Someone Left the Cake Out In the Rain

What are we, four episodes into Please Like Me?  And it’s not really a comedy at all, is it? It’s yet another one of those ABC “light dramas” where some self-obsessed “funny person” is given the go ahead to make a show pretty much entirely about themselves just so long as there’s some hook the ABC can point to when justifying it as a comedy. With Laid it was “everyone our hero has had sex with dies” – explain to us again how that’s funny, please – with Problems it was “Sam Simmons is strange” – again, not exactly a gut-buster – and with Please Like Me it’s “Josh Thomas is gay”. Wow, who knew the ABC was actively working to make comedies less funny than Laid?

Traditionally sitcoms have fallen into two loose groups: high concept and star vehicles. A Moody Christmas is high concept: anything Chris Lilley does is a star vehicle. Ideally a show would have both, a la Kath & Kim (suburban morons played by established comedy performers) or The Games (behind the scenes at The Olympics through the eyes of Clarke & Dawe), but that would require the ABC actually developing shows so good luck there. These days if no-one’s heard of you, you’d better come up with a good idea; if they have heard of you, it doesn’t matter what your idea is.

But of late, the ABC seem to have lost sight of who an actual “star” is in the world of Australian television. Here’s a clue: it’s not Marieke Hardy. And it sure as hell isn’t Josh Thomas, who was the least well known person on a moderately successful game show made moderately successful almost entirely by being hosted by one of the funniest men currently working in Australia. It’s like if the ABC had announced that, due to his excellent work on Before the Game, they were giving Lehmo his own sitcom. “What’s it going to be about?” people would ask. “Oh, just Lehmo being Lehmo,” would come the sing-song reply, right before a massive bipartisan governmental inquiry-slash-firing-squad into exactly what the fuck they were drinking over there at ABC HQ.

Thomas isn’t a terrible performer by any means, especially if you can stand his bullshit leprechaun accent. But this show is about nothing. It’s not even like he doesn’t already have an established comedy persona to work with: he’s a slightly fey man-child. Give him a job on an oil rig staffed by burly thugs and watch the laughs fly! Yeah, that sounds lame, but “Josh Thomas on an oil rig” is still roughly a ka-zillion times more interesting than “Josh Thomas in a variety of inner city locales looking mildly perplexed.”

Please Like Me is frustrating to watch because there’s a shitload of talent and effort going into this show but because no-one actually bothered to come up with a solid starting point for comedy all that talent and effort is just flailing about the place trying to create something out of nothing. Which is why the episodes are a weird mix of nothing characters standing around endlessly exchanging limp quips and then big dramatic moments happening. Josh’s aunt accepts that he’s gay! A relationship can’t happen because the guy’s bitchy ex is pregnant! Guess what: before the end of the series, someone dies! Aren’t we usually given reasons to care about the characters in a show before all this stuff happens?

Making matters worse, it feels like making a show this shit was the plan all along. As one of our commentators pointed out, originally this was meant to be a show about Thomas’ non-gay life, then he realised he was gay:

Thomas said the initial two-page treatment he submitted four years ago to obtain funding contained a heterosexual central character named Josh and his girlfriend Claire.

However, in between the funding pitch and making Please Like Me, which premieres on the ABC on February 28, his life changed and so did the storyline.

Thomas, 25, realised he was gay and inadvertently the premise of the series changed and Claire was bumped from a main character to a bit part.

“I started pitching this four years ago and it was a two-page document,” Thomas tells AAP.

“Four years ago I was straight as well… I had a girlfriend.

“Four years ago Claire was in the show a lot more.

“It kind of, quite by accident, tricked the ABC into funding this gay show.”

So what, four years ago he pitched a series to the ABC that was even more bland and boring than this one? And they gave it the go-ahead? Say whaaaaa?

Okay, more likely – considering he was an unknown 21 year-old at the time with zero television experience – he started pitching four years ago and they gave it the nod a year or two later after Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation had raised his profile. But still: the “whoops, I’m gay” angle is literally the only thing going on here that’s remotely new or interesting, and it happened by accident.

Josh Thomas made a series that is only interesting by mistake.

Somehow, we’re not that surprised.

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22 Comments

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Josh Thomas’ claim to fame is his 200,000 + twitter followers. The ABC must have been like, ‘If all those people watched the show we can call this a success!’- which it would be compared to ‘Laid’. Also most of his fans seem to be young, left-leaning and female which is a demographic that the ABC would see value in reaching.

    The writing has actually become worse instead of better. What the fuck were the ABC thinking? They should have never let him write this by himself.

    This show isn’t for people like ‘comedy’. It’s for people who think, ‘Oh isn’t life odd? Aren’t human interactions a bit weird and awkward?’ who seem more content that there is a representation of the types of lives they lead on mainstream tv (and a hot guy) than any artistic worth. My generation!

  • Matlock says:

    Problems was a light drama?

  • Matlock says:

    But yeah, Please Like Me has been very hard to actually like. It’s not at all funny, and it’s story makes no real sense and the characters shit me. I mean, why do these hot guys go after Josh again? Josh on the show is kind of a dick who hides behind his child-like exterior.

