Living, Working, and Always Looking

Frankie J. Alvarez, Murray Bartlett, and Jonathan Groff in HBO’s new series “Looking,” which premieres on January 19. | HBO

Frankie J. Alvarez, Murray Bartlett, and Jonathan Groff in HBO’s new series “Looking,” which premieres on January 19. | HBO

HBO premieres its new gay-themed series “Looking” on Sunday, January 19. The show is a half-hour dramedy based on the lives of gay friends and lovers and is set in current-day San Francisco. The cable network has given the show a great time slot — 10:30 p.m. Eastern — following the smash hit “Girls,” which begins its third season one week earlier.

One of the last major gay-focused series from a network was “Queer as Folk” on Showtime, which ended its five-year run in 2005. Based on the groundbreaking 1999 series from the UK, the Showtime version of “QAF” never hit the daring highs of the original, instead offering up a more tepid soap opera.

Since then, LGBT characters and themes have become entrenched in the media — from “Modern Family” to “Glee,” “True Blood,” and the much hyped, but failed “The New Normal.” Gay characters, now in the mainstream, are grabbing the central focus of a series once again with “Looking.”

Mostly gone are the days of the stock “asexual quipping best friend” character — Sean Hayes’ current NBC sitcom being a sad exception. “Looking” is a singular probe into the world of young gay men navigating dating, relationships, and the passage into middle age. The question is whether “Looking” is a series that will find mainstream success beyond the gay demographic.

HBO rolls out new dramedy centered on a gang of gay friends in San Francisco

The show is created by Andrew Haigh and Michael Lannan. Haigh directed the critically acclaimed British film “Weekend” in 2011. The series stars Jonathon Groff, formerly of “Glee” and Broadway’s “Spring Awakening,” along with Frankie J. Alvarez (TV’s “Smash”) and Murray Bartlett (indie film “August”).

Filmed entirely in the San Francisco area, the creators cast the city as an important character in the show. In a recent interview with, Lannon said he hopes the setting will benefit from viewers realizing “just the really cool way you can ramble around San Francisco, and walk from neighborhood to neighborhood. How hard it is to make the rent, and how you have to work, and you have to share apartments and scrimp for spaces.”

Gay City News has been able to preview the show’s first four episodes and they suggest that “Looking” has a lot going for it. The acting is first-rate, and the direction and cinematography are gritty and realistic. With the writing explicit, relationships, marriage, hookups, threesomes, and an occasional bathhouse visit are all on view. In the series introduction, there does seem to be a lack of urgency in the storytelling, a pace that will perhaps build as the season progresses.

There is one issue with the series that viewers may hope improves as it continues. “Looking” primarily tells the story of three friends, Patrick, Augustín, and Dom. Their friendships and careers are portrayed realistically, with admirable complexity and shading. What is surprising in this day and age, however, is that in their social circle there is only one minor female character represented in the cast. Doris, as written and as portrayed by Lauren Weedman, borders on stereotypical “faghag,” her character seemingly existing only as a shrill sounding board for Dom (Bartlett) and his problems. The show would profit from a cast that expands to be more inclusive.

Sunday nights will be a busy place in coming weeks on HBO. Its new anthology series “True Detective,” in its first eight episodes starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, premieres on January 12 at 9 p.m., an hour before the new season of “Girls.” A week later, viewers get their first peek at “Looking.”

LOOKING | HBO | Premieres Jan.19 | 10:30 p.m.