We’re now officially more than halfway through Looking‘s first season, and we’ve finally gotten the series’ first pretty great episode.
Sure, Looking‘s detractors can still complain that nothing happens — in fact, even less happens on a plot level in “Looking For The Future” than does in previous episodes — but that’s by design. Looking cuts out all the side characters to focus exclusively on Patrick and his developing romance with Richie, finally giving us some insight into the show’s lead.
It’s no coincidence that “Looking For The Future” was written and directed by Andrew Haigh, who was one of the series’ most promising elements in its inception. Andrew Haigh also wrote and directed Weekend, one of the best “gay” movies in recent years, and also one of the best romances. Up until now, Looking displayed only a few of the qualities that made Weekend so great — whereas “Looking For The Future” seems like a specific and self-conscious attempt to replicate that movie’s charms precisely.
Original? Not really. But it works.
The episode finds Patrick and Richie in bed together, at some point after their chance meeting at Folsom. Patrick tries to shower without waking Richie, but instead finds himself serenaded from Richie’s bed with a bass. They chat and cuddle, Patrick says he really has to go to work (about five times), and leaves… then promptly returns to Richie’s apartment to play hooky. It’s Patrick Murray’s Day Off, everybody!
Patrick and Richie spend their day mostly wandering around, eating, and checking out the sky in an observatory, underneath the “stars.” Along the way, we learn that Richie’s last boyfriend was HIV positive, Patrick has “bottom shame,” Patrick is perhaps more cautious than the average gay, and that he also had a preteen crush on Sean Astin in Goonies. It’s typical early-date stuff, until Richie convinces Patrick to see a psychic who uses eggs to read the future. (They leave before the actual reading.) Looking has previously depicted dates going awkwardly awry, but it’s harder us a date that’s actually going really well, yet we can see on both Patrick and Richie how much fun they’re having. We, by extension, are also having fun, like we’re right along on that date with them.
As in Weekend, most of the pleasures of “Looking For The Future” stem from our witnessing two men genuinely falling for each other, which is still a pretty rare thing in film and television these days. In all the noise about coming out and hooking up and marriage equality, that initial connection between two gay men often gets lost in the ether, but that‘s what it’s all about.
And that, I daresay, is what Looking should be about — not bathhouses and public parks and antiquated sexual practices, not developing a crush on a hooker and deciding whether or not to be one yourself, and not about uncut penises. All that is fine, I guess, but what has always been missing from Looking is what we finally find in “Looking For The Future” — a specific sense of who these characters are, and some actual chemistry between them. We learn so much more about Patrick through Richie than we ever learned in his reasonably hollow interactions with Dom and Augustin (a friendship trio that still doesn’t really make sense to me). I’m not sure it’s quite enough to make Patrick a fully likable leading man yet, but I liked him just fine in this episode.
It’s the sort of information that we probably should have had in the pilot — I don’t know that something like “Looking For The Future” really could have worked as a pilot episode, but it has the warmth and ease and charm and specificity that has been missing so far for so many of us. Looking has largely been a disappointment because gay men wanted to see themselves represented on TV, and instead we got some strange bearded folk from the 80s that didn’t really represent us at all. Who are these people? we wondered. We kind of recognized them, but found only a fraction of ourselves in them. It was all so hesitant and tepid, especially for a show on HBO. And that’s not really the gay way of doing things.
“Looking For The Future” isn’t necessarily more titillating or splashier than preceding episodes; in fact, it’s far more intimate. But it’s bolder in the sense that it’s unlike any other episode of TV I can think of. The sex scenes aren’t attention-grabbing or “hot”; it’s an actual depiction of what’s going down between two guys who really like each other, which is a lot more daring than a three-way or a Grindr hookup or a bathhouse dalliance or whatever else Looking has been depicting this season. Queer As Folk already did that stuff, and it’s been done elsewhere too. Looking can get away with some of that sexy stuff, but ironically, it isn’t that that feels like a revelation. It’s the stuff two men talk about on their second or third date. It’s the moment they realize they’re both former fatties. It’s one man sharing his love for his favorite movie, and the other admitting he hasn’t seen it. Sounds like mundane stuff, but Andrew Haigh is typically very good at making the mundane feel insightful. This is what Looking‘s audience is likely to connect to.
There are fewer emotional obstacles in “Looking For The Future” than in Weekend, and the characters are still a little less developed, and also contrast less. Patrick likes Richie, and Richie likes Patrick, and there’s nothing exactly stopping them from being together. But sometimes it works like that. The pilot episode was titled “Looking For Now,” which I guess is what Patrick was doing then, stuck in the present and not open to changing up his options in hopes of finding something unexpected; now, in the aptly-titled “Looking for The Future,” this show is finally going somewhere.
(Sidenote: it was a good night of TV on HBO, with a rather stellar episode of Girls, too, that also ended up being pretty gay, with Andrew Rannells reprising his role as Elijah and bringing a cadre of gay boys — including Danny Strong — along to the Hamptons. There’s even a musical number!)
I find myself looking forward to the future of Looking moreso than I have in the past, and yet I also know that Augustin and Dom will be back next week, and so will the traditional format of the show. (Episodes of TV shows that focus exclusively on a few key characters and cut out the rest of the cast always feel special, and are usually very good.) I worry that “Looking For The Future” is just an anomaly, and next week we’ll go back to having no real grasp on who these people are. Do we need an all-Augustin episode, too, to see that there’s more to him than being a silly bitch? (If there even is…)
Regardless, “Looking For The Future” gives us some indication that Looking can actually be the show it should be. That it can form believable connections between people. That these characters actually have layers and more on their minds than meets the eye.
For once, the future of Looking is actually looking pretty bright.