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Monday
Jan052015

Looking Back: Season 1 Recap

Manuel here bringing us up to date on Andrew Haigh’s first season of his HBO show Looking in preparation for the weekly recaps that will take up this space starting next week. 

“You know how I know you’re gay? You’re boring,” With those nine words, Mick Stingley (writing for Esquire) summed up his reaction to Looking, one which continued to be echoed even as Andrew Haigh’s low-key San Francisco-set show about a group of gay men blossomed into a fascinating (if, yes, clipped and narrow) show, ably experimenting with the long-form storytelling of TV to offer mundane snapshots of the contemporary gay male experience. “Boring” became a code word for viewers (both gay and straight) who for the first time found themselves exposed to gay characters on screen who didn’t mince or flounce (no Wills or Jacks here), nor who aimed to become a banner ad for a movement (no Michaels or Emmets here). It was also an HBO show hard to pin down. It doesn’t have Sorkinean monologues, or Dunhamesque sex scenes. It doesn’t have the acidic comedy of Veep nor the pathos of Enlightened. There’s a level of mundanity in Haigh’s show that's decidedly un-HBOish; this is no Westeros nor Bon Temps. In many ways, it feels like an indie film with its closest kin being Haigh’s 2011 film, Weekend. [Full disclosure, I hated that film, but that’s neither here nor there].

I bring this all up front to showcase what it is that interests me about Looking; its rather transgressive indifference towards politics of representation. There’s transgression in the very banality that so characterized the show's first season which, while climaxing with a wedding, a hook-up, a breakup and a pitch-perfect Golden Girls shout out, nevertheless seemed quite content in what Haigh & co. bill their show as: merely looking, observing really how these young able-bodied (and damn good-looking) gay men navigate their lives. It’s not surprising then that the best episode of the first season was solely focused on Patrick & Richie in a long, romantic date around San Francisco.

So, before next’s week’s premiere episode, let’s briefly recap/meet our boys:

Patrick (Jonathan Groff)
Age: 29
Profession: Video game designer
Known for: Being the inadvertent Carrie of the group; developing an inappropriate relationships with his flirty boss.
Looks good in… a leather vest.
Looking for… love.
Best line so far:

 I don't know if either of us are very good at being who we think we are"

Where we left him: Caught between two gorgeous men who want him, each of whom represent different versions of his life; Kevin clearly the type of guy he’d have gone for in hopes of impressing his mom, Richie a wild card whose commitment and tenderness are as endearing as they are frightening. Will his magnetic chemistry with his (ahem taken) boss win out over the sweet relationship he’d been nurturing with Richie?

Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez)
Age: 31
Profession: Aspiring artist
Known for: Being inadvertently bitchy, developing an inappropriate relationship with a male hooker for “artistic purposes.”
Looks good in… CJ’s arms?
Looking for… something, anything to inspire and motivate him.
Best line so far: (Looking at Patrick’s new escapulario)

What are you, accessorizing now?”

Where we left him: Dumped by his boyfriend over that “oh yea, remember how I didn’t tell you I was basically engineering a threesome with my escort friend who I’ve been paying?” issue, he passed out after drowning his sorrows with drugs. Will his flailing art “career” blossom now that he’s presumably back living with Patrick?

Dom (Murray Bartlett)
Age:
39
Profession: Aspiring restaurateur, waiter.
Known for: Delicious piri piri chicken, developing an inappropriate relationship with his main investor.
Looks good… in a sauna towel.
Looking for… a way out of his dead-end job.
Best line so far:

 You know at 40, Grindr emails you a death certificate?”

Where we left him: Following his heart (if not his business savvy instincts), Dom kissed Lynn seemingly misreading the latter’s feelings. Will their business relationship be able to overcome the budding attraction Dom is feeling?

