Relative newcomer Michael Lannan and acclaimed director Andrew Haigh (“Weekend”) have created a remarkable new series with “Looking” that just wrapped up its first season Sunday night. Already picked up by HBO for another season, the show centers on Patrick (Jonathan Groff), a somewhat naive video game developer in San Francisco on the cusp of turning 30 and finally coming into his own. He's surrounded by two friends who have some issues of their own; Dom (Murray Bartlett) and Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez).
The series premiered to strong critical reviews in January, but received some surprising criticism from gay journalists for it's focus on one specific part of the community. Groff says in a separate interview with HitFix that they were all prepared for this because of the hype surrounding the show that it was going to be the gay “Sex and the City” or the gay “GIRLS.” And this was before it even began filming. Over the last month or so, however, that criticism has died down as fans have fallen for Patrick, his boss Kevin (Russell Tovey) and Richie (Raúl Castillo). Oh, and did we mention the finale ended with all three of them in the middle of a complicated love triangle?
With that in mind, and having already seen the final episode, we chatted with Lannan last week about where things might go next season, whether the troubled Agustin might get some redemption and whether a certain Captain of the Enterprise might return for season two.
HitFix: So congratulations on getting picked up for season two.
Michael Lannan: Yeah, thank you so much. We're so excited that we get to keep telling the stories of these guys in this world.
I'd actually heard a rumor that you had been picked up a week or so before the announcement came. When did you hear that it was actually going to happen?
I would say reheard about two hours before the rest of the world did. We didn't know that much sooner.
Were you nervous?
You know, I don't know if I was nervous, but I just really wanted us to get picked up again. HBO has always been really invested in the show and really supportive and really proud. So, we had, good feelings about it. We were hopeful. It's a crazy business and one just never knows until they actually say let's do a second season, so yeah.
When you wrote the show it was set up so with a cliffhanger (or two) in the finale. Were you doing this because everyone told you that's what you needed to do no matter what. That you just have to keep thinking that there would be a season two?
I don't know. I think we talked about what would make it exciting for us. And we felt like it was a show that needed to be more than one season and so it just felt right to kind of not resolve anyone's story completely. I don't think it was so much of like strategizing for a second season as just like kind of telling a good story that made people want to know more or made us want to know more. It felt like Patrick had learned a lot on his journey, but he still had a lot more to learn. And I think it was sort of the same for all of our characters.
A number of people have mentioned to me they wish the show was an hour instead of just 30 minutes. Is there any chance of that happening? Have the parameters changed for the next season at all?
(Laughs.) I hate to disappoint your friends but, yes, we will be a half hour again. I mean that's just kind of the way the show has developed and it's going to stay in the half hour realm. I think that is like the greatest compliment ever though. Something else said that to me that they wished it was an hour and we couldn't be more flattered that people want to feel like it's not enough and they want more.
Do you know if you'll have more episodes though? For example, when “GIRLS” came back and this year they had 12. They had more episodes than they did in each of the first two seasons.
Yes, there is a chance there will be more than eight. We're still waiting to hear how many exactly, but we're hopeful that we'll get more episodes to tell a bigger story, but we just don't know yet.
Going back to the end of the finale, you've set up a love triangle between Patrick, Richie and Kevin. Now, in your own head, do you already have that storyline plotted out for season two?
Well, we have discussed it, we being Andrew [Haigh], our fantastic writing team and I. We've talked about it in the most preliminary way. We learned a lot about our characters in the first season so we have a lot of ideas. But we're still working out exactly what's happening with Patrick and Richie and what's happening with Patrick and Kevin. But I think fans of Richie and Kevin will both be very pleased with [the outcome]/
I'm expecting Team Richie and Team Kevin shirts to start appearing this summer.
I don't know if I've seen a T-shirt yet, but I feel like it's building. People are taking sides and people feel very strongly about both of them and I couldn't be more pleased. I think we're all so happy with the way that people are responding to Richie and people are also really excited about Kevin and Patrick and I think that's also the greatest complement. It helps to have tremendous performers in all of those roles and I think that's really key. Raúl Castillo has been so awesome this season. Russell Tovey is so dashing and witty and cool and sexy. And Jonathan is such an incredible performer. Besides being so cute himself he has great chemistry with those guys.
I think it Jonathan has given a remarkable performance, but I think the second best performance on the show is Raúl's. I think he is amazing.
Yeah, he is. I'm so delighted that people are getting to discover him. He's just so real. Like when I'm watching him I'm like “Jesus. I feel like I know this person.” He does not seem like an actor at all to me. I don't know if you know much about him, but he comes out of New York theater world and was part of the Labyrinth Theater Group, Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Ortiz's company, and so I'm just so delighted that the rest of the world outside of the theater world is getting to see him perform.
It seems like most of the reaction from the press has been very New York and LA based. I'm sure you've talked to a lot of journalists and a lot of people across the country in the eight weeks since the show has been on, do you notice a different reaction then from the coasts?
I've been wondering that myself. I'm really curious how outside of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco [people are] seeing the show. And admittedly I just don't know. I can't say if I noticed any like specific trends. But I'm so pleased that like people are getting to see the show [in the rest of the country]. And my hope is that it continues to build outside of the coastal areas. We have spoken to a lot of international journalists before the show started and it seems like there's a [global] kind of following that's growing already. It's been showing in the U.K. and in Latin America too I believe. I feel like it's really exciting to see this kind of the following grow outside of just the industry. Because all of us who work [on the show] we're so inside it and it's a little hard to tell. We're getting good feedback now that the ratings are growing and it feels to me like the audience is just broadening in a really cool way that I love.
That actually ties into my next question for you. Has any of the reaction to the characters or any particular storylines made you reconsider what you had planed to do for season two?
The short answer is no, not really. I think we made the show we wanted to make and we are really proud of it and we're so proud of the performance that the actors gave and we've just had such an amazing crew and they all brought it together. I mean I think as you do with any first season you learn a lot once you've been through it. I think we kind of know more about the strengths of the show and when it's like most exciting. And we certainly learned a lot of the things that people really responded to and sort of how people drop in the show. So, in that sense yeah we have learned a lot from just doing the show. And I think to a certain degree from hearing how it's been received. But I don't know if we would do anything differently really, we just know how to make the second season even better than the first.
So, if for example – and I'm making this up off the top of my head – if you found out that more fans liked Richie then you thought would you give that consideration in how you treated the character?
That's a good question. I think I'd have to get the writers together before I could answer that. But yeah, I think the best I can say is that like I think we have been surprised by a few things that have really just resonated with people and pleased. I think like Patrick and Richie were always kind of the core of the story and certainly Kevin as well. We always liked those stories and we liked that kind of situation for Patrick and we're so happy that people connected with it. I think we're just going to continue exploring Patrick and his relationships with the other two guys certainly because people have – partially because people have just responded to it so well and partially because we like those story too. Sorry, I wish I had a better answer for you.
It's more than fine. You've got four or five months for people to come up to you on the street and tell you what they think. There is, however, one tough question on a topic that I have for you that I'm sure you've gotten a lot of feedback on already. So, everyone loves Patrick. People like Dom, but they say they don't know him enough which is what it is with a 30 minute show. But Agustín. You've really dug him into a corner. Is there any redemption for him? Will we like him more eventually? Because I'm not sure the events of the finale will change most fan's opinions.
Yeah, I mean I think we're still working on what his story is for the second season, so we don't know exactly how that's going to play out. I think that Agustín is a really interesting character and we're going to see more sides of him in the future and this first season has been pretty brutal for him. I think that where he lands at the end of the first season – he's lost pretty much everything he started the season with. He lost his boyfriend who was so adoring and cute and wonderful. And he lost his home. He's lost his job. And, you know, much of it through his own fault. I think that's a pretty dark place to be in at the end of the season. And I do think that he's going to have to change in the second season to really just have a better life. He'll always be a complex character and one who has a – what's the word? One who has a…
Dark side definitely, a dark and difficult side to him. But he's going to have to make some changes just to get through life. And I think we're going to see those in the second season.
We also end the finale with Dom kissing Lynn, but we don't really see Lynn's reaction. And now Scott Bakula has just shot or is about to shoot a pilot for NBC. Are you just as curious as we all are if Lynn can come back for season two?
Well, I can tell you that he will be.
That's great. You guys have already figured out a way already to make it work?
Yes. We have figured out a way to make it work and Scott is such an awesome actor and he's got a lot of people who want to work with him. But we're confident that we can make it work.
And lastly, one of the things that I was so impressed with was all the great talent you had on board for your first season in terms of people like Ryan Fleck directing and Allan Heinberg as a co-executive producer and writer and your amazing DP Reed Morano. If she does not get an Emmy nomination, I promise you I will scream because her work was absoluely superb. How did these people join your bandwagon? We're they friends of yours and Andrews? We're they people that HBO sort of said, “Hey you should talk to these people”?
I think it's a mix of all those things. Certainly HBO, it's just a spectacular company to work with and they attract just the best talent in the industry and they are so smart about having relationships with talented people and knowing upcoming people, both cast and crew. So that was a tremendous help. And they had incredible recommendations for us like Carmen Cuba, for example our casting director, who is such an important part of why the show is what it is. She had been working with them on “Behind the Candelabra” so HBO had a relationship with her and they introduce us. I think also certainly Andrew Haigh, our director, just is so talented. And when people heard he was on the project they were dying to work with him. For example Danny Glicker our incredible costume designer and, you know, Reed as well had seen [“Weekend”] and Todd Fjelsted our production designer. And then I think also just our own personal relationships. Like I had known Raul for quite some time and I'd known Murray for sometime as well. It was just a combination of things and a lot of it being HBO and Andrew and we just had such a great family for the show and were all working together for a cause. Everyone is just so invested and so passionate about the show and it's such a rare thing and it was so much fun to do.
O.K., I lied, one last question. I believe Andrew's shooting a movie soon isn't he? Am I wrong?
He is [“45 Years” with Charlotte Rampling]. He's prepping it right now.
Will he be able to come back and do any episodes for season two or is he just going to be too involved with the movie?
No, he's definitely coming back. We're going to make him come back. We're going to force him on gunpoint on the plane. (Laughs.) No, he's still going to be our executive producer and lead director. He's going to finish that movie just before we open the writers room so he'll be doing double duty for a while, but again we're going to make it work.
For more on “Looking” read my review of the season finale here.