As HBO's Looking begins, Patrick (Jonathan Groff) is looking for love in the wrong place — the bushes at his local park. He tries to kiss the guy who approaches him, and asks for his trick's name. "Stop talking!" is the response.
The interlude is interrupted by the ringing of Patrick's cell phone. "Excuse me, I have to take this," says a sheepish Patrick as he saunters off.
"It's very symbolic that in the very first scene, Patrick is getting a hand job," Jonathan Groff said to SFGN. "He's never done this before. He's looking at himself, stepping out of himself and changing his life."
The openly gay actor is delighted to be pursuing his craft at a time when sexuality is quickly becoming a non-issue, both onscreen and off. "Looking is very different from Queer as Folk and other, earlier gay shows," he said. "Nobody in Looking is feeling self-conscious about their sexuality, they've already gone through that. The drama of their lives is about boyfriends, jobs and friendships. The characters are more relate-able than in other shows, because anyone can have to deal with those issues.
The actor is mindful of the fact that earlier gay shows like Queer as Folk, Will and Grace and others made Looking possible.
"I feel like we've come so far with acceptance towards the gay community," he said. "It's nice that we've reached the point where we're making a show about gay characters in which gay is who they are, but it doesn't define them."
Sexuality has become a non-issue in Groff's own life. "Being pigeonholed is not specific to gay actors," he said. "When you're in a hit show you're pigeonholed. I did Broadway musicals, and I did Glee. It took hard work for me to be able to show that I could act without singing. It's universal: you have to be prepared for the challenge to prove yourself."
Groff is delightful as Patrick, Looking's lead character. In Patrick we see a lot of ourselves: a sweet, bumbling guy who yearns to find the elusive Mr. Right. Like many gay men, Patrick stumbles along the way, reaching out to people who don't want him, and turning away from people who do. Will Patrick find his knight in shining armor? That remains to be seen.
Looking is shot on location around many of San Francisco's recognizable gay landmarks, including the legendary Castro district. The writing and the acting are sharp. Storylines should easily hold viewers' attention.
Looking poses two age-old gay questions: Can gay men be platonic friends? Or do they need to have sex with every other gay man they meet? The answer is sometimes yes, sometimes no, on both counts.
Missing though from Looking are the presence of the lesbian and transgender communities. Granted, this is a show about gay men, but San Francisco has huge, highly visible women's and transgender populations. The complete absence of lesbian and transgender characters — at least in the four episodes that were made available to SFGN for viewing — seems odd.
Be that as it may, Looking is an often funny slice of real life. Many gay viewers will see themselves as they watch the adorably sweet, if socially awkward, Patrick as he tries too hard with his friends, his boss, and his dates. Especially with his dates. Will Patrick finally get it right when he meets Richie (Raul Castillo), a sexy, slightly younger guy?
Find out by tuning in to Looking on Sunday January 19 at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.
Eight half hour episodes will be offered for the freshman season.
Episodes will also be made available for online viewing and On Demand.