it was something I couldn’t even think about when I was like 18. Gay marriage wasn’t even something within grasp.”

The series, which opened to modest ratings, has already set off predictable comparisons to “Sex and the City” and that recent cultural touchstone (and its lead-in), “Girls” – similarities the guys are willing to accept and challenge.

“It’s just the way the industry works,” Alvarez said. “Hopefully, the work will speak for itself and it won’t be called the gay ‘Girls,’ it will just be ‘Looking’ because we’re presenting something supplementary, not the same.”

It’s already serving as quite the spotlight for the actors: It’s the first headlining TV role for Groff, who is mostly known for his theater work. Alvarez, the straight man of the trio, also comes from the theater world and appeared in episodes of NBC’s short-lived “Smash.” Bartlett is probably best known for his run on CBS’ former daytime soap “Guiding Light.”

The series introduces viewers to Patrick (Groff), a 29-year-old genial but dorky video game designer with sexual inhibitions; Agustin (Alvarez) is his slightly older roommate and an aspiring artist who finds himself in an artistic and romantic rut; and Dom (Bartlett) is their approaching-40 waiter friend undergoing a midlife crisis.

It might not be a show “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson will add to his DVR list but realistically is being scrutinized by the gay community. Detractors found its pilot boring and cliche-ridden, while others saw promise and honest realism.

(Continued on page 2)

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