Courtesy of HBOFrankie J. Alvarez

On set, HBO’s ‘Looking’ is more than just a gay TV show

After HBO denied my request to visit the set of “Looking,” its new show currently filming in The City, I maneuvered my own way in.

The upcoming TV series about a group of gay men living in San Francisco has been filming here for the past month — capturing scenes at El Rio, Stud and the Folsom Street Fair, and inviting cameos from prominent locals such as “Hard French” party DJ Tom Temprano, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant Honey Mahogany and Accidental Bear blogger Mike Enders to infuse the show with an authentic San Francisco flair.

My opportunity to penetrate the set came when I heard they were casting 200 real-life San Franciscans to re-create a happening afternoon at Dolores Park. That same day I sent a photo of me and my boyfriend (who always seems to boost my own authenticity); we were asked to go to a wardrobe fitting and quickly got promoted to “featured extras” on set, where we were seated at a picnic table with members of the Screen Actors Guild.

“Looking” was created by Michael Lannan and the pilot, picked up by HBO, was directed by Andrew Haigh, the man behind the raw but tender gay-love flick “Weekend.” The show stars Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez and Murray Bartlett as close-knit friends who tease each other about gay-sounding voice mail messages.

As the title suggests, the show’s leading men are all, in fact, “looking” for love. The type of love “Sex and the City’s” Carrie Bradshaw once described as “real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love.” That quote might as well be on these guys’ Grindr profiles.

The show’s focus on people finding their significant others in a hotbed of one-night stands is perhaps what encouraged early comparisons to other hit HBO shows. “A gay ‘Sex and the City,’” say the 30-year-olds who still blog about their first dates. “No, no, no,” say the 20-year-olds who illegally stream premium cable television, “it’s the gay ‘Girls.’”

This “every new apple is just a different color orange” mentality seems to be commonplace in the era of Twitter’s tangible word of mouth, where consumers are taking on the role of marketers. But to dismiss a show that actually features LGBT protagonists as simply a gay(er) version of something else is an insult to storytellers and show-runners trying to present a queer vision free of subtext or innuendo.

“Veep” is more than just a female version of “The West Wing.” “Scandal” is not a black version of “Revenge.” Similarly, in “Looking,” gays are not just featured extras sitting at the picnic table, their queer sensibility presented only as a must-have accessory for fashion shows and shopping sprees. The show’s ensemble of gay characters is the reason 200 people came out to Dolores Park at 6 in the morning.

If anything, “Looking” should be compared to other notable works from the queer canon. For starters, how about this … a gentle, present-day “Tales of the City” as envisioned by the editors of Butt magazine?

“Looking” premieres Jan. 19 at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.

Oscar Raymundo is the head of marketing at a leading LGBT media company. Email him at oraymundo@sfexaminer.com.Bay Area NewsHBOLookingOscar RaymundoSex and the City

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