Sunday, January 11, 2015

Premium-Cable Premiere Night brings us the return of "Looking" and "Episodes"


HBO's trailer for Season 2 of Looking -- the new season launches tonight.

by Ken

It's Premium-Cable Premiere Night tonight, meaning most importantly the start of the new seasons of HBO's Looking (Season 2) and Showtime's Episodes (Season 4), both of which had simply spectacular seasons last time out. At the same time it's possible to be cautiously optimistic about the return of Showtime's Shameless for Season 5, in which (I see from the promos) the Gallaghers will be grappling with the onset of gentrification in their heretofore lost-and-forgotten slice of Chicago. And HBO has a new series called Togetherness that looks to be worth at least a look.

Then there are HBO's Grrlz and Showtime's House of Lies, which I know will be welcomed back by their devoted fans. And I suppose a case could be made that, because they deal almost exclusively with characters so vile and obnoxious that one could hardly wish enough bad things to happen to them, and not nearly enough do, they are truer representations of real life. However, I had the misfortune, while rewatching the whole of Season 1 of Loving, of being subjected to endless repetitions of the promo for the new season of Grrlz, and it looks even more revolting than when I finally gave up on it despite its creator's obvious talents.

(You know how lately I keep enthusing over shows that dish out spectacular scripts to spectacular writing to spectacular casts and puts the actors in circumstances to produce their best work? Here's one that dumps assaultively cretinous writing on actors who may or may not have talent but here puke up mostly inept, repellent work, in the apparent service of the revenge fantasies of a young person who, although one of the luckier people on the planet, sees herself as one of life's great victims. It's hard not to appreciate the element of fiscal reality captured in the lives of these young people, and it may just be an unreasonable personal reaction that even this is undercut by their creator's personal unfamiliarity with those circumstances. Nevertheless, it's hard to care about characters who for the most part don't seem even to try to grapple meaningfully with the hard questions of life. There's no easy answer to the question of which proposition is truer: that the only thing more appalling than the Grrlz of Grrlz is the Guyz," or that the only thing more appalling than the Guyz is the Grrlz.)


Season 4 of Episodes (created by David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik) really caught me by surprise. I'd been kind of dutifully following the story of British TV writers Sean and Beverly Lincoln (Stephen Mangan and Tamsan Greig) who come to the U.S. to write what they assume will simply be an adaptation of a hit series of theirs, which turns out to be a total degradation rewritten to the talents, such as they are, of a fictionalized version of Matt LeBlanc. But somehow last season, either I finally really "got it" or the show itself took off -- I thought it was sensational. And since the season ended with Sean and Beverly, determined to haul their battered bodies and souls back to England, being powerfully lured to stay on in Hollywood to work on what they're assured will be a correctly done version of a show they're actually interested in writing, there's plenty of room for fun in the new season.

But the show I'm really looking forward to is Looking. I reallze that it may be of less interest to viewers who aren't interested in gay-male relationships, but the thing about the central characters of Looking, produced by a creative team of a Brit, Andrew, and an American, Michael Lannan -- and the peripheral ones too, for that matter -- is that their sexual orientation is merely a part of who they are, and really doesn't have much to do with the struggles they're going through to make sense of their lives.

It's impossible for me to ignore the mad crush I have on Patrick (Jonathan Groff), both the character and the actor, a San Francisco transplant from Colorado who at 29 has been historically unable to open himself up personally enough to have a shot at a real relationship, until last season he began to do so with a chance-met Mexican hottie named Richie. Late in Season 1 we finally got to meet Jonathan's family, who turn out to be terrific, and refocused our view of the strain his his relationship with his mother (a really spectacular performance by Julia Duffy).

But the second time through I found myself significantly more engaged with his friends Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez; a college friend and, since then, longtime roommate), a struggling artist, and the turning-40-waiter Dom (Murray Bartlett), an even more personally closed-off type than Patrick. There's an awful lot more, including another really spectacular performance by Scott Bakula as a successful businessman who gets involved in Dom's dream of opening up a restaurant featuring Peruvian peri-peri chicken. One just hopes the team can sustain the level of Season 1 into Season 3.

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