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My Big, Gay Night at the 'Looking' Premiere

Ellen Cushing | January 15, 2014 | Lifestyle Story Culture

The invitation email for the Looking premiere—last night at (where else?) the Castro Theatre—said to get there at 5. For a 7 p.m. showing. I arrived at 5:54 and the line was already so thoroughly far down the block I couldn't see the end of it. It was like a gay Star Wars, with roughly the same male to female ratio.

It was a fitting start to the evening insofar as a) it went to show just how excited people in town are about this show, and b) it set the tone, decorum-wise, for an evening that would end with me double-fisting mini grilled cheese sandwiches while talking to very beautiful people.

As you may already guess, I am incredibly excited about Looking. But even I didn't anticipate the sheer energy surrounding this show. When I went to Q Bar to use the bathroom, the series (which starts this Sunday on HBO) was all people were talking about. When the cast drove up (in actual tinted-window SUVs!!) and stood in various poses in front of an extremely well-lit screen, there were audible yelps. When we got inside and the Castro's organist did that weird descend-into-the-stage thing and KC Price, the director of Frameline (which co-sponsored the event), strode up to introduce the show, and then the lights went down and there was that trademark crackle-fizz audio of the HBO logo, there was so much applause I briefly had to plug my ears.

So much of the chatter surrounding Looking has been either TV-reviewer distant or identity-politics intellectualized that it's easy to forget that there are so many ways this show speaks to people—speaks to experiences and groups and individuals that aren't used to seeing themselves on TV, let alone forty feet tall on the Castro's screen. But then you actually sit down among said people in a dark theater and witness them grin ear to ear at the sight of the whole thing. They laughed and clapped and hollered at the SF in-jokes—the admittedly spot-on references to kimchi tacos and Press Club as a heterosexual mecca—and, after the screening (the first two epsodes, back to back) was over and the question-and-answer session started, a not-insignificant number of them thanked the cast and crew.

To be clear, not everyone at the screening loved Looking. Probably the most widespread criticism of the show thus far is that it's boring, and I met a guy at the afterparty who said, in effect, that the dating dramas of twenty- and thirty-somethings aren't exactly high-stakes enough to merit a half-hour television show. They also asked some tough questions of the cast and crew, specifically about the show's unflattering and/or nonexistent depiction of Oakland, women, transgender people, and full-frontal nudity, which writer Michael Lannan deflected expertly.

Anyway! Other highlights included: a lovely speech from HBO's President of Programming, Michael Lombardo, during which he talked about HBO's history with gay programming, starting with Six Feet Under's David Fisher, and delivered the gold-star line of the night: "Gay stories have generally been mined for the outrageous or the tragic. As a gay man, and an appreciator of the medium, I have been looking for Looking for a very long time."

The Q-and-A offered some well-recieved shout-outs to SF's amazing local snack ecosystem (specifically Bi-Rite's "scrumptious" ice cream) from costar Frankie J. Alvarez; the revelation that before shooting, the three stars had a sleepover at Murray Bartlett's Mission district AirBnB and watched Tales of the City, which is pretty much the most adorable thing I've ever heard; and a somewhat excruciating episode during which an audience member asked which of the cast was gay in real life and was then prompted by Jonathan Groff to guess (very incorrectly, we are told).

And then we all scooted over to The Cafe for the afterparty. There was an open bar, and a great many sparkly-perfect men, and far fewer/less perfect women, and these hors d'ouevres thingies that were basically just a cooked egg yolk on a cracker (just the yolk! Like a little cookie-cutter wielding elf magically absconced with the whites! They were magnificent.). The very tall, gay supervisor Scott Weiner was there, as were most of the show's cast and crew, along with a young gentleman wearing nothing but underwear, a bowtie, and a massive bear head. As my date just said on gchat, "Any party with a completely open bar and an unending stream of treats is my ideal GAY PARTY." All the people from Looking and HBO that I spoke to seemed happy if mildly exhausted, and everyone else was pretty visibly thrilled about the show and/or the magic appetizers. It was lovely.

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