Does 'Looking' Start Off Too Slow?

This and other burning questions about the new HBO series' debut episode, including the death of cruising and the seductive properties of the BART.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

HBO debuted their new all-homosexual revue, Looking, Sunday night, after another Girls episode in which Shoshanna behaved like an entity that had never encountered humankind before and Allison Williams' YouTube shame was revealed for all of hipster America. We’ve already covered the potential bigger-picture implications of Looking, it being one of verrrrry few TV shows about gay lead characters, and we also put out our beginner’s guide to the show. But what of the actual episode. Now that that’s properly aired, we have some things to discuss.

Do you think the show starts out too slow?

Joe: I know when this show was first announced, it seems my entire social circle tensed up and was prepared to reflexively reject this show as being a bad reflection of gay people. Having seen the episode, that's not a concern. What IS my biggest concern after the first episode is that people won’t be all that interested in these three guys. I know we’ve both seen the first four episodes, and I’m definitely hooked on their stories and want to follow them further, but I’m not sure how compelled I would have been if I’d been left hanging after a first episode that was this low-key. I almost wish THIS show had aired two episodes last week instead of Girls, but I know the realities of programming don’t make that possible.

Alex: That’s a question I had, too. But there was a lot of stuff that happened— a handjob in the park, a gay bachelor party, a threesome, the decision to move in with one's boyfriend in Oakland, a terrible date, and possibly a new romance all in one episode. There was a ton of stuff that happened, even though it didn’t feel like it.

I do think that the show, like you said, is very low-key in the sense that its humor and plot—at least for the first couple of episodes—is more of the awkward and cringe-inducing variety than it is of the laugh-track or scenery-eating variety. And I have RuPaul’s Drag Race (or this season of American Horror Story) for the latter.

(That said, I wasn’t really hooked until halfway through episode three.)

Joe: Actually, I take some of what I said back. I was interested to see if Patrick was going to get any farther with Richie right off the bat. It's SO unfair that I run into mentally deranged preachers on the subway and Patrick gets this incredibly cute hairdresser/bouncer.

So. We have Patrick, the video-game designer, OkCupid-surfer, thinks-of-his-mom-during-anonymous-handjobs main character played by twink all-star Jonathan Groff. Agustin the disaffected artist who moves in with his boyfriend half-thoughtfully and half because he can save some money by cohabitating in Oakland. And Dom, older and mustachioed and really good at flirting with young co-workers even if he doesn’t end up taking them home. Not to turn this into a competition right off the bat, but how do they rank after one episode?

Alex: Oh, Joe. Are we really going to say who’s on top and who’s on bottom?

Joe: Alex.

Alex: First off, Patrick is a twunk. A twink that’s transitioned into a hunk. If Richard Lawson were here, he’d probably make a joke about Groff being “swole”, but that Lawson is out and about hanging with Jennifer Lawrence and giggling about Bradley Cooper’s flatulence or something.

Back to Patty, he’s kind of like Rachel Leigh Cook in She’s All That — an impossible standard of nerd beauty created by the media and television. He’s going on dates with doctors, finding handies in the park, and getting picked up by good-looking guys on public transportation? Patty is doing fine for himself and at the top of this totem pole.

Agustin— we don’t really know yet. We don’t know how his relationship works yet, or if he’ll ultimately be happy in Oakland.

And Dom. Oh Dom. Dom is not in a good place. Dom was in a much better when he was Oliver Spencer in Sex and the City. But that’s neither here nor there. I think Dom is on the bottom of this odd totem pole — he’s not getting sex, he’s getting old, and he’s having a career crisis. He also has friends who allow him to leave the house in a shearling jacket and a moustache.

Joe: Wait, I thought all you flagrant homosexuals (I use an editorial distancing tactic here to emphasize how very un-typical I am) love mustaches? That weird retro idea of ‘70s masculinity?

Alex: Joe, the moustache-shearling combination was the reason at least four people asked me if this show was set in the 70s. Stop talking to me like you aren’t a flagrant homosexual yourself.

Joe: Whatever, I’m super into Dom, despite the fact that his life appears to be in shambles. (Maybe because of it?) I like his flirt game with that cute young waiter at the restaurant where he works. I like that he’s our window into Doris, who is easily the funniest character on the show. I have some faith in him to get it together because he is wildly attractive, and I think it pisses God off when you walk past the color purple or Murray Bartlett and don’t notice.

Agustín sits at the middle of my totem pole as well. Obviously, this move to Oakland is not going to end well. The show is not shy about telegraphing that one to us. And I could do without him image-shaming OkCupid potentials with lazy eyes. None of us are perfect, Agustín! But at the moment, he’s the only one of the leads with a boyfriend, and his boyfriend manages to be cute, nice, and up for threeways, so Agustín’s not doing so bad. Yet.

I think part of the reason why the unrealistic vision of a lovelorn Jonathan Groff doesn’t take me out of the story is that I somehow find him the least appealing of the three leads. He really sells Patrick’s whole precious, awkward mama-boy thing, to the point where I get why he’s single. I completely identify with Patrick’s sense that a lot of what’s out there for gay men isn’t an option for him, for one reason or another. But there’s a not inconsiderable posture of superiority in him (and maybe me) that irks. I’m still rooting for him to find some mans, but I think I’m rooting for him to get his shit together first.

Cruising. The first episode spends a lot of time showing us how gay men find, umm, “romance.” But what the episode seemed to hammer home or critique, is the death of “cruising”, like the actual act of meeting someone spontaneously. What say you? Is it dead? Are we sad it’s dead?

