Over the television year, not only do specific shows and specific seasons stand out, but so do specific episodes. Certain episodes rise above the rest of the television landscape in a variety of ways, whether it’s due to excellent direction, strong character exploration, or something else entirely. For the past few years, Sound on Sight …
All relationships involve compromises. No one is 100 percent compatible with his or her partner, and so there must be some give and take when building a life together. Typically, the big discussions – about having children, what city to live in, and, yes, whether to be completely monogamous – occur before a couple moves in together, but not so with Looking’s Patrick and Kevin. By this time, the show’s season (and probable series) finale, these two have accelerated the pace of their relationship for different reasons. Kevin needs an excuse to break up with John, and he would never have done so if there were the possibility of him being alone. Patrick wants to prove to himself (also his friends, family, and maybe most importantly, Richie) that he can be in a relationship that doesn’t end disastrously. So they both need each other at this point in their lives, but give not a moment of thought to what the relationship will look like a year, let alone ten or twenty years, down the road.
Looking, Ep. 2.09: “Looking for Sanctuary” finds some relationships strengthening while others break
By now it’s clear that Looking isn’t too interested in exploring the friendship between its main characters. Far more episodes of the show’s first two seasons, including last night’s “Looking for Sanctuary” have Patrick, Dom, and Agustin going off on their own romantic or personal adventures, each character in his own storyline. Occasionally the three of them will go out to lunch and update each other about what’s going on in their lives, or they’ll see each other at a party and introduce one another to a current boyfriend, but ultimately they lead separate lives. While this actually pretty realistic – thirty-something men with careers and relationships usually don’t spend every waking hour with their friends – it’s almost unprecedented in the world of episodic television.
As they explain multiple times in “Looking for Glory,” Patrick and Kevin are now “a thing.” They’re living together at Patrick and Agustin’s place, they’re wearing each other’s clothes, and they’re debuting their new app at the GaymerX convention. It’s unclear how much time has passed since Doris’s father’s funeral, but Patrick no longer has a cast on his arm, so it’s been a few weeks at least since the two reunited. No one seems particularly thrilled by this coupling. Patrick and Kevin’s coworkers seem miffed and bring up completely valid points about the ethicacy of a boss having a relationship with his employee. Richie, condescending as ever, warns Patrick that he’s moving too fast. Agustin simply doesn’t want a second roommate. Even Brent, the snarky developer of a glory hole review app called Glorified, played by the delightful Gabe Leidman, doesn’t approve.
At this point, how are Patrick Murray’s friends not completely fed up with him? After he drunkenly insults everyone in his life at his own terrible party, he tags along to Doris’s father’s funeral in Modesto and makes the weekend all about him. He mawkishly sobs at the service, continually tries to one up Doris in the “I had an unhappy childhood” department, and ends up totaling Dom’s car and sending all three of them to the hospital. Doris, bless her heart, is nothing but kind and patient in response to Patrick’s appalling behavior. Dom mostly ignores him, instead focusing his energy on trying be there for Doris while dealing with his ambivalence towards Modesto and his own father. Patrick goes through the motions of being a good friend, listening when appropriate and offering back rubs, but he has neither the emotional maturity nor the capacity for empathy to think about anyone other than himself.
In Looking for Gordon Freeman, Agustin continually compares Patrick to Clarissa Dalloway, Virginia Woolf’s seminal neurotic hostess. This is not an obscure reference for anyone with a cursory knowledge of American literature. Even if someone’s never read the book, they’ve probably heard the name before and know it has something to do with parties and flowers and tragedy. But, the reference is completely lost on Patrick. For Agustin – and perhaps for the liberal arts educated Looking viewership – this gap in knowledge is a bit surprising, but it says more about Patrick’s interests than his intelligence. So he’s not a reader. He knows a ton about obscure video game characters, and is shocked when no one recognizes his Gordon Freeman Halloween costume. Maybe Gordon Freeman is as basic a reference to programmers as Clarissa Dalloway is to English majors.
