HBO renews ‘Looking,’ sets premiere date for ‘Normal Heart’

normalheart02HBO knows a good formula when it sees one. Last year, it premiered its gay-themed made-for-cable movie Behind the Candelabra on the last Sunday in May, and it’s doing so again with its latest tentpole telefilm, The Normal Heart. The screen adaptation of Larry Kramer’s Tony Award-winning play about the fight against AIDS (and the ignorance of the Reagan Era) is set to air at 8 p.m. on May 25. The production, directed by Glee creator Ryan Murphy, features out actors Matt Bower, Jim Parsons, Joe Mantello, Denis O’Hare, Stephen Spinella, B.D. Wong and Jonathan Groff, as well as Julia Roberts, and Mark Ruffalo and Taylor Kitsch, pictured.

Groff had some more good news this week as well: His HBO series Looking got a second-season pickup. The drama about 20something gay men navigating the dating life in present-day San Francisco will return next season.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WATCH: Preview of episode 2 of HBO’s new gay series ‘Looking’

Groff1The excellent new gay series Looking, which began airing last Sunday on HBO, is a mature and sexy look at the modern urban gay male. We spoke with the series’ star, Jonathan Groff, here, but you can also check out a preview of episode 2, which airs on Sunday, after the jump. (Take, note, though! Episode 3 will air next Saturday, not Sunday, so as not to compete with the Super Bowl.)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Looking’ star Jonathan Groff: The gay interview

Jonathan Groff

Jonathan Groff has had a pretty good week. The animated film he stars in, Frozen, was just nominated for two Oscars and his new HBO series, Looking, debuts on Sunday. So it was a good time for our Chris Azzopardi to sit down with Groff to discuss all his gay projects, idolizing Mark Ruffalo and how Looking freaked out his family.  

Jonathan Groff is remembering a scene he shot for the upcoming HBO adaptation of The Normal Heart. It’s his only part with Julia Roberts, and he doesn’t have a single line with her.

“She plays a doctor and I collapse on the street, and then they take me into her office and she’s like, ‘He’s dying,’” the actor recalls. “So I didn’t get to act with her because I’m, like, hyperventilating on a stretcher. I was foaming at the mouth. She was probably all, ‘This kid is really going for it.’ But she was really nice, very chill, very undramatic and easy.”

The same could be said for Groff. The affable Pennsylvania native got his start on stage, nabbing a Tony nomination for his role in the 2006 Broadway musical Spring Awakening before battling it out with New Directions on Glee, portraying a young David Sedaris in the recent feature film C.O.G. and voicing Kristoff in Disney’s hot winter hit Frozen. Now the actor plays Patrick, the charmingly clueless lead in the new gay-friends-living-in-San-Fran series Looking, which debuts Sunday on HBO. Will there be foam? Probably, but only if it’s at a party.

Dallas Voice:  With Looking and The Normal Heart, it must be nice knowing that HBO is gonna pay your bills for at least the next year.  Jonathan Groff: Right? It’s great. But I’ve already been paid for those jobs in 2013!

In the Looking pilot’s opening scene, after a phone call interrupts a hand-job hookup, you tell your friends you worried it was your mom calling. Has your own mother seen the show?  My mom has always been really supportive of my work. When I was doing Spring Awakening she took bus trips of people to come and see the show — like, seriously, 40 people on a touring bus up from Pennsylvania. That was before she had even seen it, so she was shocked when she saw the sex and the nudity and me hitting Lea Michele with a stick, but she obviously enjoyed it … because there were three more bus trips after that! So she overcame the awkwardness of seeing my butt on stage, but ever since they cast me in Looking, the big question in my family has been: “Are they gonna watch it or not when it comes on TV?”

When I came home for the summer to Pennsylvania, I brought the pilot home on DVD and I just said, “I don’t know if you wanna watch this or not, but I feel like if you do watch it, you probably won’t wanna watch it with me in the room.” I think that really freaked them out.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WATCH: Debut trailer for upcoming HBO series about gay guys, ‘Looking’

looking01

January is fast becoming the season of gay TV premieres. Yesterday, I shared a video for Chozen, a gay animated comedy for FX; today, HBO one-ups FX with a live-action show that’s just as gay.

Looking is the highly anticipated new series from out actor-producer Jonathan Groff (guest actor on Glee and co-executive producer on Happy Endings). Groff stars as a gay man looking for love in San Francisco. Not surprisingly, it’s set to debut immediately after the third season premiere of Girls on Jan. 19 — so, we have the girls and the boys right after.

Based on the trailer — which you can see after the jump — it’s apparently along the lines of Queer as Folk with honest portrayals of love and sex … and some nudity (don’t worry, the trailer, at least, is safe for work).

Looks like the winter is heating up!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

High nooner

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LAID ON END Jeff (Jonathan Groff, left) seduces three women but is cursed with talking to them as well in the unfocussed sex parable ‘Twelve Thirty.’

Even getting ‘Glee’ star Jonathan Groff naked can’t make ‘Twelve Thirty’ interesting

In classic 18th century picaresque novels, young men bounce bawdily from maiden bed to maiden bed, banging a few horny housewives in between, usually in service of a comic satire of sexual liberation peppered with commentary on politics and cultural mores. They are lascivious and funny — that’s what gets people reading them. It’s what makes them part of a genre.

Twelve Thirty follows a similar structure — Jeff (Glee’s Jonathan Groff), a flirtatious young man, claims sexual inexperience but gets laid more often than beige carpeting during a remnants sale, bedding two sisters and their mother. But the thing is, the film isn’t especially (at all?) funny; it has a frank, raw energy (there’s a good deal of sex and nudity) and it’s character-driven with intensive exposition, but it doesn’t amount to much.

Twelve Thirty is ripe with sexual liberation and tons of quirk, but the quirkiness feels forced. Writer-director Jeff Lipsky’s style echoes indie filmmakers Henry Jaglom and Hal Hartley: It’s sophisticated and smart in a cocktail-party-chatter way, but the emotions are treated with academic aloofness. You don’t feel the movie, you merely experience it.

Lipsky doesn’t mind addressing sex, or even showing sex pretty explicitly, but he prefers to talk about sex. And talk and talk and talk. (The title, I’m guessing, is a joke about having a “nooner” — after it’s over, you still need to find something to talk about from 12:30 on.) So, we get a few tantalizing moments of a naked Groff (and some naked ladies, including a surprisingly perky Karen Young), but much, much more conversation. If the dialogue were scintillating, that might suffice. But while the characters are painstakingly conceived (Young’s character, the mother of two girls, is a furrier who still sleeps with her gay ex-husband), there’s not much insight and the chats generally go nowhere (two British women turn up for moments of colorful backstory, then disappear). The film does take a dark turn bordering on cruelty or madness, but then ends as suddenly as it began. Huh?

The film itself has as much a crisis of identity as Jeff himself: It’s a romantic comedy in search of comedy. And romance.

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— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 20, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas