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‘Looking’ At Gay Life Now

We take a look at the new HBO series “Looking,” and its take on gay life now.

In HBO's new series, 'Looking,' Paddy (Jonathan Groff) is looking for a steady boyfriend in modern San Francisco. He meets Richie (Raúl Castillo) on a BART train. (John P. Johnson / HBO)

In HBO’s new series, ‘Looking,’ Paddy (Jonathan Groff) is looking for a steady boyfriend in modern San Francisco. He meets Richie (Raúl Castillo) on a BART train. (John P. Johnson / HBO)

Gay America stepped sidewise into popular television culture with shows like “Will & Grace,” “Three’s Company,” even “Modern Family.”  Jokey, campy.  Send-ups, really.  Fun, but just going for laughs.  The light side.  Meanwhile, actual gay life has gained a widening place in mainstream culture.  Awareness.  Expanding acceptance.  Marriage.  A new series from HBO looks to drop the jokey routine and tell it more like it is.  Everyday gay life.  It’s called “Looking.”  This hour On Point:  “Looking” creator Michael Lannan and star Jonathan Groff on “Looking,” and gay life in the culture now.

– Tom Ashbrook


Michael Lannan, creator and co-executive producer of the HBO series “Looking.” (@MichaelLannan)

Richard Lawson, Hollywood columnist, Vanity Fair. (@rilaws)

Jonathan Groff, actor. Plays the lead character of Patrick in HBO’s “Looking.”

From Tom’s Reading List

Vanity Fair: ‘Looking’ Is As Gay As It Needs To Be — “The more we’ve ached and clamored for representation, the more impossible expectations we’ve put on any instance of it, to the point that when we arrive at a show like ‘Looking,’ a hazy and kinda soapy glimpse of three guys bumbling around the Bay Area, people like Lowder immediately begin the tried-and-true practice of tearing it down for not being representative enough, or not correctly representative in some crucial way.”

The New Yorker: Boys’ Town – “‘Looking’ is a whole different ball of wax. Sneaky-funny instead of brassy, it is interested not in extremity but in small-bore observation. In this way, it shares a sensibility with the charming ‘Please Like Me,’ an Australian series, now airing on Pivot, which people also initially called ‘the gay ‘Girls.’  Both shows feature diffident heroes, young men who regard retro gay culture with a sense of bemused incredulity, like Christopher Isherwood with a Webcam. ‘Looking’ establishes this generational theme in its first scene, in which Paddy goes cruising, very briefly. He gets a truncated hand job—’Cold hands!’ he complains—but it’s less a sex act than a prank.”

Gawker: ‘Looking?’ Mmmmm, Maybe Another Time — “It’s not easy being a TV show about gay men in 2014. Thanks in part to the power of the internet as a platform for activism and outrage, the responsibilities of representation have never seemed more urgent, or more complicated. To appeal to your gay audience—built-in and notoriously loyal—you need to be realistic. To appeal to everyone else—whose patronage will ultimately make or break—you can’t be too gay. The ideal is something satisfying without the ick factor, something like, and about as likely as, a spontaneous orgasm.”

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  • Fiscally_Responsible

    It is still the unnatural, unbiblical lifestyle that it has always been. Nothing has changed but society’s attitude toward it as society continues its slide into the moral cesspool.

    • J__o__h__n

      How is the bible natural? It contains counter-factual descriptions about how life evolved. Virgin birth? Miracles?

      • geraldfnord

        The Bible is entirely natural, being the natural product of our minds’ tendencies to see patterns but prefer to re-use them, so we explained the world as an artifact made for a purpose by a tool-maker and then ruled by Him (and originally His nearly-as-high-status relatives).

        • Paul Meade

          great reply!

          • Kurtis Engle

            Right. It isn’t a coincidence God looks just like Man.

      • rayy

        And guys killing others to sleep with their wives? Mutual same-sex relationships seem pretty tame in comparison.

    • geraldfnord

      What I find amusing is the number of times I’ve heard Christians use ‘natural’ to mean ‘sinful’, as in ‘Put away the Natural Man and become a Child of God.’

      But ‘natural’ is a purr-word for most, turning-off thought in favour of a bit of unwarranted good feeling…hemlock is natural, pain and death in child-birth are natural (just ask any digger wasp or human pre-1920), humans seeing patterns everywhere and assuming that the Universe were arranged like their tribes and artifacts (and so were created by a conscious being and ruled by one or more such) is natural…none are my idea of a good time.

      (I do prefer organic foods, though: without those carbon chains I’m not interested.)

