To refresh the memories of those who didn’t watch the first season: Patrick (Jonathan Groff) is the clean-shaven one who botched his relationship with a nice boy and then started sleeping with his partnered boss, Dom (Murray Bartlett) is the mustachioed older dude who has an even older boyfriend (Lynn) but likes sex with younger men, and Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) is the bearded one with a self-destructive side. The first eight episodes, though met with acclaim from many in the gay community, were also dogged by criticism: it was sexless, not “gay” enough, and (most dreaded of all) boring.
A new era dawns in the sophomore season’s premiere when the three leads decide to have a cozy weekend away in Lynn’s cabin. I mean, sure, that doesn’t sound like an auspicious start, but that’s just a lighthearted meta-jab at the critics. “Get it, guys? We’re doing something dull!” There’s actually a scene in which the three main characters play Monopoly, the uncontested champion of tedium disguised as entertainment. That is straight-up writer-on-audience trolling.
Unlike last year, however, Babyface and Mustache are pretty open about their disapproval of Beardo’s constant misbehavior. Though they avoid the flailing melodrama that would tempt so many other shows, they’re at least cognizant enough of his constant petulance to do things like casually chide him for his sass and wimpily suggest that maybe we won’t drink this weekend. Ag’s personality has also cooled down a little since last season, so he seems more believably like your slightly misguided friend and less like the neighborhood sex-addicted sociopath.
Which is not to say that the characters aren’t still up to their old tricks. Patrick remains the naïve boy scout he always was. He wants to walk through the forest to see an old tree; when the group kayaks past a clothing-optional beach, he clutches his imaginary pearls. Agustin, on the other hand, might as well be building a Fleshlight out of the pot he promised he wouldn’t bring on the trip. He wants to get fucked against the old tree (and every other tree); when they kayak past the clothing-optional beach, he clenches his imaginary anal beads. Dom is more pensive on the trip, perhaps because the writers are still figuring him out, but perhaps because that outer calm is what it looks like when you have your shit together. I honestly wouldn’t know.
Things get interesting when Dom’s roommate Doris magically materializes at the cabin. The complete absence of logical explanation for her arrival makes her seem like the group’s foul-mouthed fairy godmother, which is probably the best way to sum her up. She slices through everyone’s façade with more insight and humor than most other shows could cook up in an entire season. This is a woman who could make Monopoly exciting. And, like any good fairy godmother, she’s going to turn the night around.
In another “we can hear you” moment from the writers, Doris leads our motley crew into the woods for an all-night drug binge ass blast marathon. Here’s all the sex you wanted in season one! Because if there’s anything lesbians love, it’s open-air man-on-man orgies. Patrick switches inexplicably from “let’s not drink” to “sure, Molly sounds fantastic,” and then proceeds to convince his boss (Russell Tovey, whose ears all of my Facebook friends want to sodomize) to drive to meet him so they can have more ill-advised fluid exchange. Dom’s pectorals (who should really get separate billing in the credits they’re so magnificent) come out to play, and then he goes down on a dude who mistakes Lynn for his father. Though he doesn’t freak out in the moment, you have to wonder if that comment will shatter the cool exterior he’s been portraying. Gays and aging don’t always mix well.
Agustin, however, gets the most surprising overnight encounter. Escaping from the mayhem, he starts making positive life choices by connecting in a genuine way with a handsome heavyset gentleman (Mean Girls‘ Daniel Franzese) who works with at-risk gay youth. The fact that he can overlook his suitor’s size (large) and HIV status (positive) says a lot about the emotional growth that must have happened over the summer. Old Ag would have spoken to this man only to tear him down; New Ag goes romantically skinny dipping with him instead. (If Big Bear Boyfriend didn’t have a beard, though, I feel like he might have struck out.)
With the next morning’s sunrise comes the sobering truth. Patrick has to confess that butt stuff with his supposedly-in-a-monogamous-relationship workplace superior is not his brightest-ever idea. Dom has to recognize that he’s in love with an old dude who has a really ugly portrait of himself on display in the living room. Agustin has to go through that thing at the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas where his heart grows two sizes. The audience has hope that Doris made it home OK, because she doesn’t appear in the final montage. Don’t worry, she’s probably not dead. This isn’t a season of American Horror Story. Then again, they are making a lot of changes around here…