 

Richie (Raúl Castillo)
Age:
20-something
Profession: Barber
Known for: Devilishly flirty transit conversation.
Looks good in… baseball caps (also, just a guitar)
Looking for… someone to fall in love with.
Best line so far:

 We got a special tonight. Pretty blue eyes drink two for one”

Where we left him: Confessing he’d be willing to give it another shot with Patrick seeing as he’s “this close” to falling in love with him, yet acknowledging the fact that Patrick is apparently not really ready for that kind of thing; Patrick’s tears give his hesitation away.

Kevin (Russell Tovey)
Age:
30-something
Profession: Video game wunderkind (ie. Patrick’s boss)
Known for: Devilishly flirty workplace conversation.
Looks good in… in wedding attire.
Looking for… trouble?
Best line so far: 

Do you know how much effort it takes to be around you every day? It takes all of my willpower not to lunge and kiss the fucking shit out of you, and I can’t seem to stop thinking about you, and it’s becoming a real fucking problem.”

Where we left him: Having had sex with Patrick (in what has to have been one of the sexiest scenes of the series thus far), we’re led to believe he’s gone back to his boyfriend Jon, though surely that will affect their dynamic both personal and professional next season.

“Now what?” Patrick asks Kevin after their tryst.

That’s precisely what I’m asking myself as I wait for season 2 to kick off. Presumably, #TeamKevin & #TeamRichie have a bountiful rivalry to nurture in the coming weeks (are you all about Tovey’s ears or Castillo’s killer smile?) but I’m more interested to see what lessons Haigh & co. have learnt from season 1: will they work on Agustin’s grating personality or embrace its narrative possibilities? Will we see more of the great chemistry between Scott Bakula and Bartlett? Will Patrick’s narrative inertia (things and people happen to him) continue to be the guiding principle of the show? More importantly: will you be watching this season? Join us here every Monday!

 

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Reader Comments (21)

Will definitely be watching. Excited for the new season. Loved this show since episode one.

We tend to be a little precious with our shows and I'm so happy this show just refused to be boxed in by expectations. Though they do seem to have given in to some criticisms for season two, but mostly only the constructive variety (I'll never complain about adding more diversity to a show).

You didn't mention one of the best parts of the show: Doris (Lauren Weedman). I'm happy they've said they're giving her more screen time in the upcoming season.

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRene

your hating 'weekend' was both here and there - i couldn't take the rest of the article seriously after that

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterpar

I enjoy the show, but unlike the ladies of Sex & the City, I find myself rooting against the three leads rather than for them. It's a problem. Even so, the date episode was wonderful and everything involving Richie was pure joy. Tovey is hot but come on, Kevin is bad news. All of the leads are too, though. If Richie moves on, can he get his own show? And take Doris. That show would be amazing.

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I honestly don't understand all the issues that people seem to have with this show. I really like it and I just can't believe that Jonathan Groff isn't nominated for anything.

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I'm psyched for the return of Looking. Loved the first season, and I hope they don't change things too much to please those who found it boring.
I felt very fortunate to be able to see something so low-key and stunning on TV on a weekly basis.

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

par - i have to admit i was perplexed by that too. I find them so similar so I'm stunned that Manuel loves one and hates the other. I didn't know this!

peggysue - i think it's just that it's very very very hard to please the gays who are considerably less unified as a community than they were before assimilation

eurocheese -- Doris is happily now one of the core characters (no longer a "guest" but a "supporting actress" in terms of Emmy... not that Emmy is paying attention to this fine show.

January 6, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I'm very interested to see how the longer layout (ten episodes as opposed to the first season's paltry eight) will affect the narrative development of the characters. Also, I hope the creators take a similar trajectory with their characters the same way that Lena Dunham and co. did with their leads during Girls' third season and focus on something other than fulfillment by their romantic partners. Granted, Dom has his budding restaurant and peri peri chicken while Agustin has his stalled artistic endeavors, but I hope all of their narratives (particularly Patrick's) focus more than just on will they/won't they copulate scenarios, not that I'm against those in any way ;)

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

Loved this show more and more as the season went on - everyone was expecting "the gay 'Girls'" and it defiantly wasn't that, for better and worse. It was also much easier to be patient with this show than other shows that get better during the run because it was both a short season and only a half-hour long. I love how deceptively complex it is.

