So is Looking really the gay man's Girls? The comparisons are easy. Like its HBO sibling, the new half-hour dramedy is young, sexually explicit, and self-consciously contemporary: Facebook, OK Cupid, and Grindr all get shout-outs. It's set in the NorCal equivalent of Girls boho-yuppie environs, and it's even shot in an equivalent glam-verité style that variously resembles indie movies and jean commercials. But in its opening episodes, Looking makes a case for itself. Unlike the manic Girls, it has an easy charm, unencumbered by Lena Dunham's voice-of-a-generation agony. On the flip side, Looking doesn't really have a mission statement. A logline for the series might be: ''Well-adjusted gay men have intelligent conversations, sex.''
Admittedly, that concept by itself is might sound bold enough in the current TV landscape. The depiction of homosexuality on television has advanced considerably in the last few decades, but the world conjured up by Looking still feels unusual. Unlike, say Showtime's enjoyably melodramatic Queer as Folk, Looking aims for realism. The show centers on three friends – smiley-bland Patrick (Jonathan Groff), adventurous roommate Agustin (Franke J. Alvarez), and older Dom (Murray Bartlett) – with a special focus on their sex lives, their romantic lives, and the occasional crossover therein.
The show begins with Patrick cruising in the park, a quietly erotic scene that turns funny when Patrick's phone vibrates. (''I thought it was on vibrate,'' Patrick says.) Patrick is single and looking – for what, exactly, we don't know. He goes on a date with a handsome older Doctor whose bluntness is at once hilarious and painfully true. Agustin, meanwhile, is settled in an apparently happy relationship: In the second episode, he moves to his boyfriend's place in (gasp!) Oakland, shot here with the same wrong-side-of-the-tracks filter as Chino on The O.C. and Mexico in Breaking Bad.
Looking doesn't just use San Francisco as a pretty background. The show seems fitfully aware of the inflating income anxiety in that IPO-besotted metropolis. In the second episode, Patrick goes on a date with a Latino named Richie (Raúl Castillo) and their flirtation has an endearingly accurate awkwardness. (''I've always wanted to go to Mexico!'' says Patrick, painfully.)
But after watching the first two episodes, Looking feels like a show that has found the right vibe without quite hitting the fundamentals. Groff is a talent, but as a lead character, Patrick is cursed with all kinds of baseline-inauthentic peculiarities. He's a videogame designer who wears perfectly fitted T-shirts and barely ever seems to work. His best friend at work is a Japanese-American guy; it takes under two minutes for said Japanese-American guy to make a Pokemon joke. There are tantalizing implications that Patrick has a troubled backstory. I hope there's more to him, because he's trending into Ted Mosby bland-protagonist territory.
But Looking also has Bartlett's Dom, a guy who is just old enough to be cynical but still young enough to be hopeful. And Dom has Doris (Lauren Weedman), his roommate and long-ago girlfriend and all-around wingman. Dom and Doris have such immediate chemistry that you could almost see the show refocusing around them. (Hipster Will & Grace: Not the worst idea ever.)
Truthfully, the show could go almost anywhere. Creator Michael Lannan is relative newcomer. Like Dunham before him, he doesn't seem particularly encumbered by formulas which is why Looking feels both thrillingly expansive and dangerously shapeless. B