Patrick really does seem to have ended it with Kevin. This is the one rational decision he has made since Looking began and could be interpreted as evidence that he has matured, able to see himself in a toxic relationship and get himself out of it. They encounter each other at the office and Patrick holds his ground, rejecting Kevin unequivocally. Kevin still wants to have it both ways, sleeping with Patrick but living with John, ostensibly to not hurt John’s feelings. But watching that scene with John, the first real introduction to a character viewers have heard a lot about and seen in the distance but never spent any time with, makes it clear that Kevin is being cruel to his boyfriend by not ending it. Here he is, visiting Kevin for the first time at his office, and Kevin can barely look at him, let alone convincingly fake affection. John either has to be unobservant bordering on autistic, or in total denial about the barely concealed loathing his boyfriend has for him. If Patrick had been privy to that scene he would have ran away from Kevin even more quickly, making sure he never ends up like John, clinging to a relationship both parties know is dead.
Looking has often loved its secondary characters more than its leads. Patrick, Dom, and Agustin have continually paired off with people, in both romance and friendship, who are smarter, nicer, and more together than they are. Richie, Lynn, Doris, and Kevin have been the voices or reason, of patience, and of exasperation throughout the show’s run. They’ve shared their advice, which has usually fallen on deaf ears, and have tried to form meaningful bonds with the central trio of characters, with varying degrees of success. This intelligence gap, or empathy gap, has been detrimental to the success of the show. Why follow the lives of a group of emotionally stunted, unambitious babies when this rich tapestry of noble humanity is one degree away? Why can’t the show spend more time with Richie in his salon, or Lynn at the flower shop, and follow characters who are worth following? Perhaps just like in real life, the more time one spends with somebody, the more he sees them for who they really are, warts and all. Because if Looking Down the Road teaches its viewers anything, it’s that Richie, Kevin, and Lynn can be just as clueless, stunted, frightened and petty as anyone else on the show.
In Looking’s first season, the show’s creators opted against showing much explicit sex or nudity on screen. While its HBO brethren Girls and Game of Thrones pull no punches in their depiction of naked (mainly female) flesh, Looking mostly opts to cut away from its characters at their most intimate moments. Some have accused the show of soft-balling its gay content in order to make comfortable a large mainstream audience that isn’t tuning in anyway. Looking Top to Bottom changes course and lets it all hang out, showing gay male nudity in both sexual and non-sexual contexts. This neither enhances nor detracts from this particular episode, but it’s a tonal shift worth noting, and adds one more tool (pun intended) to the show’s arsenal.
The second season of Looking began last week with a strong episode focused on the friendship between Patrick, Dom, and Augustin. The second episode, “Looking for Results,” switches gears a little bit, concentrating on Patrick’s relationship with Kevin, a worrisome sign for someone who felt Patrick’s romantic entanglements were given too much emphasis in the first season. But Looking is a much more confident show now, able to focus on secondary characters without losing sight of its central trio. The result is a totally entertaining half hour of television and a sign that Looking is beginning to know exactly what kind of show it wants to be.
Looking is back for a second season on HBO after its uneven but promising initial run last year. A lot of the criticism directed towards the show’s first season was unfair, particularly the complaint that it focused solely on a group of upwardly mobile, educated, mostly white, young gay men from San Francisco at the expense of less affluent, more diverse LGBT communities everywhere. This is a totally valid grievance that should be directed at HBO and Hollywood in general. Shows about older, poorer people of color rarely make it to series, especially on pay cable. But Looking is a story about these specific characters and was never trying to be representative of any larger community. To ask anything more of any one show is unrealistic. My biggest problems with the first season were that it lacked much of an arc, the stakes for the characters remained low, and the initial premise (the friendship between the three leads) was largely unexplored in favor of following their divergent romantic exploits. By the end of the season, I didn’t really know much about Patrick, Augustín, or Dom, and knew nothing about why they were friends with each other.
