In March 2015, with two critically-acclaimed but low-rated seasons under its belt, the half-hour dramedy Looking was canceled by HBO. Although the series — which followed three friends searching for a sense of purpose in the thriving gay community of San Francisco — never got to see a third season, HBO offered a compromise: a 90-minute TV movie that wraps up the show's central storyline.
Looking: The Movie, which reunites the original cast and picks up nearly a year after the Season 2 finale, will debut on the pay cable network Saturday, July 23 at 10/9c. Although we're staring down the twilight of creator Michael Lannan's creative vision, now is actually the perfect time to discover everything this little-watched but still captivating series has to offer. Here's why.
1. It's unique but universal
During its brief run on HBO, Looking was praised for its ability to capture a unique point of view while still delivering storylines rooted in universally familiar concepts: romance, heartbreak, loneliness, acceptance. The relatively quiet series, which starred Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez and Murray Bartlett, never attempted to appeal to a broad audience — even after its low-rated freshman season — and instead stayed to true to the personal and creatively rich path it set out on in 2014.
By focusing on each character's intimate wants and needs, Looking was able to resonate with viewers of all demographics, whether they were gay or straight, man or woman, young or old. Turning the focus inward meant Lannan and executive producer Andrew Haigh, who directed and wrote a number of episodes, were able to fully capture the lifestyles, personalities, neuroses, and dreams of their three leads, exploring these men's identities in a way that TV rarely allows.
In other words, Looking put the spotlight firmly on a group of people frequently ignored or exploited by mainstream media, and it did so by allowing its characters to have real, identifiable flaws that fleshed them out and made them recognizable and familiar.
2. It's realistic and never contrived
To describe Looking as a series about the dating lives of gay men is to simplify its carefully drawn characters and the relationships sustained or built over the course of the show into their most basic parts, but there's also something refreshing about the simplicity of that approach as well.
Unlike so many high profile dramas competing for viewers in this time of #PeakTV, Looking never felt the need to rely on melodramatic twists to provide conflict for its leads, instead choosing to plumb the the depths of basic human connections to easily produce captivating, worthwhile stories about love, friendship and acceptance.
For instance, over the course of the show's too-short run, Patrick's (Groff) emotional and mental states were explored through two major relationships. In Season 1, he dated the earnest barber Richie (Raúl Castillo), embarking on a revealing romance that would inspire Patrick to want to be better, to try harder, to experience more. Later on, Patrick entered a passionate love affair with Kevin (Russell Tovey), his sexy, British boss who was already involved in a longterm relationship. Both romances, for better or worse, helped Patrick come to terms with his internalized shame and put him on the path toward self-discovery and figuring out who and what it was he wanted.
3. It makes excellent use of its supporting characters
Although Looking was first and foremost Patrick's story, the show didn't phone it in with regards to the people who surrounded him but instead cast created a solid foundation upon which the show's stories could grow and flourish.
After a problematic start in Season 1, in which his character was almost universally unlikeable, Agustin (Alvarez) climbed back from rock bottom to embark on a bumpy but successful relationship with the HIV-positive Eddie (Daniel Franzese), a confident man who ran a shelter for homeless transgender teens. Agustin's relationship with Eddie pushed him to finally find perspective and purpose, and allowed the best parts of himself to come to the surface.
Meanwhile, Dom's (Bartlett) struggles in his endeavor to open his own restaurant, coupled with the mutual untethering between himself and lifelong best friend Doris (Lauren Weedman, the lone female in a male-dominated cast), pushed and enabled the character to find his own path. And Doris, herself freed from Dom, was able to embark on the life she wanted, rather than simply coasting along.
4. It's not flashy but looks great
Though the series made great use of its surroundings — and often found freedom in San Francisco-based festivals and the show's many memorable dance scenes — Looking was not a flashy series. Still, it was a visually stunning piece of artwork thanks to Haigh's excellent direction, which frequently captured the natural beauty of the City by the Bay and turned it into a living extension of the characters' story. Entire episodes were spent exploring unfamiliar parts of the city as characters got to know one another and got to know themselves in the process. This gave the series a sense of place even as its characters were searching for theirs.
5. It's timely and timeless
Looking may be low in episode count — just 18 half-hour episodes in total — but its cultural influence cannot be measured. By placing the LGBTQ community as a group at the center of its story, Looking was able to capture and highlight, even just for a brief moment, insight into a world rarely depicted in popular culture. And did it without subjecting its characters to cringe-inducing stereotypical portrayals.
Far too often the LGBTQ community is relegated to supporting roles on TV, and far too often gay men are limited to roles that require them to be flamboyant and effeminate. The idea that there is no right or wrong way to be gay is a theme that is given voice to throughout the show, and it's one that extends to the show's greater message of self-discovery and self-acceptance. In the wake of real world tragedies, and the push for better treatment of LGBTQ characters on TV, Looking and the stories it told have become increasingly important. There is no better time to jump on board.
Looking's first two seasons are streaming on HBO Go. Looking: The Movie premieres Saturday, July 23 at 10/9c on HBO.