HBO's latest half-hour dramedy premieres Sunday night (January 19), and even though you might not have heard much about "Looking," it's already garnered favorable comparisons to both "Girls" and "Sex and the City."
Delving into the lives of three gay men living in San Francisco as they juggle their professional and romantic lives, the series is the latest from Andrew Haigh. And given the critical acclaim for his 2011 breakout film "Weekend," the buzz for "Looking" was palpable. It features elements that made his debut film such a success: A loose, improv-like dialogue, a verite shooting style and an almost painfully naturalistic look into the lives of men who are all too relatable.
Once you start watching the show, you quickly realize both how important the city of San Francisco is to the show but also just how beautifully filmed and portrayed it is. The series showcases the iconic landmarks that we expect to see, but also the smaller venues and cafes that only a native would recognize.
"We love San Francisco. In a lot of ways the show is really a love letter to the city. We wanted to nail it, really get it on a street level," said Frankie J Alvarez, who plays Agustin. "We wanted SF locals to see it and feel like they are seeing themselves."
As we see throughout the series, there is a level of intimacy and vulnerability that the cast had to master in order to give a realistic look at these characters' lives. Raul Castillo, who plays the love interest for Jonathan Groff's Patrick, felt incredibly lucky that everyone from the cast really came to work. "Everyone left their egos back in the hotel and really dedicated themselves to this world and to these characters. Everyone believed in the project."
"I joked when we were first in the room together that they picked the dream team," Alvarez said. "I'm glad they picked the dream team."
HBO shows usually employ great directors behind many of their series — Martin Scorsese on "Boardwalk Empire," Cary Fukunaga on "True Detective," and Alan Taylor, who went off to direct "Thor 2" after helming episodes for "Game of Thrones." It's no surprise then that "Looking" also has its share of great directors. Besides Andrew Haigh, the show features work from Ryan Fleck, who directed Ryan Gosling to an Oscar nomination in "Half Nelson" and indie auteur Joe Swanberg.
"I think one of the things that makes our show unique is that we have indie filmmakers creating the tone, writing in the writer's room and so there's a different vibe from your normal television show," Groff said. "Andrew Haigh is amazing at capturing naturalism and realism as he did with the movie Weekend and I think he does that on our show as well."
The series literally adds layers of depth to the characters is the specific wardrobe choices. If you look closely, the clothes reflect the personalities and the attitudes of each character, just like in everyday life.
"It was really an incredible experience because each costume fitting or shopping trip was like a character development session," Murray Bartlett, who plays Dom, explained. "In that way, we discovered the clothes together and it meant that we had a real connection to what we were wearing and the clothes were really integrated into the character."
You know if its on HBO there's going to be sex and usually a lot of it. But in the world of "Looking," the sex is at times awkward and at other times very intimate.
"Hopefully when you're watching them, you're watching two characters connect as opposed to two random people having a sexual moment together," Groff said, while Alvarez agreed that the sex is less about the act and more about finding out what drives his character. "What does Agustin want in this moment and how does he go about it? We figure that out through the sex scenes."