Alex: The only guy Patty meets that we like is one that he meets in person. The guy he meets in the park has a lot of sexual hangups. And the doctor that he meets on OkCupid is just the worst— maybe it's jab about how you can’t order men like pizzas, or maybe it's saying that what we want isn’t that simple?

Joe: I’m not even sure we can say Patrick “meets” the guy in the park.

Alex: Fine. “Meet” is a term I use loosely.

Joe: I think the whole point of that opening sequence is that Patrick is looking to meet someone (I swear to God, this makes me so self-conscious about my gerund usage when I discuss it) even when the social cues around him explicitly forbid that. I’m not sure if the show is making a statement about cruising in and of itself (though it certainly doesn’t get a ton of respect), rather just that meeting people in general is kind of a nightmare. Patrick tries to intellectualize it and take advantage of technology and nothing works out. He ends up being resistant to Richie at first because who expects to find someone on the BART? It’s a pretty quaint notion, that meeting your dream guy must happen in person, but it’s really hard to romanticize OkCupid. Harder still to romanticize cold handjobs in the park.

Let’s talk about that scene on the BART. How did you feel about “oncology”, and that Richie couldn’t pronounce it?  How did you feel about Patty and his feelings on Richie not being able to pronounce oncology? Also, is Richie the first gay character we’ve seen in a while that isn’t a) white b) affluent c) educated?

Joe: I’m not sure that joke plays quite so damning, especially since in the very next scene, Richie makes a crackabout being a “resident in cosmetology. It played to me like standard meet-cute territory more than anything else, though, again, this is why it sucks that there is like one show on TV with gay characters of any ethnicity at all.

Alex: Patty was being an asshole. And I’m kinda glad it was made clear (maybe not enough) that gay guys can be cruel to each other. Though, in real life, when you act like a jerk the payback isn’t usually a date with a really handsome Latino guy that you were a jerk to.

Can we talk about how obnoxious it is to call this show the “gay” Girls?  Where do you think that comes from?

Alex: I think it’s actually lazy. They’re two completely different shows, and anyone that spends five minutes with the two will notice that. I think that there are arguments that could be made that Looking has more in common with Entourage or How to Make It in America than it is Girls. But I understand it — there aren’t enough shows that feature lead female characters (it’s getting better) or gay men, so lumping them together because they bring something different or cut through the layers of straight white men on television in the same way is much easier for people to do rather than figure out why they shouldn’t.

Joe: It’s incredibly lazy. I tend to calm myself down about it  by reminding myself that it’s a generalization more about the audience that HBO is looking to reach than the show itself. I think that’s where you see it separating from at least Entourage and probably How to Make It in America, too. The people who watched those shows are probably not going to be that keen on Looking. Everybody you know who watches, complains, and blogs about Girls are going to end up watching Looking, too.

The show cut away when the threeway with Agustín, Frank, and that hot art-mover was getting interesting. And even in the outdoor hookup scene at the beginning, things got aborted before anything really happened. The latter had a storyline reason, sure, but are you worried that this is a show that sees integrity and flesh as two separate things?

Alex: I actually couldn’t care less about the amount of penises on screen. And I’d still watch the show if there was never another sex scene throughout the season. I mean, I just want a good story. If I, or anyone, wanted to see lots of fit, good-looking white men having sex, it would be as easy as firing up a web broswer. Or I could just watch that Michael Fassbender movie.

I would be more worried if there’s actual controversy here — from the show’s writers and creator— that there was some reason they were shying away from showing the sex.

Joe: Ultimately I think I’m with you that flesh is incidental to my enjoyment of the show. I think this is another area where this show will be challenged to be all things to all people. Sure, it would be great to have a show that was unapologetic about gay sex and made everybody get the hell over it already, but that’s not this show, and I don’t think it has to be. If being confrontational about sex and nudity is going to overshadow a show that wants to be about forging emotional connections, I’m onboard with that effort. I’ve yet to get to the point with Looking where it feels like an unrealistic sense of modesty is interfering with the frankness of the rest of the show. If I do, I’ll have to reevaluate. I also think I would feel a lot differently about things if the threeway didn’t come across as sexy as it does, even despite the fact that not a penis nor a butt is revealed.

If you were asked to recommend this show, or not, to a friend who was on the fence about it, would you?

Alex: Yes. Especially if you’re watching the aggressively rage-inducing Girls or the anxiety bomb that is The Walking Dead (when it comes back), these guys are a nice way to bring you down and not hate humanity. I do think that it the windup is a bit slow. But I was absolutely hooked by the third episode.

Joe: I would. I have been. I’ve been adding a ton of caveats, of course, because nothing is worse than recommending a gay show to a cadre of bitchy homosexuals who then proceed to tear it apart in front of your eyes. I’m telling people to give it time. Give it a few weeks. The characters grow on you and become more familiar. The comparisons to Andrew Haigh’s Weekend are much more applicable than the comparisons to something like Girls. Girls is maybe better suited for the week-to-week rigors of being appointment television. There’s always something that happens every week that is either memorable or funny or so annoying that you absolutely have to complain about it to everybody you encounter for the next few days. Looking is far more lived-in, and I think could ultimately be more rewarding as the season goes on. It’s nice to have a show about gay guys that isn’t constantly making its case for mere existence. We’re here. We’re queer. Now we have to get on with the business of the rest of it.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.