A year after it tried to live up to an unfathomable and unfair wave of hype that crowned it the “gay” “GIRLS,” HBO's “Looking” returned for its second season Sunday night. The series began by introducing us to three “almost” best friends, Patrick (Jonathan Groff), Augustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) and Dom (Murray Bartlett) and then almost immediately sent them their separate ways for most of the first eight episodes. Augustin moved out of his apartment to be with his then boyfriend Frankie (O.T. Fagbenle), Dom seemed to mostly hang out with his own roommate, Doris (Lauren Weedman), and Patrick pretty much became the center of the show. Not what most people expected based on the TV spots and outdoor ads.
Series creator Michael Lannan and co-executive producer Andrew Haigh weaved some intriguing character arcs over the first season, but faced criticism from reviewers and viewers who, frankly, wanted the show to be something it probably never set out to be (you can probably write a dissertation on all the different pockets of the gay community who felt they were ignored in some context). Almost pointedly responding to the observation Patrick, Augustin and Dom were hardly together at the same time, season two's “Looking for Results” beings with all three headed for a weekend getaway at Lynn's cabin in the woods. It's still unclear how long its been since the dramatic events of last season's finale (we're guessing about six weeks based on a revelation in the next episode), but Dom is officially dating Lynn (Scott Bakula), Augustin is regretting leaving Frank (surprise) and Jonathan is school girl giddy over his clandestine affair with his hottie boss Kevin (Russell Tovey).
Haigh was responsible for directing the best moments of the first season and he wastes no time giving us something memorable this time around. After Doris makes a surprise visit to meet the boys, the quartet head to a forest party/rave (take your pick) and indulge in some molly. When it kicks in Haigh stages an intoxicating sequence where the friends succumb to the music and dance the night away as Sister Sledge and Nile Rodgers' disco classic “Lost in Music” plays. This sort of unexpected cinematic moment is when “Looking” is at its best. Transporting you to a moment and feeling that you don't often find on other Television shows (or most movies for that matter). No matter what notes the writing staff have on hand to correct for season two, Haigh, at least, won't let that aspect of the show falter. No one will ever fault “Looking” for lacking its own style and thank god for that.
What was more disheartening in “Results” were the strange and frustrating character choices the show continues to make. Clearly, a regular series needs conflict for an ongoing narrative, but we're not so sure these storylines are an improvement. By the end of last season Patrick might have made a foolish decision to sleep with Kevin and effectively dump the adoring Richie (the underrated Raúl Castillo), but his character had unequivocally grown from the beginning of the series. He appeared less naive and more sure of himself. The first two episodes of the new season find Patrick more neurotic and more, for lack of a better word, prissy than ever. It's not as grating as Debbie Downer Augustin was last year, but it's close enough.
Augustin is appreciatively more likable this time around even if his blunt opinions and self-destructive behavior continue to cause problems (tease for next episode). He meets a proud “bear” in Eddie (Daniel Franzese of “Mean Girls”) who invites Augustin and his friends to the previously discussed shindig. Eventually they have some fun frolicking in the river. Where will it lead? We won't find out this episode.
Dom, on the other hand, seems at peace with dating a man almost 20 years old then himself, but alludes to some distance between them as he fishes for clues of Lynn's past. This is also the first time we learn of (at least to my recollection) Dom's deceased partner Brian, who passed away at some point of AIDS. Brian is presented as the love of Lynn's life, but Dom isn't jealous. He just wants to know why Lynn won't talk about him. Clearly, the distance Dom feels between them is being set up as a source of conflict this season.
For someone who was actually a fan of most of the first eight episodes, “Looking for Results” clearly sent a couple of messages to those who love the show and those who really want it to be something else. Lannan, Haigh and crew heard your complaints, but “Looking” is a show about a specific group of friends in the Bay Area. This is what it's like, in their opinion, to live in San Francisco as a gay thirty-fortysomething gay man circa 2015. That's the show. Now, just enjoy it and get lost in the music, won't you?
Some other thoughts…
As promised more sex
You wanted more explicit HBO-esque sex? You got it. First, Dom sucks off a guy he met at the forest rave and then Patrick gets Kevin to secretly meet him in the woods for a more buzzworthy outdoor hookup (I can see the internet memes already). Patrick is still a little high on molly so he's expectedly randy, but I cringed at the shot where he's grabbing the tree trunk with his glow stick in hand and Kevin is [expletive] him. Hot, but not?
We love Doris but…
Lauren Weedman's Doris was a breath of fresh air at times last season, but if she's meant to be more consistent comic relief this time around we're not feeling it…yet. Hopefully her increased role pays dividends down the road.
So your good friend just tells you they are having an affair with their boss but…
After an adventurous night, Patrick finally admits to Dom and Augustin about his affair with Kevin. Strangely, they don't drill him with 20 questions or feign any sort of “What???” Completely understand the context, but that strained credibility just a tad.
What did you think of this week's episode? Share your thoughts below.