Grace Dent on TV: Looking & Girls, Sky Atlantic

Give me Looking & Girls’ likeable gays over Lena’s toxic girls any day

I didn’t expect to fall in love with Looking, but Sky Atlantic’s imported drama about gay men – and one woman, the formidable Doris – snuck into my heart. Any drama which attempts to nail a “scene” or “tackle issues affecting a group” can end up either cliched, or worthy, or worse than that, cliched and worthy, with an added slap of “controversial”, when all that was really needed was a relatable look at the way a certain strand of society lives. But in Looking, from the outset, here was a beautifully gentle – with the occasional bout of allusion to anal sex and rimming – and compelling little tale. I say “little” as not a great deal goes on.

Patrick is a preppy, wet-eared video games designer. He’s the least streetwise gay man to ever be let loose in the Lower Haight. A perfect-toothed Abercrombie & Fitch-clad ingenu, inherently programmed to do the “right” thing. Augustin is an artist, now reduced to working as another artist’s assistant. Dom is a wine waiter, now on the cusp of his fortieth birthday, growing bored with the male sauna scene and hoping to begin a Portuguese chicken restaurant.

They bumble around San Francisco, over its hills and round its bays, from bad Grindr.com date to confessional brunch to backstreet dive, to slagging-off sessions over exes’ naff engagement parties. It’s all done with an affable and cordial aplomb. They pretend over the phone they’re eating kale salads when they’re actually eating Mac’n’cheese. They gossip about what race boasts the most non-circumcised penises and pretend to be supportive when one of them gets loved up and moves to boring-snoring Oakland.

Patrick made an absolute mess of his first date with Richie, taking preppy naivety to the point of casual racism, but righted things over the following episodes. I adore Richie and his patience and his sessions with the Mexican woman who rubs his body with eggs then cracks them to see his fortune. The Looking boys are heavily likeable. Not flawless, but warm and engrossing.

The Looking gang are the distinct opposite of Lena Dunham’s Girls, (preceding Looking on Tuesday on Sky Atlantic) where every single character is – to use a technical phrase – “a complete arsehole”. Looking has a cast that I’d happily fritter time with. OK, aside from Dom’s ex-boyfriend Ethan who took $8,000 off Dom for a meth treatment programme and is now a holier-than-thou-airport-bookshop-business-self-help-manual-regurgitating-ne’er-do-well who won’t give Dom cash back as it was “a gift”. Ethan can vanish.

Looking’s “hard-necked friend of the gays” Doris came into her own as a character in episode two. Dom spoke about Ethan in vaguely forgiving, sympathetic terms and Doris’s face flashed for a millisecond with the sort of fury that suggested she would rather kill Ethan, dispose of the body and serve the prison sentence, rather than let Dom make the same mistake again.

I’m being unfair about Girls, perhaps. The Hamptons episode this season when Shoshanna broke and informed all the other characters they were self-absorbed, toxic, narcissistic wastes of breath was truly invigorating telly. It was also memorable for Dunham’s pale arse in a bikini which terrorised the entire episode as a reminder of how little we see actual, real human beings’ bodies on screen and was only a problem to everyone else. Her character Hannah was having a ball.

“I just want to prove to everyone via Instagram that we can still have fun as a group!” moaned Marnie, trying to meld the bleak rabble into some sort of cosy photo opportunity. Dunham has been skilful during this season in pushing her characters to the brink of tolerability, leaving the viewer doubting our belief about whether they were ever friends at all. Looking, meanwhile, is the epitome of bonhomie. No-one tells Augustin his talent for artistry is debatable or tells Dom that maybe, when you think about it, no-one wants to eat his stupid chicken. Not even if his dad used to cook it. Cute story, but I’ll stick with Nandos.

Where Looking will go in season two – slated for 2015 – I can’t guess. It can’t stay so cosy, even if Patrick does occasionally end up with his ankles behind his ears. Russell Tovey had been a  great addition as British video-wunderkind  Kevin Matheson and I could certainly watch more of his slightly stereotypical cold British schtick rubbing Patrick and his breezy San Fran gang  up the wrong way.

And yes please to more Doris, who may be the only female voice but snatches most of the best lines. “What, did you fuck the pain away with the cast of Wicked?” she drawls after finding Dom’s one-night-stand crooning in the shower. Dom and Doris righting the world’s wrongs at Zumba classes are a thing of joy. Whatever they do in the next series, I shall be looking.

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game