The lesson that shows like Looking has learned from its predecessors is not to insult the intelligence of its viewers. You can drop the audience right in the center of things, and they will get caught up. And they know that you can tell almost everything you need to know about a character from their first appearance onscreen.
In the case of Patrick, one of the show’s principle figures, he arrives in the picture tentatively trekking into the woods for an anonymous sexual encounter. Or it would be anonymous if he wouldn’t stop nervously chattering and then running away the moment his cell phone rings.
By the time the first five minutes of the debut episode have wrapped up, we are already deeply into the lives of the characters. As well as Patrick, there is his soon-to-be-ex roommate, Agustin (he decides early on to move in with his boyfriend, Frank), and their mutual friend, Dom, an older man still living with his ex-girlfriend (or is it wife?) and desperate enough for some intimacy that he considers reconnecting with his potentially unstable ex.
What happens for the next 20 minutes is an understated telling of the world that these three men circulate in. For Agustin, that is working as an artist’s assistant and stumbling into a three-way with Frank and another man brought in to help put the finishing touches on a sculpture. Dom, on the other hand, gets rejected by a young fellow waiter at work.
The majority of this week’s episode belongs to Patrick. Although he doesn’t admit it, he’s reeling from the news that his ex is getting married (and invited him to the bachelor party), and in a fit of desperation spends his free time on OkCupid looking for dates. His only potential suitor rejects him soon into their meetup, leaving him further spinning. The light at the end of the episode comes in the form of Richie, a charming young Latino who chats him up on the MUNI train.
Of the three, Patrick is the one who rebounds best, and strangely via some encouragement from his ex-boyfriend (who he runs into at the urinals in a club bathroom). Agustin and Frank’s post-coitus discussion on the couch is fraught (“Are we one of those couples now?” Frank asks) and could lead to some potential trouble in later episodes; and Dom’s attempt to “find some blonde slut” to help him rebound from earlier ends with him leaving a message for his ex, Ethan. Patrick, instead, wanders to the club where Richie is working and we only get to see a small tidbit of their second encounter together, but it’s the perfect amount to leave us wanting more.
For all the chatter that I’ve been reading online, with advance viewers frustrated that Looking is only looking at the gay experience from a white perspective, my expectations were low going into this first episode. But the narrative economy of writer Michael Lannan and the spotless direction of Andrew Haigh were as delightful as a surprise as I’ve had during this season. Even with only one episode to go on, I’m already feeling that Looking could prove to be a bright jewel in HBO’s already gleaming TV crown.