'Looking' review: HBO delivers with this intimate revelation of a series

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murray-bartless-jonathan-groff-frankie-j-alvarez-looking-hbo.jpgThere's been a lot of ink spilled over "Looking" in the lead-up to the HBO show's premiere. That's just what happens when a show dares to focus on a minority community -- the gay community, in this particular case.

Think piece after think piece has been written about the series in terms of how it advances its community's cause, and not all have been kind. But what all this noise -- and yes, it mostly amounts to a bunch of noise -- has done is obscure the main question: Is the show any good?

Well, the good news? The show, premiering on Sunday (Jan. 19), is phenomenal. Centered around stars Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez and Murray Bartlett as Patrick, Augustin and Dom, respectively, "Looking" follows three gay men attempting to navigate life in San Francisco -- and it does so with aplomb.

There's something revelatory about what creators Michael Lannan and Andrew Haigh have done here, avoiding the common tropes that a "gay show" can sometimes trip over (aka becoming more about a message than a story) and instead grounding their creation in a quiet, intimate sense of naturalism.

And oh, how intimate it is. There's an astonishing frankness in how the situations are handled, whether it's Patrick's quest for love, Augustin's struggle with settling down with boyfriend Frank ( O-T Fagbenle) or Dom's realization that his life is nothing near what he thought it would be by 40. The material transcends "gay" issues and becomes something more universal, something that nearly everyone on earth can identify with.

These are issues and conversations that we've all had or we all fear having, and they're presented with an unflinching amount of honesty.

Enough can't be said about the decision to shoot entirely on location in San Francisco, either. There's a beauty and a personality to that city that elevates the series, heightening that natural feel. There's no slick sheen from a sound stage. Every bar or restaurant the series visits is a place you may have been or heard of. The Bay Area practically becomes a character unto itself, much to the show's  benefit.

"Looking" won't be a show for everyone. Some won't find it gay enough, others will likely wrinkle their nose at the word "gay" and avoid it like the plague. That's a shame, because with this quiet, sincere little show is quite revolutionary on its own. And that's something worth looking at.

"Looking" premieres on Sunday at 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO.
Photo/Video credit: HBO