HBO’s new show realistically explores the dating lives of three gay men
HBO’s Looking is not a reach for the progressive channel. The network has always catered to a diverse range of tastes. The first season provides an unflinchingly honest portrayal of three gay men living in San Francisco. Examining these three friends and their relationships as they search through life in their thirties, it’s a surprisingly low-key drama. Looking avoids pandering to prior hot-button issues in the LGBT community, more content to explore the various options available to gay men in life today.
Looking’s first season is relatively short with only eight episodes, though the series did get renewed by HBO for a second season. Its brevity makes it feel slightly incomplete, as characters are left hanging by the last episode. It is a good thing the most fully realized character, Patrick (Jonathan Groff), is the main focus of season one. The 29-year-old videogame designer tentatively explores the dating world, a slightly neurotic guy looking for love but not sure what he wants.
Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez) and Dom (Murray Bartlett) are Patrick’s older friends, both in different places in their lives. Agustín is an aspiring artist that has recently moved in with his boyfriend, Frank. Dom is the oldest of the trio at 39, a waiter facing middle-age with his dreams largely unfulfilled. Dom eventually meets Lynn (Scott Bakula), who might want an open relationship.
The “dramedy” is so focused on being real that it forgets to take a breather.
Complications occur in Patrick’s life when he starts flirting with his boss, Kevin. Kevin is already in another relationship, making things very complicated beyond the aspect of a potential office romance. Creators Michael Lannan and Andrew Haigh are careful to avoid melodrama.
Looking has an unusual documentary-like approach to its characters’ lives. It is a quiet, sensitive tone that occasionally becomes boring. They spend almost an entire episode with Patrick and Richie on an extended date. The relaxed, leisurely pacing does add authenticity to Looking.
Looking is a contemporary view of gay men and their relationships. In that regard, it feels utterly real and honest. Something seems missing from the mix however. The “dramedy” is so focused on being real that it forgets to take a breather. Patrick is a likable character as he searches for meaning in his dating. The big thing missing is a compelling narrative – everything in Looking seems to head nowhere. While that may resemble real life, it makes for occasionally boring entertainment in this uneventful first season.
HBO has spread the eight episodes over two Blu-rays, the season running under four hours total. The AVC video encode has somewhat low parameters per episode, usually averaging around 20 Mbps.
The video’s color-timing has been heavily doctored, turning scenic San Francisco into an oddly tinted city with bluish teal. While definition and detail aren’t terrible, Looking’s 1080P video is fairly muted. This is not one of HBO’s prettier looking shows.
Framed in a pedestrian 1.78:1 widescreen transfer, Looking has murky black levels that crush shadow detail in the darkest scenes. Clarity is far better in exterior shots, though the unusual color-timing limits its impact. The restrained color palette leads to a heavier contrast and slightly noisy texture.
A lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA provides a decent sonic experience for Looking, especially when the characters are at a party or the club. Fidelity is average with respectable dialogue quality. The occasional music song does tend to feature significant bass, adding more impact to this limited surround mix. There is some minor ambient support, especially in a few notable scenes.
The following subtitles display in a white font: English SDH, French, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.
HBO includes a slipcover in first pressings, they have abandoned the DigiPack case for shorter series. A digital code good for an UltraViolet copy, iTunes, and Google Play is included. I’ve never seen this many commentaries included with no other special features. Six commentaries is a lot to digest; nearly each episode gets a group commentary with someone from the cast and crew.
Six Audio Commentaries (Episodes 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, and 8) – These are all group commentaries led by creators Michael Lannan and Andrew Haigh. Each one also features a cast member or two that play main characters: Jonathan Groff (Patrick), Frankie J.Alvarez (Augustín) and Murray Bartlett (Dom). A couple of other minor actors appear, as well as a writer and director. Like many group commentaries they always sound like a group of friends gathering together with less focus on discussing what they are there for, which is the show.
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.