“Looking At Your Browser History” gets off to an awkward start, in the bad way at first, as Patrick and Owen act far drunker (or is it dorkier?) than they ought to be at the party to celebrate the completion of their video game aboard the U.S.S. Hornet. As established, Patrick is cute by default, so saluting guards and objectifying caterers is trying too hard. And these are the best seamen jokes the writers could come up with? At least Patrick acknowledges that he was straddling a torpedo in his meet-cute with Kevin (Russell Tovey), although for him the emphasis is on the strange position that throws him off his game. Which is certainly one excuse for why he suggests hooking up with what turns out to be his not single boss. What’s really salient about the torpedoes, though, is all that power between Kevin’s legs. That and how he wins the arm-wrestling contest against Patrick in what I was hoping was some kind of Querelle-based video game at the exact moment their real-life power imbalance comes out. And that’s how Patrick comes to believe his days at that company are numbered, so that an episode about unemployment can start water-testing all those “gay Girls” descriptions.
The next morning Agustín gets fired for real after some bullshit entrapment by the artist behind the erotic furniture tornado. In fact, Agustín’s the only one in the group who’s actually unemployed, but Patrick does like to talk about himself, and it is pretty funny that Patrick misreads flirting as firing. Anyway, Agustín’s drowning his sorrows in cake and milk, when an escort notices the black cloud.
“Crappy day?” asks the escort.
“I got fired so...”
“Would you like a job?”
“Then it’s a good day.”
I think there are other factors, but sure, that’s one way to look at it, at least for the time being. Patrick tries the same pitch on Owen. They’ll be free to start over the way they want to, to build something of their own! Unemployment is an opportunity! Owen doesn’t see it that way. Neither does the cook Dom approaches about joining his restaurant based on chicken, the meat to beat according to Patrick who doesn’t hear himself. She can’t leave her own job without security in Dom’s new venture. And seeing as she’s the first person Dom’s talked to about it, it’s still rather hypothetical. Hard to feel the pleasures of all that freedom when you have to scramble to make next month’s rent and can’t rely on your parents, Hannah.
Looking has made a habit of plotting the three guys on a spectrum, whether in addressing their own insecurities or in the case of Sex v. Intimacy. In “Looking At Your Browser History,” written by creator Michael Lannan and executive producer Andrew Haigh, they play tug-of-war in their responses to unemployment. Agustín wallows. It kind of kills me that he doesn’t talk to Frank after getting fired, especially after Frank tries to get him a showing somewhere, tries to get him to feel like an artist again. What does it mean to be an artist, anyway? How long until you become a former artist? Looking is obsessed with these questions of authenticity. Agustín eats alone, he opens up to a stranger, he commiserates with his best bud. He still hasn’t spoken to Frank by the end, instead fingering the escort’s business card as he apparently considers a different kind of freelancing. Dom is once again the man in the middle. He’s trying to make his dream happen, to become a restaurateur, but the first obstacle sends him fleeing to the closest bottom. And Patrick, well, Patrick finally looks inward. “I don’t think either of us are very good at being who we think we are,” he tells Agustín.
Truer words, huh? For almost three episodes, Patrick’s been trying to be someone else to disastrous results. It takes the loss of not love or lust but livelihood to get through to him. So how does he respond to that self-evaluation? He manages to delete his OKCupid account, close the Facebook page for Esta Noche, even deny himself Richie’s smiling face on the banner, and buckle down on his video game designs to prove to Kevin that he can balance work and play. In the grand tradition of dancing to Erasure, this small act is kind of a big deal.
Ever since The Sopranos it’s been so fashionable to assert the nigh impossibility of personal change, which is mostly just lying to oneself anyway according to television’s finest. Girls finds a lot of comedy in its characters’ inability to make the responsible choice. Hannah, Jessa, and Marnie tend to drown in disappointments, almost totally incapable of helping themselves. Enlightened goes a different way, thriving in the tension between Amy Jellicoe’s idealized, aware, almost projected self and her unenlightened, vulgar, selfish self. For Amy, change is possible, but it’s not really that simple. It’s a constant struggle. Her best moment comes on the heels of her worst. Looking is just beginning, but it’s clearly picking up the baton from its time slot predecessor Enlightened rather than Girls. At the end, Patrick presents Kevin with some female-playable technobabble that he’s been working on all night to prove that he’s up to the task of working on the new game Kevin’s overseeing. It’s not as exhilarating as Patrick meeting Richie outside a club, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Patrick finally nails a social interaction.