    • Ray in VT

      It’s funny how something that is “unnatural” has and continues to occur across all times and cultures, and is also widely observed in the animal kingdom. As Stephen Fry said, homosexuality has been observed in over 600 animal species, but homophobia has only been observed in one. It sort of makes one wonder which one is more natural.

      • Fiscally_Responsible

        The outpouring of fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah was natural, too.

        • TELew

          No, it was supernatural.

          • Kurtis Engle

            If it actually happened.

          • TELew

            Too true.

        • Ray in VT

          Please provide evidence for such an event, and a religious text, which is not a historical or scientific source, does not count.

    • macartney
    • malkneil

      Don’t swallow your moral code in tablet form.

    • TELew

      Nobody lives a “biblical” lifestyle except perhaps shepherds in less developed countries.

    • treetops


  • Shag_Wevera

    Maybe we need a gay network.

    • geraldfnord

      You mean like a sports channel that will only mate with other sports channel? May be possible: team sports always seemed kind of gay to me, not that there’s anything wrong thereby (except when team members attempt to deny their obvious homophilia by hazing and gay-bashing…but that only happens ALL THE TIME).

      (I like to think, as does Robert Crumb, that at least one of my ancestors was a bullied shrimp of a man the Manly Men wouldn’t let go on the Big Hunt, and was forced to stay *sob* among the women, who got bored and found him suddenly more interesting….)

  • geraldfnord

    Good advice…. note though that without perfect knowledge of ancient languages and cultures, all quotes are potential misquotes. Even religious Christians and Jews believe that they only understand it correctly with God’s aid, He not wishing his children to go astray….. (Muslims, I gather, believe all our Biblical texts to be corrupt, else they’d agree perectly with Quran, hadith, and sunna—please correct me if I’m wrong.)

    • Kurtis Engle

      God forbid you should ask a Muslim what they think.

  • J__o__h__n

    I want a new season of Torchwood. Captain Jack Harkness is great!

  • atakemoto

    I am straight but am looking forward to seeing “Looking”. I loved watching “Tales of the CIty” and “Queer as Folk”. My life is full of diversity, why shouldn’t my TV shows reflect that?

  • nj_v2

    No, sorry. No “chilling” when people pretend to hear and speak for “God” and try to use that to supplant or subvert established science.

    Yes, it’s a (theoretically) democratic society (though, in it’s current iteration, that’s debatable), so whenever someone tries to impose illogical, fanciful notions as the basis for public policy, i’ll be speaking up, Loudly.

    You can “chill” in your spare time.

  • Mike

    Won’t be watching this at all. Can’t support the lifestyle choice. Calling a chicken a dog won’t make it bark. We may “feel” a certain way but we decide to act on our feelings or not. I may think I am painter but I’m not unless I paint.

    I see the lifestyle as immoral, not any more immoral than other sexual sin. I wouldn’t support a show that promotes premarital sexual relationships either.

    • J__o__h__n

      Maybe some of the characters will get married.

      • TFRX

        Do you mean like the gay couple in NYC on The Daily Show, who said “We’re gay, but we’ll marry women” to keep Sean Hannity happy?

        • Mike

          Huh? Chickens don’t bark — think about it.

          • sam_bone

            People aren’t chickens, dude.

          • Mike

            Perhaps I was to subtle… Let me be more literal: redefining something doesn’t changing the “things” meaning, purpose or value. We can declare the freezing point of water is 10c but it won’t change when it freezes. Redefining something doesn’t change reality.

          • sam_bone

            Refusing to accept reality doesn’t make it any less real.

          • Mike

            That’s exactly right. Wanting something to be real doesn’t make it so. My point exactly.

          • g0027717

            Yeah, Mike, like Mildred and Richard Loving wanted to call themselves “married” but we all knew, per Scripture and state law, that theirs was a fake, wanna-be, degraded caricature of a REAL marriage ordained by God, Who separated the races for a reason! Wanting something to be real doesn’t make it so. Glad for people like you to tell the rest of us what’s real and what’s not.

          • Mike

            I don’t know who Mildred and Richard Loving are or anything about them and I don’t know what race has to do with it. It would be sad if you feel people should be barred from marriage by race. Marriage is simple: one man to one woman for life. As fallible people we mess that plan up all the time. We can deny that all we want, we can redefine it all we want but that doesn’t change the reality of what marriage is. Man is trying to force nature to change by playing with semantics. We don’t have the power to do that. We can call a dog a chicken all we want but that won’t make it crow. Neither will all the court decisions in the land.

