HBO’s San Francisco–set dramedy Looking is 80 percent about food. Characters glop Thai noodles onto each other’s plates, slurp down cereal, lean over and feed each other tidbits of Mexican food. They debate the merits of fried chicken and explain their various food preferences to one another. Are you hungry? Can I cook for you? Can I take you to lunch? On an artsier show, the food might be a metaphor for meeting each other’s needs. Looking, however, is a very straight-forward show. And that’s why Scott Bakula’s supporting character Lynn is the show’s stand-out: He’s the most direct of everyone on the show. Looking is still finding its way, but last night’s episode was deeply encouraging, thanks to Mr. Quantum Leap himself.
On last week’s installment, Dom (Murray Bartlett) met Lynn in a steam room, and the two bantered gently for a scene. It was light and charming and flirtatious, and in a departure from the rest of the show, it wasn’t cynical or self-conscious. The rest of the show is intentionally hyperaware of itself, since our protagonist Patrick (Jonathan Groff) is anxious and unsettled, and Gus (Frankie J. Alvarez) and Frank (O.T. Fagbenle) are similarly unmoored despite a seemingly stable romantic relationship. They’re all “looking” for themselves, if you will. So Lynn, who has definitely already found himself, stands out just in terms of contrast, but also as a welcome relief from the navel-gazing that haunts everyone else.
It doesn’t hurt that he and Dom have vivid chemistry, or that while he’s dreamily explaining business loans, our other characters are standing around literally smelling each other’s shit. You ever hear someone say they just want to date “a grown-up”? This is what he or she is talking about. Patrick and his boss Kevin (Russell Tovey) are pretty clearly going to hook up, and it’s pretty clearly going to be a disaster: You shouldn’t hook up with your boss, and especially not when he has a boyfriend. On the flip side, Dom and Lynn are pretty clearly going to hook up, too, but that seems like it has the potential to be great, once Dom gets over himself and admits he has the hots for Lynn. (Which he so, so does.) Maybe they could have an honest adult relationship! That would be nice for both of them.
I’m not quite enamored with Looking just yet, in large part because of a deep personal aversion to the sounds of people eating, but also because most of its characters still feel very two-dimensional to me. (And Gus’s infatuation with a sex worker feels like warmed-over Six Feet Under stories from twelve years ago.) But deep character development in four half-hour episodes is extremely rare. From here on out, let Looking’s mission be thus: Less eating, more Bakula.