Looking, about a group of gay men living in San Francisco, starts with an inside joke: Patrick (Jonathan Groff) stumbles into some bushes and happens upon another man, who quickly proceeds unzipping Patrick’s pants. “Here we go!”
Ah, but this isn’t that kind of show – not that there would be anything wrong with some graphic, homosexual titillation on TV. Patrick, in a moment fitting of the anachronism (“Does anyone go cruising anymore?” he self-effacingly asks later), has his hookup derailed by someone calling him on his phone, which he drops in the mucky dirt in his befuddlement. It’s clear from that moment: This will not just be show about guys getting blowjobs in the park.
Looking emerges as a byproduct of years of loud, occasionally brash forebears like Will & Grace and The L Word and Modern Family and shifting cultural moods. It is a post-”gay” TV show, if you will, insomuch as it confidently decides, after its funny, sleight-of-hand opening sequence, that it doesn’t need to draw too much attention to itself because people are already, well, Looking. Or at least, a lot more people are interested in and knowledgeable about and understanding of gay people than ever before. Its gayness is both totally and not at all beside the point. It’s a show about people dating and seeking meaningful, fulfilling relationships – whatever that may look like. The people just so happen to be gay.
We felt that same sense of easiness to the romantic and sexual proceedings in Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, where two men’s extended one-night stand turns into a 48-hour whirlwind romance. Haigh helms much of Looking’s first, eight-episode season (along with creator and screenwriter Michael Lannan), and there’s a refreshing, quotidian quality to the plotting. It follows three men: Patrick is a level designer for a video game studio, and is reeling from news that his ex has gotten engaged just four months after their breakup; Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez) is an artist’s assistant frustrated that he hasn’t made any art of his own in too long, though he’s building up his home life – in the pilot he decides to pack up and move to Oakland with his boyfriend. And Dom (Murray Bartlett), the oldest of three friends, is still listlessly getting by on waiter’s tips and hookups.
The three are a playful group, and Haigh and Lannan capture the rapid-fire chattering and vocal cadence you hear from young people who talk about themselves too much. But there’s a world outside these men’s lives, particularly in San Francisco, and how it seeps in around them is deft and intriguing. I’m interested in Looking as a show that understands the alchemy of the modern, technological dating world (whether you want to admit it or not, we’re all dating online now), and as one that engages with class disparity in a way that doesn’t feel completely obvious. There is no hemming or hawing (or self-seriousness) about Patrick using OKCupid to find dates and Dom meeting up with men on Grindr; Silicon Valley startup wealth and effete, artisanal fusion cuisine is both bemoaned and acknowledged as a catalyst for inequitable growth. And I like how each of the men is used to explore different stages of personal growth and emotional maturity: What makes a domestic partnership work? And what does a happy one look like? What does it cost, personally and financially, to decide to finally “grow up”? (And for Dom, who’s coming up on 40, it’s a foreboding, “Is it too late for me?”) Looking portends to plumb those ideas, and I like its varied, skeptical approach.
Lena Dunham’s Girls is almost an entirely different show than the one that debuted two years ago. The show has veered into an interesting – if not always coherent – dive into the manic, punishing psyche of young creatives. (May we forever look upon cotton swabs with abject terror.) Season 3 is when Dunham’s Hannah Horvath becomes pure id, and it’s equal parts fascinating and hilarious. And it’s completely infuriating – there were plenty of navel-gazing moments, most of them involving Hannah, in the first half of its 12-episode season that compelled me to scream.
Hannah is now medicated and domesticated, her book is taking her places, and Adam (Adam Driver, long the show’s secret weapon) has taken up permanent residence at her side. They’re both nuts, but they make sense together as Adam has developed into the show’s almost Randian voice of reason: He always brought a gruff sense of profundity, but now there’s greater clarity and, often, a sweetness to him.
The girls in Girls, especially Hannah, are starting to resemble the self-possessed, oblivious millennials early critiques of the show (in my opinion wrongly) described them as. It’s such a hard turn into unlikability that it almost feels like satire. The rest of the girls (and guys)? They’re there, on their own little abandoned islands of storyline; the show still hasn’t quite figured out how to pace an episode for maximum character economy. But when we do see them, they’re still utter delights: Zosia Mamet’s stunted sugary pixie Shoshana injects an enjoyable spastic energy into all her scenes. And I like the idea of a blossoming friendship between Allison Williams’ brittle and overbearing Marnie and Alex Karpovsky’s armchair philosopher Ray – they’re exactly the kind of mixed-up pairing that happens when you spend too much time with the same group of friends.
Looking premieres Jan. 19 at 9:30pm on HBO. Girls airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO.
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