The world premiere of "Looking" at the Castro Theatre on Tuesday night felt less like a Hollywood event exported to the Bay Area, and more like a homecoming.
The upcoming HBO television series embedded its production in San Francisco, with much of it taking place on location throughout the city. When filming of the first eight episodes ended in the fall, actors who had never lived in San Francisco before were reluctant to go.
"It's the hardest city I've ever had to leave when we finished shooting here," series star Jonathan Groff said. "San Francisco is a very difficult city to leave. I think about it every day."
Locations in the first two episodes include Esta Noche bar near 16th and Mission Streets, Philz Coffee, Zuni Cafe and Doc's Clock cocktails.
The premiere itself and Q&A that followed was 95 percent lovefest, 5 percent awkward.
"All I've done is watch it with my mom, which is a little cringe-y, because I start with a sex scene," cast member O.T. Fagbenle said. "I'm really excited to see how people respond."
The crowd laughed and applauded frequently, soaking up insider references about tensions surrounding the tech boom, and housing challenges.
The only boos of the night - and then only a smattering - were directed at a questioner who wanted to know who in the cast was gay and straight. That led to one of the bigger laughs (followed by a long period of stunned silence) when Groff quipped, "We'll tell you if you tell us what you think we are."
If ratings are strong, "Looking" will probably resume shooting in the city later this year.
Groff said, "I think all the people behind the scenes are feeling very vulnerable right now, because we put so much in this project. We're just really hoping people like these characters as much as we do."
Oh and hey, I just found this early review by Tim Goodman at The Bastard Machine, who writes:
Shot on location in a manner that's non-traditional -- in that it's not a postcard Valentine to one of the most beautiful cities in the world (and thus represented solely by the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf and the "painted lady" Victorians) -- Looking is representationally beautiful as it becomes one of the rare shows to focus on real neighborhoods, real views and has a local's appreciation of detail.
Much like New York has been central to any number of series shot on location there, Bay Area viewers will see a lot of familiar spots that locals frequent (which means they don't go to the Wharf), and places that are name-checked are legit. Beyond that, the cinematography is wonderful, catching the non-postcard views that locals love. And Looking was also filming during the Folsom Street Fair, so there's plenty of leather jokes in that episode.
Looking is notable for doing the one thing other shows with gay characters can't or won't -- depict sex and intimacy in a straightforward, unflinching way.