Following months of hype and nearly unprecedented anticipation from the LGBT community, it’s perhaps inevitable that some gay viewers were disappointed by Looking when it premiered in January. It seems they weren’t prepared for the deliberately-paced naturalism of the first few episodes. Many, however, continued watching through the next few episodes hoping in the back of their minds that it would get better. Then…it did!
The past two episodes have been lively enough to restore faith in those who doubted the show and to make all of us look forward to the recently announced season two. If you were one of the viewers who looked elsewhere after the first few episodes, here are five reasons you should reconsider:
1. Episode 5: Looking For The Future
For many, Looking finally clicked into place with the fifth episode. Taking place directly after Patrick and Richie’s reconnection at the end of episode 4 (after a misunderstanding about Richie’s circumsized penis), it plays like the short and sweet gay romantic comedy/drama you’ve never seen. The chemistry between Groff and Castillo is natural, the writing is strong and the conversations about HIV anxiety and “bottom shaming” were refreshing and honest.
These 30 minutes are when Looking finally found its footing and earned the labels of “fresh” and “groundbreaking” that were thrown at it a bit prematurely based solely on those uneven first four episodes. Bonus points for that sex scene. It was both very sexy and just a little bit awkward. You know, kind of like real sex.
2. Murray Bartlett as Dom
Aging in the gay community is not a topic that is dealt with very often. The majority of gay characters in television and film are either young hotties or old sages, and there are very few representations of those in the middle. Right in between those extremes is Murray Bartlett’s Dom, Looking’s embodiment of what happens when the hot gay party boy hits 40 and has nothing to show for it but empty hookups and a ton of regret.
The beauty of Bartlett’s performance is how he handles the subtle indignities the character faces: making that awkwardly rejected pass at Scott Bakula’s Lynn or realizing that the druggie ex boyfriend he spent thousands to send to rehab has become a wildly successful businessman. Watching a 40 year old gay man struggling to build a successful career and take a shot at having a stable relationship with someone his own age is something we’ve never really seen before, and Bartlett makes every moment of it compelling.
3. The Racial Diversity Of The Characters
In hindsight, it’s easy to see why Looking was criticized for a supposed lack of racial diversity when it was first announced. The promotional materials emphasized three very white-looking leads (of course, Frankie J. Alvarez is Latino) and the WASP-ily delicious Jonathan Groff definitely took the lead in the media push for the show. In 2014, an all-white cast of anything that is supposed to be contemporary seems extremely dated. However, once the show started going along the true diversity of the cast began to take shape, and this was diversity that had a real place in the plots of the show. Richie and Patrick first broke up because of a misunderstanding about “uncut Latin cock” that definitely seemed to be a bit of a stretch but it spoke to racial differences between whites and Latinos.
Richie’s ethnicity is a big part of that character, and their differences are ripe for some deep exploration that Looking doesn’t seem to be hiding from. While Agustin’s black boyfriend Frank is still at this point dreadfully underwritten, his presence gives us hope that perhaps the racial differences between he and Agustin can be explored at some point. There was also some very subtle tension between the Cuban-American Agustin and the Mexican-American Richie in episode 6 that was quite interesting. If the Looking writers can explore that a bit more and also make Frank more than just a supportive boyfriend archetype, it truly will become one of the most diverse gay shows ever.
4. The Strong Supporting Cast
Patrick is “adorkable,” but also childish and annoying. At this point, Agustin is pretty much a sociopath. With two lead characters that leave audiences so sharply divided in opinion, a good supporting cast is in order, and Looking definitely provides that. Lauren Weedman’s Doris is earthy and witty, and her relationship with Dom is a step forward from a lot of straight woman/gay guy relationships we’ve seen depicted. She treats him not as a fashion accessory or as a problem to solve, but with the kind of tough love that someone like Dom needs.
Russell Tovey is sexy enough to coast by on charm and a British accent, but Raul Castillo as Richie is so natural a presence that he grounds the show arguably even more than any of the leads. If Patrick and Richie don’t work out (and the promotion of both Tovey and Castillo to series regular status seems to hint at a love triangle on the horizon) we’d be happy to see Richie looking for love on his own. Also, Scott Bakula is amazing. Duh.
5. Surprise! Gay People Worry About Money, Too
When was the last time you saw a gay character on a television show mention anything about money that didn’t have to deal with spending outrageous amounts of it on clothes or a luxury vacation? Take your time, we can wait. One of the many pleasures of episode 6 was the show’s very explicit depiction of the different class issues that the characters face. Dom, facing down the barrel of 40 as a restaurant waiter, basically grovels to a wealthy gay couple to get a loan to open his dream restaurant. When confronted with his successful boss’s even more successful boyfriend (a doctor!) Patrick’s class anxieties about his relationship with Richie surface.
For just a moment, the fact that the sweet and sensitive guy he’s dating is a barber and doorman doesn’t seem to be good enough. Those anxieties are stoked by the typically horrible Agustin, who suggests that Patrick is “slumming” with Richie. We’ve become so inundated with the image of the gay man as wildly rich and successful that we seem to forget that most gays are neither fabulously wealthy nor practically destitute. Looking’s exploration of class is a nice change of pace, especially for those of us who may sometimes feel a bit out of place in Gay World if we don’t know Hermes from H&M.
So there you have it, five perfectly good reasons to watch the best gay-themed show on the air right now. We know a lot of you hated that pilot. But trust us…it gets better.