Screen: HBO

Apparently, Looking Just Needed More Bakula

In Episode 3, Looking finally has a voice of its own.

My husband and I are so serious about TV that we have house rules to cover everything from how to watch Jeopardy! to which series one of us can watch without the other. (Honestly, I don't see how any relationship can last without such guidelines, but I'll save that discussion for my new series Tube Love, coming soon to Oxygen.)

Our most valuable house rule is the one that requires us to watch at least four episodes of any promising series. It often takes that long for a new show to find its footing, so if a halfway decent program seems a little wobbly in its first few installments, we're willing to give it time. This frequently pays off: we were initially cool on Masters Of Sex, for instance, but after a "month of patience," it became one our favorite shows.

And now...happy days! After a mere three episodes, Looking has transitioned from "show we have reservations about" to "show we're excited to watch next week."

Let me explain, and let me also drop the "we," since I won't presume to speak for my beloved on these issues.

After the pilot, I was worried that Looking was going to focus on nothing but the sex and dating lives of its characters, but in this week's installment, all three of the main dudes contextualize their sex drives and romantic quests.

Put another way, they still have crotches, but now they have brains and hearts and guts.

The new wrinkles instantly make the series more specific. Now, Patrick isn't some random thirtysomething who fumbles around in love. He's also an artist who cares about his work designing videogames, tends to stick both feet in his mouth around his boss, and is not afraid to make a gender-equality argument about home entertainment systems. Now that is a guy whose love life could be interesting.

Another evolution: after Agustin gets fired from his job for telling his boss that her art really sucks, he runs into a hustler who charges $220 an hour, and Agustin's response isn't sexual. Instead, he envies the guy for his professional pride and personal freedom. Say what you will about the efficacy a prostitute's business model, it's still a refreshing surprise for a show to frame a male escort as a symbol of professional (instead of sexual) desire. Compare this gay prostitute to Hunter on Queer As Folk, who embodied every "tragic gay runaway" cliché and eventually had sex with a politician in order to frame him. That's a fairly obvious development, since it focuses on how the prostitute uses his genitals. Conversely, Agustin is mostly impressed that the guy he meets has nice business cards. And yes, sexual politics remain inherent here, but they're part of a bigger, messier picture.

Along those lines, I'm especially engaged by the collision of sex, work, and personal growth that occurs when Dom hits the steam room and meets Lynn, a successful florist. Dom has been trying to get support for the restaurant he wants to open, but so far, no one is biting. But when he and Lynn are towel-wrapped and sweaty, they start talking about goals and dreams and such, and it seems to inspire him.

Interestingly — and knowingly — the dudes do not talk about hooking up with each other. (Even though both of them are FINE. Hello, Scott Bakula! Take a quantum leap to my house!) In this unabashedly queer space, there's still a tingle of sexual energy, but there are other things at work, and all sides of the conversation are enlivened by the others. Again, I want to watch a show that knows how to creatively merge sexuality and romance with the other things that make people people.

And the fact that Dom ends the scene by heading off to have sex with some anonymous dude just adds more texture to his encounter with Lynn. Lynn seems happier than Dom, after all, and he's the one who sits there alone. Should Dom learn something from that?

Who can say? We're too early in the story to draw conclusions. I'm just glad I hung on long enough to see the story really get started.

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