As if the HBO series Girls hasn’t already sparked enough discussion and critique from critics and TV fans alike of its depiction of the so-called “millennial” generation, HBO has now launched another series seemingly destined to generate buzz with Looking, which premiered last week on HBO Canada. The show revolves around a group of gay men living in San Francisco and follows their professional, personal, and romantic struggles. Thankfully, though, the show’s pilot suggests that the show has substance beyond simply evoking debate and also avoids being the male-driven carbon copy of Girls that it sounds like.
After the uncensored discussions of sexuality on shows like Sex and the City and Girls, nudity on many premium cable shows, and the violence featured in any number of cop/gangster/forensic investigation series, it’s difficult for a television show to be truly shocking nowadays. Thankfully, the pilot of Looking shows that the creators aren’t interested in one-upping or being more outrageous than the series before it. On the whole, it’s a pretty earnest look at 20-something life. Sure, the pilot opens with a casual sexual encounter in a park and the half-hour episode features plenty of frank conversation. But it also doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be explicit just for the sake of sensationalism and seems genuinely interested in mining some universal truths right from the outset. For example, the show’s protagonist, Patrick (played with surprising subtlety by Glee alum Jonathan Groff), is a well-meaning, pleasant guy who’s also holding on to some rather significant insecurities. Whether or not you can relate to his specific struggle, watching Pat shoot the breeze with his friends or verbally dig himself deeper and deeper into a hole on a doomed first date feels authentic in the way it’s presented.
The first few episodes of Looking are directed by Andrew Haigh, who also serves as an executive producer of the series. Haigh made a name for himself with the 2011 British indie Weekend, which follows a relationship between two men that wavers between a one-night stand and something more. Haigh explores similar territory here both with the story and in equally gorgeous and hazy visuals.
This time around, Haigh trades the drizzly streets of London for the bright lights and bustle of San Francisco, making Looking innately feel like a bigger affair than his previous work. However, while Haigh’s intimate, clear-eyed perspective on love is perfectly suited for a low-key, 90-minute indie drama, it may prove to be more of a challenge to stretch over a week-by-week series for any significant length of time. The premiere of Looking finds Haigh already building his characters in complex and fascinating ways, but the major question it poses is if those characters will be provided with enough places to go story-wise to keep the show interesting throughout a potentially multi-season run.
Looking has earned many comparisons to Girls, and while it examines the same urban 20-something crowd and has a 30-minute format, it’s hardly a direct copy. There’s something more oblique and moody about Looking, and while it certainly has its moments of humour, it’s not difficult to imagine it delving into darker territory than Girls does, down the road. It’s off to a strong start with its pilot—it’s just a matter of whether its low-key and microcosmic worldview will suit the serialized format of a television series.