By Tony Bravo Updated 3:36 pm, Wednesday, January 7, 2015
When HBO’s “Looking” premiered at the Castro Theatre in 2014, it was one of the most anticipated new shows of the season, especially for San Franciscans eager to see the city onscreen in the locally filmed production.
Excitement was high on both sides of the red carpet as cast and creators awaited hometown validation from an audience ready to scrutinize both the portrayal of the city and the show’s take on the lives of gay men.
One year later, the “Looking” team returned to the Castro on Tuesday evening for the premiere of the first two episodes of season two and received a warm welcome from locals who have embraced characters Patrick (Jonathan Groff), Dom (Murray Bartlett) and Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) as neighbors.
“If you remember where we first saw Patty in the first episode of season one versus where we see him in the first episode of season two, you get a very clear picture of how his life has changed,” Jonathan Groff said of his boy-next-door character’s evolution. Groff, also known for his roles on “Glee” and in the animated children’s film “Frozen,” then proceeded to go into some HBO-appropriate sexual specifics suitable for mature viewers.
“It was great coming back for season two to our cast and family,” series creator Michael Lannan said of the return to the Bay Area. “It was a different experience filming around town, since the guys got stopped quite a bit more.”
“We went to the Folsom Street Fair this year, and you couldn’t walk down there without someone grabbing Jonathan for a picture or stopping us,” executive producer Andrew Haigh commented, adding that filming had also been interrupted in the Castro one day by fans of Groff’s who were screaming their admiration for his musical-theater prowess (Groff later hinted that there’s an “encounter with a karaoke machine” in an upcoming episode).
For Alvarez, it’s a season of redemption after his character’s downward spiral in season one.
“He starts to get things right,” Alvarez said, “You’ll be surprised by the new places he goes.”
After plenty of looking for Mr. Right Now, Bartlett was happy that Dom’s story arc involved a relationship in season two.
“It’s getting messier and going deeper,” Bartlett said. “As an actor, it’s amazing working with Scott (Bakula, who plays his character’s love interest), and I really love the complicated scripts they’ve given us after the sweet ending in season one .”
Supporting players are also getting more focus, with Lauren Weedman’s Doris emerging as a balancing element in the testosterone-heavy stories.
“Basically, I was born, and that’s when my research started,” Weedman joked about getting into character as the gal pal in a group of gay men.
Raúl Castillo, who plays fan favorite Richie, has been following reaction to the show via social media (primarily on his Instagram account, @OfficialRaulCastillo) and loves “the conversation that goes on around the show. I had the experience in September when my family came to visit of having a fan approach me about the show on BART, and it was a milestone for them to see that.”
Castillo is also keenly aware of the significance his role has, as a gay Latino in a media landscape where queer characters of color are still a rarity.
“I hope that Richie is a character people can identify with onscreen for those who haven’t had characters like them on television,” he said, adding: “It’s important that this is getting said and that there’s a demand for more representation. I love how the show handles the subject head on and that we have the discussion without a loss of any character’s humanity.”
Actor Daniel Franzese (best known for the cult hit “Mean Girls”) joins the cast this season as Eddie, the resident “bear” (a hairy, larger gay man), and loves that “until now, there haven’t been a lot of gay men who look like me on TV, but the creators approached me and wanted to go there. It’s exciting new territory.”
Following the screening, the audience adjourned to the after-party at Club Terra to mingle with the cast and share impressions of the new season.
“The writing is getting really interesting,” Teresa Tuan said, amid pink sequined pillows and drag performances. “There’s a certain kind of truth to the narcissism depicted onscreen.”
For author Armistead Maupin and husband Christopher Turner, both the stories and the scenery are hitting just the right notes while avoiding the usual cliches about life in San Francisco.
“I love the locations: It’s San Francisco without getting hit over the head with landmarks,” Maupin said. “And the ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ quality of the first episode was a lot of fun.”
More importantly, though, Maupin found “the sex and the characters feel very real. It gets so boring if you’re only showing one experience. We’re so much more diverse than that as a community.”
It may be the same city Maupin has so famously written about, but with the new generation come different tales.
Tony Bravo is a Bay Area freelance writer who contributes frequently to The San Francisco Chronicle.