Michael Lannan's Looking Is More Than Gay Sex and the City

The Entertainers: Michael Lannan's HBO series Looking is an honest glimpse at what it means to be young and gay. 

BY Neal Broverman

August 20 2014 11:00 AM ET

Michael Lannan, 36
Los Angeles
@michaellannan

At first glance, Michael Lannan’s Looking could be mistaken for a gay Sex and the City, but watch a few episodes and that description becomes wildly reductive. The earlier HBO show about young, single urbanites is fun and occasionally moving, though the characters never seem like actual people. Looking, a half-hour drama that sprang from the mind of 36-year-old Lannan, presents three gay guys we all know — or are.

The reality that Lannan depicts — he’s a writer, creator, and co–executive producer — was a little too real for some when the show premiered in January. “Boring” was regularly lobbed at the show at happy hours and via social media. It was surely tedious if you were searching for fake-looking gay sex as depicted on Queer as Folk and The L Word, or an exaltation of consumerism as shown on Sex and the City. The Looking characters, who all start the show south of 40, scare off dates, get fired, occupy humble apartments, and dress for the grocery store, not the book launch. The situations cooked up by Looking’s writers may not be flashy, but they’re recognizable. That’s a brave thing in 2014, even for HBO: Scripted TV is not known for treating the intricacies of young gay life with honesty or respect.

The characters sprouted from Lorimer, a script Lannan wrote about a group of young gay friends in Brooklyn “rambling around the city.” Working in TV and film production for eight years in New York — he now lives in L.A. — Lannan used his and his friends’ experiences as jumping-off points for the movie script. After HBO read and loved Lorimer, Lannan was matched up with acclaimed Weekend director Andrew Haigh and Bored to Death producer Sara Condon, who were both named executive producers. Soon the Lorimer guys morphed into Looking’s protagonists: three friends trying to figure out manhood in costly, cruisy San Francisco.

That is a similarity between Looking and SATC: Place is integral to story. Lannan admits that setting the show in San Francisco “seemed a little too obvious at first,” with it being so central to LGBT culture. But then the long history between gay men and San Francisco “felt like an exciting backdrop to tell stories about some very modern gay characters.”

None of Looking’s men are closeted; their aforementioned problems are not too different from those of their straight peers. Their gayness becomes an issue in more subtle ways, like perceived judgment from family members, commitment struggles between men, and internalized homophobia, a subtle theme that crops up often with Patrick, the main character played brilliantly by Jonathan Groff.

“I don't know if all gay people have internalized homophobia, but I think most probably deal with it at some point,” Lannan says. “Occasionally I even see it in myself when we're making the show. I wonder if we’re showing something too intimate or graphic, and then I realize that if that scene were between a man and a woman I wouldn't think twice about it.” 

Lannan is tight-lipped about what other themes may be introduced in the second season, which begins filming in a few weeks. Anticipation is high: A recent panel with the cast and crew at Outfest, the Los Angeles LGBT film festival, reportedly had a line stretching around the block on Sunset Boulevard. If that’s a lot of pressure, Lannan maintains his cool.

“It's impossible to make a show that represents an entire community, especially not one as diverse and dynamic as the LGBT community,” he says. “I hope the show is a mixture of entertaining and emotional, of provocative and inspiring. But above all I hope it feels truthful.”

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