TV Review - Looking

Jonathan Groff (left) and
Raúl Castillo in "Looking"
Jonathan Groff stars as Patrick, a video game designer in his mid to late twenties living in San Francisco. The opening scene in the first episode, the pilot, is Patrick getting a hand job in the park but a cell phone call from his friends interrupts. If it hadn't been interrupted, it's a wonder what would have happened. Patrick just stood there waiting, as the guy in the park approached him. I feel like that is Patrick's whole life. Later, Patrick is approached by Richie, played by Raúl Castillo, a really cool, Latino bouncer that Patrick sees on a subway train. Later, Patrick is approached by Kevin, the British boss that Patrick has at work. From the hand job guy to Kevin, Patrick never pursues any of these guys. All of these guys pursue him, and I'm not sure the series, created by Michael Lannan, ever makes the case as to why.

Strangely, Groff playing gay men who are the object of pursuit isn't new. Groff recently starred in the independent film C.O.G. (2013) in which his character has an incident where he's pursued by a guy for sexual and possibly romantic reasons. In that situation, it's a bit more clear as to why he's pursued. It's because he and the other guy are the only two gay men within hundreds of miles. This is not the case in San Francisco, so if we're to accept that Groff's Patrick is the guy to be pursued so fiercely by all these men, we're to need a concrete reason why.

It's not exactly like director Andrew Haigh's Weekend. I make the comparison because Haigh directed five of the eight episodes that comprise Season 1 of Looking. Even though the reality and authenticity were undeniable, Haigh's Weekend was a love story, insulated and confined to one apartment and two men, where the exclusion of the outside world was the point. Looking is the opposite in that it wants to be inclusive of the outside world.

In Haigh's insulated world, things like love at first sight or even second sight are embraced. People can be skeptical, even cynical, but the possibilities are always on the level. Looking doesn't really put those possibilities on the level, which perhaps makes the series more truthful and honest. At the same time, a bit of the magic and hopefulness is lost.

It's a TV series, so every new episode is a new chance for discovery and change. This show does have that. It has discovery and it all comes via Murray Bartlett who plays Dom, the oldest of Patrick's friends whose aging issues are well-played against Scott Bakula who guest stars as Lynn, a middle-aged gay business owner who takes more than a passing interest.

Showtime's Queer As Folk dealt with aging issues to a limit. It adopted the commonly held notion that aging is to be avoided, feared or fiercely fought, and that youthful things like hanging out at bars and nightclubs is the only default. What Looking posits is that's not the only way. Through the warmth and beauty that is Scott Bakula's Lynn, there is another way to explore older gay male relationships, more than the buffoonery in Modern Family or the perversion in Behind the Candelabra. Looking offers a fleshed out story, the likes of which were only glimpsed with Bakula in American Beauty (1999).

Frankie J. Alvarez who plays Agustín is a mess, an intentional mess I grant, but too much of a mess to make his inclusion in the narrative interesting enough to warrant that inclusion. He's a veritable non-presence. With him, he somehow manages to make a three-way boring. I don't blame the actor of course. The writing for Alvarez is barely there or else it feels like inebriated dancing.

Russell Tovey as Kevin in "Looking"
The series allows for the appearance of gay actors, criminally underemployed, but of the guest stars who get the absolute least to do, despite being a fantastic actor, is Scott Evans. The former soap star is unfortunately limited to a couple of frames of screen time in one episode.

Nevertheless, the mystery of Patrick's appeal might simply devolve to a physical one. If that's all it is, then the series delivers on the promise of the emptiness of that through Kevin's flirtations. British actor Russell Tovey (The History Boys and Being Human) plays Kevin. His smooth charm, humor and sex appeal sells this show on basic titillation. Tovey is just too attractive an actor to turn away.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Available via HBO on Demand or HBO Go.


Popular Posts