When I first heard HBO’s new gay show would be set in San Francisco, I thought it was a bit strange. A gay show set in San Francisco, really? What is this, 1985?
As it turns out, the creators of Looking really do seem stuck in 1985, and thus, in “Looking For $220 An Hour,” the inevitable occurs. The boys head to the Folsom Street Fair for some leather-clad fun.
Like most gay men these days, Patrick and the boys see Folsom more like a particularly naughty exhibit at Epcot Center than a celebration of an actual sexual proclivity. None of these characters, I gather, is actually into the leather scene — certainly not Patrick, who has to be coaxed to take his shirt off and wear only a leather vest, even though he’s built like Jonathan Groff. This is, again, the disconnect between the writing of Patrick and the performance of Patrick — men who look like Jonathan Groff take every opportunity at an event like Folsom to go sans shirt, yet Patrick acts like some ginormous Buddha belly is going to come popping out when he removes his T-shirt.
It’s like the entire first season was written with the idea that Louie Anderson would be playing Patrick, and then when they recast the role with Jonathan Groff, no one bothered to update the dialogue. Four episodes in, and the lead character still doesn’t make any sense. But whatever.
Folsom is a big deal in San Francisco, even for men who prefer their leather relegated to belts and boots. So it makes sense that Looking would capitalize on the event. But on the other hand, the episode takes a very touristy approach. We don’t see any of the actual leather scene or raunch that accompany the festival, so what’s the point? I’m not saying we needed a scene where Patrick decides to give fisting a whirl, but “Looking For $220/Hr” is almost maddeningly chaste. Why not give us a taste of the real Folsom Street Fair? If only to show us what our lead characters are not into?
It’s also strange that the one character on Looking who seems like he might actually get into leather — Dom — skips Folsom entirely, so he can hang out with an older gentleman who runs a flower shop and talk about chicken. Because if any of these dudes is going to go shirtless in a leather vest with shades and maybe some handcuffs dangling from his leather pants, it’s the 40-year-old with the mustache who likes to hang out in bathhouses. Even Doris goes to Folsom! (Since when have we even established that Doris even knows Patrick and Augustin, anyway?)
That’s the oddest thing about Looking. Despite the modern lingo of the title, the show is obsessed with relics of gay culture that have become all but obsolete. The series began with Patrick cruising in a park, last episode had Dom hooking up in a bathhouse, and now we’ve got Folsom. It’s not like the show’s creators are saying that all this is trendy, hip, and now, but why are we seeing so much of gay culture from 1985 and so little from 2014? We’ve officially spent more time this season in bathhouses and public parks than we have on Grindr. I suppose it’s legitimate to give a nod or two to the past, but that only works if there’s some present tense to contrast it with. So far, it feels like what these characters are really Looking for is a time machine.
At least “Looking For $220/Hr” has a few interesting developments. Scott Bakula’s Lynn represents the ghost of Gay Pride past in a way that actually makes sense — because he’s, like, kind of old. He’s already engendered more sympathy from me than any of the leads — like when he had to clarify to Dom whether or not their interaction was a date, when Dom really only wanted some fatherly wisdom (and daddy money) from him. Burn!
I hope Looking is using this relationship to explore Dom’s conflicting feelings about aging more than it is looking to use Dom’s Chicken Shack as an actual plot point. I’m always leery when TV characters decide to build their own businesses from scratch, because it’s boring, and since they’d never be able to raise the capital on their own, some tertiary character always ends up swooping in with half a million dollars to save the day. Lynn might just be that character, but there’s something interesting about the fact that Dom is in the midst of his mid-life crisis, and suddenly he latches onto an older guy so that he can be the lusted-after “twink” in the relationship. That’s sad and pathetic, but also pretty realistic. (Hooray for realism!) I’m still worried about this chicken place, though; Dom was the one guy on this show who had a non-cushy, real-world occupation that he hated. I’m more interested in Dom, the single and frustrated middle-aged waiter who hates his life than Dom, chicken shack owner extraordinaire.
Which brings me to Augustin, who has seriously failed to interest me in the slightest over the series’ entire run so far, and continues to do so in “Looking For $220/Hr.” I’m not going to argue that there aren’t plenty of people like Augustin out there, so maybe hating him is the point — Patrick calls him out on his erratic behavior in this episode, so it’s intentional on the part of the writers, but still. Having him fawn over some he-bimbo hooker at Folsom is pretty annoying, especially when the guy is going to charge him $220 an hour just to participate in whatever “art” Augustin has in mind.
Maybe that’s the problem with all these beards — they set up our expectations that these men will act like men, but really they’re all silly little boys. If that’s intentional, it’s not exactly coming through — we need Doris (or someone) to call it out, because these people are maddening! And frankly, I don’t find the studly, self-satisfied hooker CJ all that convincing, because few escorts are quite that together. Where’s the gay snarkiness? The minute after leaving his presence, Doris and Patrick and their anonymous ginger friend would have been ripping that douche bag a new one, and Augustin would be like, “Yeah, you’re right, maybe I should not spend $500 on a hooker after I just lost my job, and instead go watch YouTube with my boyfriend in Oakland. Thanks for being a friend.”
One final plot development of interest seemingly resolves itself — Patrick’s dashing boss is trying to have his cake and eat it too, by which I mean have his boyfriend and eat Patrick too. Or at least eat Thai food with Patrick when he should be home with his lover. It’s a little sad to see Patrick volunteer to work the weekend while his boss runs off to meet his boo, but it all pans out when Patrick finally grows a pair and tells his boss that he’s going to go hang with his friends instead of have an awkward office non-romance with a taken guy who clearly just wants some attention. (Sidebar: those guys are the worst.) So far we’ve really only seen Patrick throw himself at guys who probably don’t deserve him (though whether or not Patrick is such a prize, I can’t be sure). So it’s nice that he showed a little self-respect and went off to meet Doris and the boys… and… Richie! Unexpectedly.
(Well, not that unexpectedly for the audience, who are probably guessing that there’s more to come in the Patrick And Richie Saga.) Richie confirms that he’s still circumcised, Patrick kind of apologizes for being a jerk, and they dance! It’s sort of cute, and the more everyone else on this show annoys me, the more appealing an alternative Richie seems.
In “Looking For $220/Hr,” Augustin contemplates being a whore, Dom hits up a potential sugar daddy (or, perhaps, a sugar grandpa in his case), and Patrick tells the man who’s paying him to suck it (“it” being his boyfriend) while he goes to hang with his friends. It’s all about money… kind of!
And leather, I guess.