How Important Are the Beards on 'Looking'?

After two weeks of focusing pretty intently on Patrick's search for love/companionship/a warm-handed tug in the woods, episode three turned the focus towards the professional. 

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After two weeks of focusing pretty intently on Patrick's search for love/companionship/a warm-handed tug in the woods, episode three, "Looking at Your Browser History," turned the focus towards the professional. Oh, there were certainly amorous concerns, chiefly represented by Patrick's new boss, played by out gay Brit Russell Tovey. Obviously you don't introduce a charming gay character in the immediate vicinity of your lead, have them meet cute, and then they responsibly decide that workplace romances aren't a good idea. This is going somewhere. Just not yet.

Meanwhile, Agustín quit his job in a fit on ennui—well, okay, he was fired, but he was asking for it—and Dom began to focus on his dream of opening a restaurant. Can a man in 2014 really have it all?? Looking dares to ask the question.

Is Agustín the least interesting of the three lead characters? This episode puts more focus on him than the first two did, particularly digging into his professional life, such as it is. Is the Uninspired Artist thing a relatable concept? Was he too much of a dick to his art-lady boss?

Alex: He and Dom are kinda the first two gay guys on television to be unsuccessful professionally and it not be a comedic punchline, right?  Like Jack from Will and Grace and to a lesser extent Cam from Modern Family aren’t gainfully employed, but it’s always been more of a punchline.

Joe: I do like how aggressively un-fabulous these guys get to be. It’s probably my innate weariness with artists and their artist concerns and their inability to do anything because it would violate their innate sense of art. But I think the show does a good enough job showing how that kind of mindset can be as wearying to the artist as it is to everybody around them, if not more so. I DO think he was too mean to that artist lady he worked for, though. All she did was pay him to assemble her dumb furniture, is that such a crime?

How do you think Patrick is taking the breakup?

Alex: Well, this is the reason he was ready to find the next good-looking gay guy to hit on … which happened to be his big-eared boss.

Joe: I'm not sure Patrick takes anything well. I mean, he wasn't wallowing in his room or anything, but the bad ending with Ritchie did manage to spike his neuroses some. Which, sorry, this boy doesn't need any kind of spike in his neuroses.

Alex: Oh gosh, I just realized that you’re a gay boss. My gay boss. What if a new gay Wire writer hit on you? Wouldn’t that be weird?

Joe: Who says this show isn't incredibly relatable?

This whole episode took an active focus in the professional lives of all three main characters, though each one managed to take on a sexual romantic angle. Patrick unwittingly hit on his new boss. Dom met a local business owner (Scott Bakula) in the steam room of the bathhouse. Agustín is at a career crossroads and looked plenty intrigued by that sex worker he met. Is the show doing right by these characters by intertwining sex and careers in this way?

Alex: Let’s get something out of the way— that was the most family-friendly bathhouse I’ve ever seen. No drugs. Nice lighting. Protein bars.

Joe: Okay. But it still had the guy jerking himself off to get Dom’s attention. It’s not exactly Epcot Center. It’s funny you mention no drugs, because I remember Andrew Haigh’s Weekend caught some flak from people for setting his gay love story in the middle of a constant parade of casual drug use. I’m not sure I minded—drugs are a fact of life, and the more casually a TV show or movie can depict drug use, the more realistic I find it—but it’s worth noting that these are three fairly clean-living boys. Maybe this is part of the reason why so many people find them boring?

Let’s talk about Scott Bakula, though.

Alex: Who knew he was so buff? So buff and so tan. He’s kinda cultivating a little gay following.

Joe: Yeah, between Behind the Candelabra and this, he’s certainly in the HBO gay-themed wheelhouse. I’ve never been that blown away by him—his Emmy nomination for Candelabra was kind of ridiculous—but he’s working for me on Looking so far, and it’s not just because he’s keeping it tight at his age. I like the fact that Dom’s age hasn’t become a point of hysteria on the show, and Bakula’s character appears to be both drawing an error to the fact that Dom’s at a precarious age (I know “gay years” is a dumb joke, but there’s one with some truth to it; it’s a thin line between daddy-fetish-object and put-to-pasture) while giving it some very human context.

Once again, Patrick puts his foot in his mouth. How intentional do you think it is that Patrick keeps coming across like a naive doof at best, an oblivious dick at worst?

Alex: I think there’s this trend of making characters that are socially awkward.  It started with that dolt on How I Met Your Mother, cultivated by the deeply obnoxious Zooey Deschanel, and it’s trickled down to Patrick. Well, his writers at least. Moral of the story: gay men can be just as awkward and clueless as straight men and Zooey Deschanel?

Joe: Victory at last? There’s a part of me that really identifies with Patrick’s awkwardness in a lot of situations. Not so much with Russell Tovey as his boss—though, seriously, that guy drives people into a Cumberbatchian frenzy—but earlier at his company party, where he kind of rambled on about his gay perspective on the video game their company designed. He kind of becomes a blabbering runaway train, and I’ve been in that position where you’re talking to a bunch of straight guys and are like, “It’s not because I’m gay, but it’s not not because I’m gay, am I still talking, well okay, let me say something else…”

Which is more of an indictment: that Patrick was on OKCupid so much while he was at work, or that he was on OKCupid at all?

Alex: I think both are pretty bad. But … I’d be more embarrassed of my OkCupid profile than my Manhunt profile.

Joe: Overall, I think the show has done a decent job in drawing Patrick as a very consistent portrayal of a timid guy. He has these romanticized notions that aren’t really reflected in his greater social circle, but they’re his, and I think OKCupid activity jibes with that.

Alex: But OkCupid at work?  C’mon. He works in tech (ish). There are apps for this.

This show really knows what it’s doing with this beard zeitgeist among gay dudes, right?

Joe: Oh, totally. But have you noticed the hair segregation on this show? At least in this episode, Patrick hangs out with his clean-shaven colleague and barely-stubbled boss, while Agustín meets the beardiest rentboy in San Francisco, and Dom and Scott Bakula’s chest hair commiserates about what the Castro was like in the ‘90s.

Alex: I like beards.

Joe:  I do too. As a beard-haver, I like that so many people like beards these days. I’ll easily take that look over the pron-stache, sorry Dom. Thus far, the show has avoided making “beard” a synonym for a personality type, so at least there’s that.

Alex: Oh, sorry. I was busy Googling “Ryan Gosling beard.” Where were we? Oh, right. I’m not sure if I agree with you. I’m beginning to wonder if the beards mean something, not necessarily a personality type but rather a have-have not type thing. Like the bearded guys on this show (don’t forget Scotty the three-way guy!)  are way smoother (not in body hair terms) than Patrick.

Joe: Can we not live in a world where the bearded and not bearded, hairy and smooth can coexist peacefully?

Alex: We are living in that world. Check your Scruff app.

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