    • treetops

      “I wouldn’t support a show that promotes premarital sexual relationships either.”

      soooo… every single show that is on TV right now?

      • Mike

        Not every show but lots of them.

  • Paul Meade

    I’m straight and probably will try and catch the show as (I hope) the acting is as good as most of HBO’s dramas tend to be.

    I have to respond to those who are protesting the show: If it bothers you so much-don’t watch it!

    To the bible thumping Christians out there- you don’t have to watch it either. No one is forcing you. The show is not promoting an agenda (is it?) The show is probably filling a niche.

    • J__o__h__n

      HBO is a sinful network that promotes dragons.

    • TFRX

      I’m curious how much people who don’t want this “infecting” their TV aren’t HBO subscribers already. In that case, I want to say “who cares what non-HBO customers think”?

      HBO is not making a show like this to entice, to capture, the ruritanian folks (and wannabes) who think that only Duck Dynasty and Honey Boo Boo “speak to them”, if only for the fact that making reality stuff is soooo inexpensive, and HBO as a pay channel has a certain amount of resources to put into their fiction shows.

      HBO is more urbanish (and urban wannabes–folks from the suburbs like me who’ll take vacation trips to cities and act like we belong there), and have programmed as such.

  • Scott Young

    With all of the important issues of the day – you waste an hour of air time on such an inane, worthless and irrelevant topic as this…? I totally support the gay community but I have to question my donation support of WBUR when it is spent of such drivel.

    • nkandersen


      We hoped to focus on the new TV show itself — its take on a issue and its artistic angle. Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy the conversation!


      nick andersen
      web producer | on point radio

  • Brian

    It’s an interesting point… On the one hand losing the specialness of a once marginal culture can invoke a sort of twisted nostalgia for the “edgy”, “seedy”,”underground” past. The same thing happens with gentrified cities that used to be “gritty” and “authentic” — code for more crime.

    I can identify with that sense of loss even for something that was categorically bad — vis-a-vis gay culture, I am sort of sad that HIV/AIDS is no longer a compelling issue worth organizing around for the majority of gay youth….

  • TELew

    The main male character, Jack, pretended to be gay so the landlords (the Ropers) would let him room with two unmarried young women.

    It would have been “scandalous” had a young single straight guy lived with two young single women. Much of the show’s misadventures was based on keeping the fact that Jack was straight a secret.

    Ultimately they were just three roommates, with nothing going on between them.

    • Ray in VT

      He pretended to be gay? That was something that I missed when I was watching the reruns as kids.

      • TELew

        It depended upon what part of the series you were watching.

        If you watched the first seasons when the Ropers were the landlords, the gay thing was central to the show. But when Don Knotts became the landlord, the theme was dropped, as Knotts was a “playboy.”

        It is sort of like Soap. During the first seasons, Jody (Billy Crystal) was a gay man who was in love with a pro-(?)football player, and he wanted a sex change operation so they could get married. But later on in the series he was hit on the head (or something) and lost his gayness. Instead he was “Jewish.”

        The “gay thing” made these series edgy. After all, they came on air in the mid-1970s. But then as they became established they backed off the gay theme, essentially un-gaying the characters.

        Tom Hanks got his start in a similar fashion, when he starred in Bosom Buddies (1980-1982). The premise here was two men needed an apartment and the only one they could find accepted only women. So they dressed up as two women when they went in and out of their apartment, but were men in private and in public. The hijinx was two fold. They were constantly in danger of being found out as men. And they were doing something that was “gay,” ie. men dressing as women. But they were really STRAIGHT! (ha ha, ho, ho!)

  • TELew

    Actually, the people don’t have the right to make their own laws per se. The laws they make must follow guidelines set forth first by the United States Constitution and secondarily, if a state law, by the constitution of that specific state. If a law does not conform to said constitutional guidelines, then that law is unconstitutional and therefore null and void.

  • Kurtis Engle

    So, what I hear you saying is, you can be gay, be on TV and not be the punchline.


  • Sy2502

    I have posted this before and I will post it again, in reference to the comment about it not being “representative enough”. Gay people have been marginalized, criticized, despised, and hated enough. So what do they do? They do the same to their own. Apparently if you don’t fit some predefined LGBT rule, you are not gay enough. Seriously folks, didn’t you learn anything?

  • methos1999

    Well one thing this broadcast is not is an advertisement for the show. That’s great that it’s portraying the LGBT community as just normal everyday people, but there-in lies the rub. I have no interest in watching any show following a prosaic life, straight or gay.

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