Scott D. Pierce: HBO is out in front of Utah on gay rights

First Published      Last Updated Jan 14 2014 09:05 am

Gay equality hasn't arrived in Utah yet — pending that stay issued by the U.S. Supreme Court on the decision throwing out the state's anti-gay marriage amendment — but it has arrived at HBO.

The pay-cable network's new series "Looking," which follows the lives of a group of gay men in San Francisco, is groundbreaking because it's sort of not groundbreaking. No one is in the closet or struggling with coming out, which is the standard plot line for gay drama.

"This show is mostly characters in their 30s and 40s who aren't grappling with the fact that they're gay," said Jonathan Groff ("Glee"), who stars as one of three central characters. "But that's not the big issue in their lives. They're dealing with their relationships at work or with their friends or with their significant others."

"Looking," which premieres Sunday, Jan. 19, at 11:30 p.m. on HBO, centers on three friends — Patrick (Groff), who's getting back into the dating world; Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez), who just somewhat reluctantly agreed to move in with his boyfriend; and Dom (Murray Bartlett), who's on the cusp of 40 and feeling unfulfilled.

"I hope that this show is either a reflection of where we are or where we're headed because the fact that the characters are gay is a huge element of who they are, but it's not what defines them," Groff said.

"It's more their characters that kind of resonate," said writer/producer Andrew Haigh, "and you forget the gay stuff."

Well, not altogether. The characters' sex lives are portrayed more graphically, certainly, than they would be on a broadcast network.

But it's no more graphic than an HBO show about straight people would be. And straight people can relate — including Groff's own family.

"It was a revelation for me to watch them and think this is my straight brother and his wife in Amish country connecting to two gay men over the age of 40 living in San Francisco," he said.

This is 2014 California, so they are dealing with something that the characters on "Queer as Folk" or "Will & Grace" never did — marriage.

"It is such a different time now," said writer/producer Michael Lannan. "There are a lot of pressures that gay people have from their parents to get married."

"Tell me about it," Haigh said. "Every single day."

Lannan said a central theme on "Looking" is "welcome to the mainstream. What do you do now? That's an important question that a lot of gay people face now, and marriage is certainly a big part of that."

Groff said he was initially encouraged when gay marriage came to Utah, and he figures it's just a matter of time before it's legal across the country.

"Wherever there can be gay marriage, that's amazing," he said.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.