It’s Been 5 Years Since the Groundbreaking (and Divisive) TV Series ‘Looking’ Premiered on HBO
Jan. 19, 2014, was a groundbreaking day for LGBTQ representation on television. That night, HBO premiered Looking, a dramedy that centered around a group of contemporary gay men living in San Francisco. Despite being a trailblazing series for queer visibility, the HBO series Looking — celebrating its fifth anniversary on Saturday — was, perhaps unsurprisingly, also divisive among the audience it aimed to represent and serve.
Looking starred Jonathan Groff as Patrick, Frankie J. Alvarez as Agustín and Murray Bartlett as Dom. Their characters were three Bay Area gay men who just couldn’t seem to get their shit together.
We were also treated to a supporting cast that included Raul Castillo as Richie, Patrick’s on-again-off-again love interest; Russell Tovey as Kevin, Patrick’s boss and eventual other love interest; and Lauren Weedman as Doris, Dom’s hilarious and occasionally brash roommate. Scott Bakula and Daniel Franzese also brought their talents to the series, which ran for two seasons before closing up shop with a full-length film.
Before the show’s premiere, Bartlett said, “There will be a kind of universal quality to it that people will just see the humanity in what’s going on in these stories, and relate to that.” And the HBO series Looking did indeed deliver on that; its themes — of love gained and lost, of struggles with career choices and self-motivation — are those of many great films and TV series, and are by no means LGBTQ-specific.
But one criticism that seemed to follow HBO series Looking perpetually concerned the racial makeup of its leads. Indeed, back in March 2015, following the show’s cancelation, Hornet attributed the show’s cast being “predominantly white, male and wealthy” — particularly in the diverse melting pot of San Francisco — to its ultimate demise. Though set in a city that in real-life is 41% white and boasts a sizable genderqueer community, there was an unfortunate dearth of people of color and non-heteronormative faces throughout the series.
Still, that rather significant deficiency aside, in the same breath we couldn’t help but commend Looking for its realistically flawed characters, its skillful photography and its nuanced performances.
An inconsequential TV series Looking was not. All in all, the HBO show was a much-needed step forward in the realm of small-screen queer content.
When news of the cancelation of HBO series Looking came down in 2015, many queer people lamented, while others rejoiced — a response only fitting for an LGBTQ community that has always been strong-willed and could never be characterized as some monotone faction.
We’ve been lucky in the years since Looking to continue to see progressive LGBTQ series make their way to our screens. Pose has been one of the past year’s most talked-about series, and even the occasionally catty competitiveness of a show like RuPaul’s Drag Race must be commended for telling the stories of our queer brothers and sisters. Both of those series feature some of the most diverse casts — in terms of race and gender identity — television has ever seen.
Maybe on this fifth anniversary of the HBO series Looking, it’s time to give it another watch. It never hurts to take a look backwards, if for no other reason than to see how far we’ve come since.
Were you a fan of the HBO series Looking? Why or why not?
Photos from Looking courtesy of HBO