It's been 13 years since the premiere of Showtime's 2000-05 soap "Queer as Folk," enough time to have passed that HBO's new gay-themed series, "Looking" (10:30 tonight), doesn't feel like a rip-off or rehash.
On the contrary, it's a more realistic, less graphic peek into the lives of three gay friends in San Francisco.
"Queer as Folk" presented a fantasy version of the gay community in Pittsburgh.
"Looking" is more rooted in everyday life not the extraordinary, explosive storylines that were hallmarks of the soapy "Queer as Folk."
"Looking" follows three gay friends with boyish, more idealistic 29-year-old Patrick (Jonathan Groff, "Boss," "Glee") as the primary audience surrogate. Although viewers first see him meeting a stranger for sex in a city park, it quickly becomes clear, through a comedic interruption, that this is not his usual behavior.
Patrick has never had a relationship longer than six months but he is seeking a committed, romantic partner.
Artistic Agustin (newcomer Frankie J. Alvarez) is preparing to move from San Francisco to less hip Oakland to live with his boyfriend, Frank (O.T. Fagbenle).
Almost 40, Dom (Murray Bartlett, "Guiding Light") finds himself unfulfilled personally and professionally. He's roommates with Doris (Lauren Weedman) and the pair has an easy, amusing relationship.
"Looking," written by Michael Lannan ("Interior. Leather Bar.") and directed by Andrew Haigh ("Weekend"), plays like a drama with a fair share of lighter, comedic moments.
Patrick constantly puts his foot in his mouth, including during his introduction to a new boss in the third episode. Dom tries to find more satisfying work with the help of a florist (Scott Bakula, "Men of a Certain Age"). Agustin is the most sexually promiscuous character -- he and Frank have a three-way with another man in the pilot.
Since this is HBO, it's pretty much guaranteed that there will be some graphic sex scenes, although "Looking" is significantly less graphic than "Queer as Folk" (no full-frontal male nudity through the first four episodes made available for review).
Perhaps that's because "Looking" doesn't have to try as hard to satisfy viewers. "Queer as Folk" was a big leap, a TV series that carried the hopes and expectations of an entire community of viewers who had never seen their lives -- their sexual lives, especially -- depicted believably on TV.
That may be why "Looking" feels less heightened in its portrait of three gay friends in an America where a straight person is more likely to be judged for homophobia than a gay person is to be judged for being "born that way," a 180-degree flip from attitudes when "Queer as Folk" premiered.
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.