The article below -- part of a series of recaps for the new HBO series "Looking" -- contains spoilers for "Looking For Your Browser History," the February 1st episode.
One of the common complaints about HBO's "Looking," two episodes in, at least, is that its characters are boring. But these viewers -- perhaps used to the easily digestible, in your face characterizations they met with the most obvious predecessor to "Looking," "Queer as Folk" -- seem to be lazily failing to recognize one of the series' greatest assets. Michael Lannan, Andrew Haigh and the rest of team behind "Looking" are really asking for a high level of social engagement on our parts to find these characters. You need to try and read them, because they -- like most real people -- aren't going to make it obvious. And while that doesn't make it easy for us viewers, the series' third episode, "Looking For Your Browser History," suggests it's a method that's beginning to build into a pay off in the honesty it's bringing both to the series itself and to its trio of protagonists (for better or worse on their parts).
Take Patrick, who begins the third episode at -- where else -- a giant party on a naval ship for video game developers. We watch him enter the event with his co-worker Owen (Andrew Law) exhibiting the kind of over-excitable glee about the perks of living in San Francisco that endearingly have not seemed to wear off after nearly a decade living there (he squees: "Look at the view! This is amazing!"). When they get inside, Patrick is quickly forced to navigate that age old question: Is that guy gay or just British? The man under consideration is Kevin (guest star Russell Tovey), whom a tipsy Patrick ends up basically stalking until he gets the two of them alone together. It turns out Kevin is indeed both gay and British, a fact offered up during a fantastically awkward scene where we get to see Patrick's admirable but clumsy flirtation skills on high effort before he realizes Kevin -- who by this point he has flat out hit on -- both has a boyfriend, and is about to become Patrick's new boss.
Both the writing and Jonathan Groff's effortless performance elevate things aboard that naval ship to a new high for "Looking," offering in Patrick a vulnerability that feels both uniquely contemporary and uniquely sexy. For the series' lead character, Patrick did feel a bit muted in the first two episodes, but here we get a bigger opening. Which continues throughout the rest of the episode as we watch him try to damage control things with Kevin, who turns out to be a potentially dangerous mix of slimy and sexy. He goes through Patrick's work computer browser history for no good reason (noting that he spends a lot of time on OkCupid and Manhunt -- or "Mancunt," as he maliciously misreads) and makes him dance for a contract that in the end he already had. Patrick (and Groff) handles this all with nervous charm, showing us some underlying confidence and work ethic (though we're a little worried whether he can keep that up given he clearly still wants to fuck Kevin).
The same can be said of Dom (the work ethic and confidence part, not the wanting to fuck Kevin), who also comes into his own as a character in this episode. In another great series of scenes, Dom and roommate/BFF Doris (I really heart Lauren Weedman) are off to a Zumba class. Dom is in an unusually good mood (Doris: "I don't think I've seen you this perky since you dragged me to see 'Miss Congeniality' -- and that was a very long time ago") because he's finally decided to push forward with... Opening a Portuguese chicken restaurant ("Piri Piri!"). Which really shouldn't work as a major plot point, but the naturalism between Dom's Murray Bartlett and Doris' Lauren Weedman makes it all feel so honest that you can't help but root for his likely impossible little chicken dream.
That dream does get a bit of a boost toward the more plausible when he meets Lynn (Scott Bakula) in a steam room. Probably about 10 years older than Dom, Lynn owns a flower shop in the Castro, and their conversation leads us (and Dom) to believe Lynn might be able to help get Piri Piri off the ground in some way. Which is great and all, but their conversation is far more interesting because of the dynamics at play. For once, Dom is the younger man in the room, and as a result becomes a very different character. This is clearly a situation Dom once thrived on, and watching him interact with Lynn -- and then leave to go fuck an extremely hot younger guy that's cruising -- shows us Dom at his absolute most assured (and it sure does look good on him).
And then there's Agustín, who also gets some considerable development in this episode... Into an insecure, spoiled little asshole. First, he rudely dismisses his boyfriend's sweet attempt at getting him an art show. Then, he literally tells his artist boss to fuck off after criticizing her work, getting fired (as he should have) as a result. And finally -- in the episode's most problematic scene -- he (a little too) randomly meets a sex worker at a cafe and vents to him about losing a job before taking a borderline condescending curiosity in his new friend's line of work. Which leaves little left that's redeemable about Agustín, though he also can't help but feel like an honest portrait of the kind of self-entitled artist wannabe we all (hate to) know so well.
So what about the relationships between Agustín and the seemingly much more likeable others? Dom, other than helping him move, has yet to suggest his friendship with Agustín is anything more than by association with Patrick. Patrick definitely at least appears to enjoy Agustín's company -- they have been best friends for close to a decade. But "Looking" gives us a glimpse of underlying tension via a brilliantly written scene toward the end of the episode, when Agustín comes over to Patrick's apartment to tell him that he got fired. Their conversation evolves into the following, which leaves it open to interpretation where Agustín and Patrick really stand at this point in their friendship:
Agustín: When was the last time you heard me call myself an artist?
Patrick: Oh my god, you say it all the time.
Agustín: No, I don't. I don't ever say it... Not out loud.
Patrick: I don't think that really matters. When was the last time you heard me say out loud that I'm a level designer?
Agustín: Yeah, that's different. You don't want to me known as a level designer because you want to be more than that.
Patrick (clearly looking annoyed): True.
Agustín: I can't call myself an artist, because I don't give a shit.
Patrick: You know what? I don't know if either of us are very good at being who we think we are.
As we know, sometimes the kind of friendship so rooted in history problematically becomes unconditional as people evolve, which may or may not be where "Looking" is heading with Patrick and Agustín. Either way, I find it hard to assess either as "boring" after the series' third half hour, and I'm definitely looking forward to see where the next few episodes take them.