When is it too early for a think-piece? Considering Looking, HBO’s new dramedy series about a group of gay men in San Francisco, doesn’t premiere until mid-January, it seems like this is jumping the gun just a bit. But folks (read: gay guys) on the Internet have already quickly pounced on the show despite the network’s limited publicity around it. We’ve seen a collective 51 seconds of clips from it so far — the first teaser, released last week, was a brief montage set to music; yesterday we got a second look at the series in a trailer than actually included some dialogue — and it seems like that’s quite enough to form an opinion about it already.
Looking has a long history, surprisingly. It originated as a short film called “Lorimer” about gay men living in Brooklyn. Series creator Michael Lannan wrote and directed the film, which was released in 2011. The TV adaptation has been in development since, and the success of Girls probably pushed it along. Naturally, the setting was moved to San Francisco from Brooklyn (there can’t be two North Brooklyn-set series about 20-somethings, now can there?), and the city is probably more iconic than New York in the context of its rich gay history.
Unlike Girls, however, there’s a bit more diversity in its script. The main character is white, sure (he’s played by the very-cute Jonathan Groff), and his best friend, Agustín (played by Frankie Alvarez), is described in the pilot’s script as “South American, attractive, has a heavy accent, but perfect grammar.” The script, by the way, has deliberately diverse characters — more than you can say for Girls, which has mostly used characters of color to play New Yorkers in the service industry (and most of those characters didn’t even get first names). But the response to Looking‘s 30-second trailer has still generally been along the lines of, “Look at all of these white people!” It’s a pretty lazy observation, and one that comes from a very brief look at the show — it’s almost as lazy as calling Looking the gay Girls. (Full disclosure: I’m not immune to that kind of lazy writing.)
Considering how much Looking looks like Girls, and the fact that the third season of Lena Dunham’s show will lead into Looking‘s premiere in January, I imagine the response to the show will be as nitpicky as its straight female counterpart. It’s what happens when you attempt to make art about a marginalized group: you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I can already see the think-pieces written by young gay men complaining that the show does not reflect their lives, or they don’t see people who look like them, think like them, act like them on the show. I can understand the desire to relate to a character, although I can’t quite get the desperate necessity of it. It’s a work of fiction and about a group of made-up characters, and those men are likely not going to represent a cros-section of gay men across the country.
I’d really like to see Looking do well, if only because it will serve a group of people who rarely see people like themselves on television — especially not as the central characters driving the action. More importantly, I’d like Looking to be good, because I can’t blindly accept bad TV as great work just because it’s about people like me. But the point is, we haven’t seen it yet, and it seems ridiculous not to give it a shot because we’re in this weird post-Girls mindset in which we must be hypercritical of everything before we get to experience it. I’m suggesting that before we rush to dismiss the show entirely, we give it the chance it deserves. After all, the team behind it will likely face a lot of pressure — not just to capture the gay experience, but also to gain an audience that that likely won’t come easily (namely, straight people). If Looking fails, it’ll be a shame, because all that will tell TV executives is that there’s no room for shows centered around queer characters.