By Kevin OKeeffe
Originally published on Advocate.com February 17 2014 2:13 AM ET
You have to give Looking a hand: It's managed to win over critics who were apathetic at the outset. The biggest noise HBO's gay dramedy made in its first episodes was about how boring it was — not the best press. Though we thought it had promise as early as those episodes, it really caught fire in the third week, and even the fourth episode was solid, if not up to that standard.
But this week's episode is enough to give pause to our increasing fondness. Unlike the past four episodes, this week's focused solely on two characters: Patrick (Jonathan Groff) and his new boyfriend Richie (Raúl Castillo). While a whole episode about Dom (Murray Bartlett) and Lynn (Scott Bakula) might be able to sustain such focus, so much attention on Patrick comes with so many feelings, so much talking and very little action, as journalist Mark Harris astutely pointed out on Twitter.
Not that feelings are bad, of course. This episode is sexy, and the characters' conversation taught us a lot about Patrick and Richie. But Groff and Castillo's conversational chemistry is only strong enough to keep the episode afloat for so long without drowing in all the chatter. Here were some specific moments that left us talked out:
Patrick and Richie's pillow talk
It's the morning, and we learn two things really quickly: one being that Patrick's morning routine when he's at another guy's place involves brushing his teeth with his finger, which is kinda gross and seems out of character for him. The other, made plainly clear when we get a shot of Jonathan Groff's ass, is that this is The Sexy Episode. We see Patrick showering, we see Richie playing the bass naked — and of course, things quickly escalate from there. More on that in a moment. The two kiss for a bit, then they talk (get ready to see that four-letter word quite a bit) about how Patrick has to go to work. But Richie doesn't want him to go to work. Patrick whines that Richie always makes him late for work — so they've been dating for a little while since our last episode, it seems. But then they kiss some more, then talk some more, and it all ends with Patrick leaving to go to work.
Things get sexy — but stay talky
Psych! Patrick comes back and things get naughty. Richie blows Patrick in bed, then manages to force Jonathan Groff to make that very actorly surprised face you see above when he starts rimming him. While featuring a rimjob on this show is surprisingly groundbreaking — and sexy — the two soon realize they've been doing way too much, so they hit a diner and resume talking. They talk mostly about how Richie doesn't usually rim guys, then Patrick talks about how safe he usually is when he has sex, then Richie reveals his ex-boyfriend was HIV-positive and it's all totally fine. Just fine. It's two pretty boys flirting, you can almost hear HBO shout. What more could you want?
Patrick and Richie talk some more
Apparently, HBO thought it heard us say "more talking," because that's what we got. Richie gets Patrick to skip work, so they go on an adventure through San Francisco. Gotta give it to these two dynamos: they manage to make San Francisco look dull as dirt. They walk, talk, get a hot dog, talk, walk, go to a planetarium (more on that later), walk, talk, walk, talk, wash, rinse, repeat. It's all very pretty and fine and nice, but even in their most fascinating, sparkling moments of conversation — Richie talking about coming out to his dad is particularly compelling — interest fades fast.
Patrick and Richie talk even more
This is as good a place as any to point out the make-or-break criteria for liking this episode: we are clearly supposed to already be in love with Richie, and we should be falling harder for him every moment of this episode. But if you're not on the Richie train — say, you were a bit more of a Kevin (Russell Tovey) fan — this episode probably isn't doing what it needs to, largely because it assumes you'll love seeing just these characters for an uninterrupted 30 minutes. That's why an ensemble helps a show like this: If you don't love the A-plot, you can focus on plots B and C. If Carrie's with a guy you don't like, hang out with Samantha for a while. Removing Dom and Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez) and focusing on the much more polarizing Patrick makes this a love-it-or-hate-it installment.
Patrick and Richie almost do something, then just talk and leave to go talk some more instead
I should give the Looking team some credit: Patrick and Richie almost do something interesting! Richie goes to a spiritual woman — his señora, he calls her — for Patrick to learn about his future. (The episode is called "Looking For The Future," after all.) But Patrick, afraid of the future despite his pretty great present, can't bear to go through with it. Richie, who's just spent a good deal of the episode slowly pushing Patrick out of his comfort zone, understands and leaves with him. So we'll give points where points are due: the theme of the episode was fairly well-executed. And some clearly enjoyed it. We just can't help but wish the equally future-averse Dom could have helped shoulder some of the narrative burden. (Agustín is also afraid of the unknown, we should note, but a breather from his bad energy was one of the best parts of this episode.)
BONUS: The one bit of talk everyone will obsess over
There was a major talking point in this episode that felt fresh and like unexplored ground: when Patrick and Richie talked at the planetarium about bottom-shaming. It still managed to be kind of irritating (Richie's label-free approach to sex is great, but maybe a bit unrealistic in 2014?), but a sex-positive conversation about fluidity in role-selection among two gay guys who really feel something for each other is pretty incredible. Even in its dullest moments, Looking manages to unveil a rare gem.
Follow Kevin O'Keeffe on Twitter @kevinpokeeffe.