There are plenty of interesting new series to be on the lookout for, but many TV fans will be most excited about the return of some of television’s best offerings. Here are Chief TV Editor Kate Kulzick and Managing TV Editor Deepayan Sengupta’s picks for the most exciting (currently scheduled) midseason returns of 2015. Banshee …
Looking’s season finale ends where it all began, with Patrick and Richie living together as roommates, watching The Golden Girls on their laptop in bed. For a relationship that has been framed as the central one of the show, the writers seem not to be very interested in it. Patrick’s season long arc was to get himself into a half-hearted love triangle with a hot British videogame designer and an even hotter Mexican barber. Agustín spent most of the season moping around and being casually racist before being brutally dumped by a blank slate of a character whom I’ve just now learned is named Frank. It would have really served the show to focus just one episode on Patrick and Agustín’s friendship, if that is the relationship the viewers are ultimately supposed to be invested in.
After two promising episodes in a row, “Looking for a Plus-One” reverts back to some of the most egregious problems of previous weeks. The central event of this installment is Patrick’s sister’s wedding. Weddings are often petri dishes for latent resentments and issues families have with one another. Unfortunately, we get little insight into the specifics of Patrick’s family and his relationship with his parents and sister.
Looking’s sixth episode, “Looking in the Mirror”, is a very pleasant surprise. There’s an energy and vitality in this half hour that had been missing from the show up until now. Maybe it’s because almost all the characters finally interact with one another, or maybe it’s because the editing and dialogue are paced less leisurely than usual. But a theme Looking has been exploring – going after what you want rather than what you should want – comes into focus and propels the stories forward in an exciting way.
When Looking premiered five weeks ago it was purportedly the story of Patrick, Dom, and Agustín’s friendship. This bottle episode, following Patrick’s day-long date with Richie, posits that this burgeoning romance is actually the central relationship of the show. “Looking for the Future” shows the awkwardness and passion of new love and all of its flirting, disclosing, playing it cool, and wanting to spend every minute with the new person in your life.
“Looking for $220/Hour”, the fourth in Looking’s eight episode run, takes place during the Folsom Street Fair, an annual San Francisco BDSM and leather party. Patrick, Agustín, and Dom aren’t really part of that scene, but like much of the city, they use the fair as an excuse for some good old-fashioned Sunday day drinking. Aside from a few skimpy leather outfits, Looking doesn’t show much of the debaucherous celebration. Instead, the episode is structured around a trio of dates, even though the characters would never classify them as such
Well, “Looking at Your Browser History” sure gives more ammo to those who find this show boring. There are absolutely no crazy orgies, and even a bathhouse sex scene happens completely off screen. In fact, this episode veers almost completely away from sex and dating, concerning itself with the career and job anxieties of its main characters. Patrick is mortified (yet again) when the cute British guy he clumsily flirts with at a work party might become his new boss. Agustín unwisely insults his boss, a middle-aged artist who makes chair sculptures, and gets fired. Dom wants to poach a chef at Zuni Café for his not yet existent Portuguese chicken-centric restaurant, but has no money or investors to actually get his dream off the ground.
If Patrick was a little awkward on his date last week, in this episode he takes his nervous, spazzy outbursts to cringe-inducing, questionably racist new lows. Remember Richie, the sexy Latin doorman Patrick brushed off on MUNI? Patrick decides to date him, but only as a “fuck buddy” instead of a potential “boyfriend”.
The first scene in the pilot of Looking is a clever fake-out. Two guys anonymously hooking up in a park is the most clichéd signifier of gay male sexuality out there. Here it is for the hundredth time – the awkward fumbling, the perfunctory kissing, the premature interruption. But it turns out that Patrick, the recipient of this sad outdoor handjob, has wandered into the woods as a sort of joke. He and his friends wonder if gay dudes still do stuff like that, and he decides to find out. The characters in HBO’s new half-hour are both self-conscious of the old stereotypes and confident enough to be unembarrassed when they occasionally fall into them.
6. The Spoils of Babylon The Spoils of Babylon is an upcoming American comedy miniseries by Saturday Night Live veterans Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, directed by Piedmont (Casa de Mi Padre), and starring Tobey Maguire, Kristen Wiig, Tim Robbins, Jessica Alba, Val Kilmer, Haley Joel Osment, Michael Sheen, and Will Ferrell. It’s doubtful that any …