Tovey and Castillo are both the sex, in completely different ways, and I'm honestly not sure who I want Patrick to end up with (although I lean towards Richie, who is just a total dreamboat). Can't wait for the next season to start!

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Looking was such a frustrating show and I think, on balance, not a very good one, despite having some really excellent component parts. Like everyone else here, the date episode was a real standout, and there are some great performances (Groff, Weedman, Bakula), but when you can't nail good character arcs for half your cast then it's a problem. It wasn't even necessarily that Augustin was irritating and self-obsessed, but that his cycle of self-destruction felt like something we've seen a million times before. Raul Castillo is also fantastic, but he's on the verge of becoming one of those magical characters that exist purely to teach the protagonist to grow up/embrace their inner beauty, or whatever. I'm being glib, and that's not to say there aren't plenty of elements of the show I like, but I'd like to see a second season that explored the relationship between the three protagonists, or that tied their stories together better (a problem Girls also struggles with), because there's a chasm between my investment in Patrick and Dom & Augustin.

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterben1283

"Tovey and Castillo are both the sex, in completely different ways, and I'm honestly not sure who I want Patrick to end up with (although I lean towards Richie, who is just a total dreamboat)."

I want both Richie and Kevin to dump Patrick and snap-crackle-pop with each other, but that's just me.

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

par: The "neither here nor there" referred to the fact that I wanted to focus on writing about LOOKING rather than on Haigh's film (if you're curious about my thoughts on that: http://www.mbetancourt.com/weekend-or-how-i-really-dont-care-for-this-indie-gay-romance/ ). While I do see them as similar, I feel there's a difference worth pointing out (in particular to the way it frames its storytelling). Also, I'm not one to submit to the laws of preferential contiguity, ie. "If you liked this you should love this," "if you love this guy's work in A you'll love him in B." Each work is different and what shortcomings I saw in WEEKEND made me hesitant about LOOKING which is why I was so surprised when I was inadvertently smitten by it (maybe it's LOOKING aptly avoiding the preciousness and insularity of the characters that so characterized WEEKEND?)

Rene, I can't believe I didn't mention Doris (i blame the teaser I worked from since she's not featured in it though she made the main season 2 poster).

As everyone else notes, I'm curious to see how they open up the show away from merely romantic pairings and are able to flesh out some of the two-dimensionality of Agustin.

January 6, 2015 | Registered CommenterManuel Betancourt

Looking barely qualifies as entertainment for me. With Weekend, you got the feeling that it had something to say about love, or connection. This show is just a nicely-lit version of the lives my friends lead.

I guess it's good to have that representation out there, but I'd rather go about my own life as a young gay urbanite than waste time "looking" at these characters, or living through them somehow. It doesn't add anything to my reality or my friends' realities, or go any bigger or deeper. I can tap into 50 storylines exactly like these on any given Friday night.

Maybe if I were still a teenager growing up in the South I'd enjoy this in an aspirational way.

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

I'm also one who was more "nay" on Weekend and more "yay" on Looking. The problem I had with Weekend (and also with the first couple episodes of Looking, frankly) was that there's just so much talk about gayness. A friend of mine joked about Weekend that it was like a wannabe gay theory lecture. In Looking, it was gay stereotypes, gay tropes, gay pop culture references. "Gay" was the defining character trait of two of the three leads with Patrick leaning that way too during the start of the series. Stingley was right in that Esquire article-- it's just boring.

But what roped me in around Episode 4 just as I was about to give up was the development of Richie as a character. Personality wise (certainly not aesthetically), he's such an everyday guy, a tie to reality that the show was desperately missing. And that everyday-ness about him really added to the story-- what would otherwise be just another love triangle becomes something more, the decision between the type of partner that fits the model of partners you've seen your whole life or the type who is of a completely different world (and mind you, one that maybe you're not that interested in being a part of). For suburbanites who move to the "big city" (of which I am one), it's a real schism that comes up time to time and one that I don't believe I've ever seen represented on-screen before.

