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While Nick Hall, vp comedy development at HBO, calls the overall reception to Looking “overwhelmingly positive,” at a panel discussion, he did reference a few think pieces about the show that have emerged since its premiere, some of which have been “very scathing,” including a Slate piece by J. Bryan Lowder. Perhaps surprisingly, many of the negative reactions come from gay viewers. “Our gay community is looking at us in a certain way,” said JC Lee, a staff writer on the show. “That there is one view of gayness, and we’re not meeting it.”
One of the show’s EPs, Michael Lannan, joined Hall, Lee and fellow staff writers John Hoffman and Tanya Saracho for Tuesday’s panel, moderated by the WGA West’s gay and lesbian writer committee chair Gary Goldstein. “It’s a minority trap,” continued Lee. “When you have a piece that showcases a community, there’s this identity factor where if you’re showing a certain kind of queerness, you’re not honoring what queerness is. There’s a sense their queerness feels threatened by a show that is normalizing it.”
Members of the panel all placed emphasis on the style of their show (which has also faced criticism for being too slow-paced), a conscious decision on their part. They’ve heard the criticisms. “The B-word is what they keep calling us; you know, ‘boring,’ ” said Saracho. “I would rather they hate it than call us boring.”
From the decision to bring on writer-director Andrew Haigh of the quiet British drama Weekend, Lannan and his teamed acknowledged the style they wanted to create. “Not to be in defense of boring, but that is very intentional,” Hoffman said. “I think that has become part of the show. [The episodes] do feel like little half-hour indie movies.”
Lee emphasized truthfulness in the show’s storytelling, an atmosphere that he said is created in the writers’ room, where discussions about sexuality, race and their own personal stories (sometimes an “awful, trashy sex story,” as Lee noted) make it into episode scripts. “You’ll reveal your deepest, darkest secrets, and they end up in the show,” Saracho said, laughing.
Saracho also noted the show’s title was the very last one they came up with. Among the options were Homos and Golden Boys, before they landed on Looking, which they all agreed encapsulated the first season’s main theme of each character looking to go outside of his comfort zone.
For Lannan, the biggest compliment was a story from castmember Jonathan Groff, when he watched Sunday’s upcoming episode with his brother and sister-in-law and a moment made them both gasp. “It was a big moment because he said he’d never had his straight brother and sister-in-law invest in gay characters this way,” Lannan said. “There are moments like that, which are really exciting to hear about.”
Looking‘s seventh episode, “Looking in the Mirror,” premieres Sunday, Feb. 23, at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.
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