‘Looking’ tells 21st century gay tales of SF 

click to enlarge Looking
  • Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
  • From left, Michael Lannan, Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez, Murray Bartlett and Raul Castillo talk to TV critics about the new San Francisco-set show “Looking,” which premeries on HBO at 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
The buzz continues to build for HBO’s new series “Looking,” which is set — and was shot — in The City.

The show, which chronicles the lives of a troika of gay men and was screened Tuesday evening at a party at the Castro Theatre, premieres at 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

Despite comments from some who already have seen the first few episodes, series creator Michael Lannan doesn’t think of it as a gay “Girls” or a latter day “Queer as Folk.”

“It’s always nice to be compared to those shows,” Lannan says. “But I think when people watch it, they’ll immediately understand that it’s distinctive, and has its own rhythm and storytelling. The goal was to kind of drop in on the lives of the people and join them as they are going about their day and their daily routines.”

And, he adds, to allow The City to become one of the show’s main characters.

“I really loved ‘Tales of the City’ and that was kind of the last San Francisco on film that I could recognize,” says Lannan, a former techie who lived on Capp Street in the Mission district in the early 2000s.

“We just thought it would be a great backdrop to tell a contemporary story about these characters.”

The first four episodes screened for television critics nicely showcase characters and The City through a unique lens — somewhat raw, with a rambling-through-the-streets feel. It’s among the most refreshing, honest takes on modern-day living, loving and gay culture to hit the small screen in years.

The story chronicles 29-year-old game designer Patrick (“Glee’s” Jonathan Groff) as he dives back into the dating pool. He bonds with buddies Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez) — 31 and questioning monogamy — and middle-age-bound serial waiter Dom (Murray Bartlett). Together, they try to find deeper meaning in their lives.

“Looking” is the first scripted TV series to be set in The City since 2009’s “Trauma.” Before that, shows such as “Full House,” Charmed” and “Monk” used San Francisco as a backdrop. But they rarely filmed here or included recurring gay characters.

“It does make sense to set the show here,” Lannan says. “In a way, it’s so obvious, but nobody had thought of it before. Shocking — right?”

First-season locales include Zuni Cafe, the California Academy of Sciences’ Morrison Planetarium, the old Sutro Baths and shots on Muni. But the heart of the tale lies in the emotions weathered by its three male leads.

“An important part of this was to show how intimate these characters are with each other and how much they share about their lives,” Lannan says. “Everything from how two lovers find each other to what you share with your partner or a friend. We wanted to capture all of those things in the rhythm of the show.”

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Greg Archer

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