Turns out Kevin had always intended to put Patrick and Owen on the new game. Not that he was testing Patrick, at least not on the level of the trap Agustín walks into. But it seems to me Dom’s right. Kevin prowls the office keeping an eye on Patrick. He prints out Patrick’s Internet records. “Do you realize we log all of your internet activity here? And it seems you’ve been visiting certain websites a lot, OKCupid and, um, is it Man Cunt?” If Patrick were a little more collected, he’d realize that Kevin’s being familiar, not formal. All signs suggest Kevin is pretty into Patrick. Get a load of the subtext fighting its way to the surface in the final scene. First Kevin tells Patrick that he was always going to be on his team, which is Human Resources for “It’s always been you.” Next he says, “Commitment looks good on you.” Then that Patrick’ll have to be available 24/7. And in the final line of the episode, he says, “Alright,” tossing Patrick a controller. “Let’s play.” The credits roll on another surge of emotion to “Black Belt” by John Grant (whom you may recognize from Weekend) feat. Biggi Veira. The Looking titles have better timing than many sitcoms, the episodes stirring up such excitement and then cutting to black so we’re drooling for the next one already.
What’s really impressive is how each episode, all of which have been directed by Haigh, has a defining shot type. The first episode is about the two-shot, that hard-fought representation of two guys actually coming together. The second is about the long shot, those immersive sequences where the audience soaks up the moment. “Looking At Your Browser History” is about the rack focus. Even when two guys do share a shot, only one is clearly visible at a time. With the focus veering between Patrick and Kevin in one scene and Agustín and the escort the next (Dom and Lynn get good old-fashioned one-shots, but the effect is similar), you can’t help but feel the ping pong, the flirty back and forth of two strangers getting to know one each other. Patrick speaks, Kevin reacts, Kevin speaks, Patrick reacts. Everything else fades into the background.
- Love the way Patrick tries to have a conversation with Kevin while playing the game: “Do you play as the—fuuuuck yoooouuu—do you play as the...” Also the way Patrick smiles with no teeth when he finds out Kevin’s gay because Owen chastised him about showing too much teeth earlier.
- I will never get tired of Patrick embarrassing himself. “We never have any gay guys around here, not that I’m suggesting that we’re gonna hook up of course.” “Of course.” “Unless, you know, I let you win a couple more games.” “Well I have a boyfriend.” “Right. I was just trying to be funny anyway.”
- Great moments in gay non sequiturs: When the conversation about Agustín showing his work somewhere gets too uncomfortable, Frank abruptly mutters to himself, “I need to work out more.”
- Agustín tells the truth: “Look at it. It’s a bunch of furniture stacked up. It has no meaning, it’s got no perspective, it’s like a chair apocalypse.” At least the unicorn with a cock inside it makes you feel something.
- This week in city superiority: Patrick: “And what’s wrong with having a life outside of work? This is San Francisco. It’s why I live here. If I didn’t want to have a life I’d move to LA.” Dom: “Then you could hang out with Ethan and use Eastern philosophy to justify being a dick.”
- Relatedly, check out the San Franciscowear on the way to the gym, Dom in his Giants hoodie and Doris in her Golden Gate sweater. And while we’re on the subject, check out the location photography, all hilly streets and cold light. This doesn’t feel like New York, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Chicago, New Orleans, or, you’ll have to trust me because nobody cares enough to film it, Houston. Looking is bringing television back to another major city. The Bay Area is crucial to the experience.
- The escort describes how some people are good at math and become accountants. “I’m useless at numbers, but I’m very good at sex, so.” Agustín marvels: “You just put it out there.”
- I love the romance, but seeing the friends together is always great. Patrick gets home and finds Agustín on his couch. “What the fuck are you doing here?” “I had a bad fuckin’ day.” “Oh, good, me, too.” Okay, that feels like Girls. But that moment on the couch where Agustín has smelly feet and Patrick orders Thai is so honest and has nothing to do with anything. They take all their make-up off when they’re together, those post-Thai close-ups doing no wonders for either actor. Eventually they get to talking about Kevin. Patrick asks, “Would you have sex with him?” “...Yeah.” “Really? With those ears?”
- As for the escort, Patrick wonders if he could appeal to clients who fetishize thighs, if there are such people. Which is like asking if people fetishize butts, but sure, Patrick, that can be your thing.
- Meanwhile Dom’s meeting another recurring character, Scott Bakula’s florist Lynn. He doesn’t do much here besides bitch about the good old days of bathhouse sex, but he does make loose plans to get lunch with Dom, which is not a euphemism yet.