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Hayden,
"This show is just a nicely-lit version of the lives my friends lead."
First things first: Ugh. The douchiest of chills. Unintended, I'm sure.

Anyway, what shows do you actually watch if they all have to have this added pressure of contributing something to your reality (specifically as a gay man, I'm guessing)? What special access to shows with three-dimensional gay characters do you have?

"Maybe if I were still a teenager growing up in the South I'd enjoy this in an aspirational way."
Are we still in the 1800s? North vs. South. Can we not overgeneralize? So all gay teens in the "North" are able to live their lives openly? So all gay teens in the "North" are not inspired by a show where imperfect gay characters are just living their lives?

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRene

For me, it's not about adding to the conversation so much as - why do I give a shit about these sad sack people who are so messed up? The series has been focused so much on keeping them real that it forgot to give the audience a reason to give a shit about them. But, I have the same problem with Girls so maybe it's just me. I need a reason to like my friends in real life, and I need a reason to care about my TV/movie characters. (I do care about Richie, which is part of the reason I stuck with the show. Groff's adorable but at this point, his puppy dog charm is clearly a way to avoid dealing with repercussions for his consistently terrible decisions - Richie deserves better.)

I do think if they focused more on the friendships between the guys, I might like them a lot more. Patrick climbing into bed with Augustin at the end of the season is maybe the time I liked him most all season. It's also the reason I like Doris better than the Core 3 - she's not all about herself. I can forgive a lot of bad decisions if people are truly good friends to each other, or at least trying to be.

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

That's a bizarrely resentful reaction to what I wrote. I'm not going to apologize for saying my life is pretty analogous to storylines depicted in a show where the entire point is depicting storylines that are analogous to lives like mine. If you'd like to call me a "douche" about that, then I'm not your bitch don't hang your shit on me.

And furthermore, I made no such generalizations about the north or the south, I just referenced my own (very narrow) slice of life. The fact that you're so eager to project themes, insights, and conclusions where they don't exist makes it clear that Looking is a very appropriate show for you to watch.

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

I'm decidedly with the "meh" crowd, although I'm going to give the second season a chance. It's refreshing and, yeah, exciting to have a gay ensemble cast on HBO, no matter how mediocre the show's been so far.

For all the comparisons, I have to wonder if the writing is really Girls-level. It certainly doesn't reach that show's emotional highs or lows.

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBD

At first hated but then grew to love the show- will check in with the boys to see what they have been up to on Sunday.

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

eurocheese -- absolutely agree with that. if they strengthened the dramatizations of the core friendships it would help alot. A lot of ensemble shows struggle with this dynamic. It's a weird comparison but the second the Desperate Housweives storylines started to diverge too much and they rarely had scenes with all of them together (and that happened quickly) the show wasn't any good any more.

January 6, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Ugh, I simply cannot with this show. You don't know how many times I rolled my eyes with the choices the characters kept on making in the second half of the first season, you could see them coming up like signposts. And when your most lively and interesting character happens to be the straight woman among the gay male cast, something isn't adding up. Either you're treating her like stock tokenism or that actress knows exactly what kind of show she's on and is running with it.

Weekend was bomb dot com backslash awesome and actually had shit to say about a bunch of different topics and wasn't whiny as hell, Plus it never judged its characters or made you question why someone needs to be watching. You can only alienate an audience so much in this anti-hero new normal era of tv.

Girls was, is, and will continue to be a mess. Things need not aspire to be like Girls, ya'll.

January 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

i devoured this show's first season. yes, most of it was badly acted but come on! this is the only show about a group of gay men to come out recently. i owe it to this show, the creators of it, the intention behind it, to support it. sorry but the whole "just because it's gay doesn't mean i gotta support it" thing will not cut it. if you wanna call this a tv viewer's form of affirmative action, so be it.

January 8, 2015 | Unregistered Commentermcv

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