    And once his girlfriend breaks up with him in the first episode, she just says it’s because his gay, he then goes on and hooks up with Geoffrey, I mean, there’s no struggle with coming to terms with it .At the beginning of the fourth episode, he just announces his broken up with his boyfriend! Why? Because he feels uncomfortable due to him being much more attractive then him, and it’s like what? The pacing of the show is so slow, plot points go from A to B with no rhyme and reason and above all, it just isn’t funny!

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    It was meant to be funny?

    (“light drama” is basically “an intentionally unfunny show where events occur”. If you’re not making people laugh – or at least trying to – you’re a light drama to us. And as Problems’ desired effect seemed to largely involve the audience staring at the screen while scratching their heads… light drama)

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Probably the “oh no, hot guys like me” is taken from the real Josh’s life, but TV Josh is a nobody so having hot guys after him makes no sense.

    And yeah, while on a scene-by-scene basis some of the stuff here works (Josh getting left at the 7/11 with the Slurpees was almost insightful), taken as episodes the whole thing is a big mess. Got to love a comedy that seems to think making jokes is beneath it.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Very good point. It really is just “you’re young and kind of aimless, right? So are these guys!”

  • Matlock says:

    I’d say Problems was a horror.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Yes, which is odd because Josh’s ex there were enough hints why she went out with him- he was a childhood friend and she has basically had nobody else (even though she seems perfectly ‘nice’ [I mean even if she doesn’t have any friends she is pretty enough to have guys constantly hitting on her] which doesn’t make sense again, fuck I hate this show). Geoffrey- no idea!

    There seemed to be more jokes but it’s sort of the shit jokes people make in real life but with none of the satiric intent like ‘The Office’ and that we are meant to actually find gut-wrenchingly or heart-achingly funny.

    Twitter and Tumblr love this show. I don’t get it- people on internet are emotionally and artistically stunted.

  • Roger says:

    Please Like Me reminds me of Laid, in that it’s an extreme example of “mumblecore” drama, which is pretty much the only thing the ABC has commissioned in the last few years (the other genre being bogan/dick humour – Angry Boys, Outland, etc).

    What’s funny is that Laid and Please Like Me both ended up with about 170,000 viewers, which suggests to me that’s the brick wall the ABC faces with mumblecore. You’d think someone at Aunty would look at those figures and get the picture. What’s really scary is that if Laid can win an award for best comedy, then so can Please Like Me.

    Can anyone explain why the ABC only commissions comedy which only appeals to the very two demographics who don’t watch the ABC (ie. bogans and young people)?

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Wait Laid won an award?

    I wouldn’t say ABC commissions comedy to only two types of demographics it’s really one demographic- ‘those young people’ some of whom happen to be bogans, others which happen to be hipsters. That being said ‘Mad as Hell’, ‘Randling’ the Agony series, ‘Lowdown’ are all attempts to get the 30+ audience even though most of them aren’t sitcoms.

    PLM could have cross-demographic appeal like Packed to the Rafters due to it’s characters. I think this is sort of what Thomas was attempting by giving the older characters time alone (Mae and his Dad, his mum and his aunt) but he just doesn’t have the ability to write well enough.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Thanks for that. Doing some wikipedia-ing it seems like an industry wank award. I mean ‘Lowdown’ won over ‘Mad as Hell’ this year. It’s worse than a Logie.

    Also according to wiki/Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ABCTVLaid/posts/540079489338320
    I’m not sure when the Film Victoria decision was made but if ABC finally made a smart decision does that mean Marieke & Co still gets the money?

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    We’d guess Hardy gets to keep the cash, as it was for “script development”. Though we’d like to think whoever gave her the cash at Film Victoria would be looking for a new job.

  • Billy C says:

    Script development means just that development. Most things put into development don’t get made. Or at least that’s how it should be.
    I can’t stand Thomas’ accent enough to give his show a chance but he’s not rating too badly for an ABC2 show. Sure he’s being out rated by Peppa Pig and his scores so low it doesn’t appear on the Top 20 multi channel list but it’s not so disastrous that commentators are looking it up and publishing it.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    The problem with Laid getting development cash for a third season was that development money is usually directed towards getting new ideas into shape, not figuring out the third season of an already established show. Not to mention you’d think after the second season was a ratings disaster they’d have a pretty good idea they wouldn’t be asked back for a third.

    Not that it’s their job to pre-empt ABC programming decisions, but it does look a little like the Laid team collected a pile of cash for something that was never going to happen.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Adding to 13schoolyards points it also seems unfair for a ‘young starving artist’ to miss out at the expense of Hardy. Surely ‘Laid 3’ can not be in the top 5 ideas for Victorian television.

    http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/wheres-our-local-comedy-its-gone–its-just-gone-20130315-2g5xy.html
    Doesn’t address PLM but I think we can figure it out it is one of those ‘clever but niche’ shows.
    The truth is there is a lot of goodwill towards ‘new’ comedy from both sides of the aisle because it is ‘unAustralian’ not to have a sense of humour. Then it just becomes bland and since nobody seems to be watching it- it doesn’t seem to be worth talking about. Then it will come up for recommission and people will start saying, ‘Sure it had problems but it was good in the end’.

  • Matlock says:

    So…..in Laid, did the director tell Alison Bell to always look like she’s in a perpetual state of discomfort and uneasiness? Cause that’s all I see in Laid, her always looking uneasy about something

  • Urinal Cake says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the whole ‘gay thing’ was a false flag used to generate attention. He is simply an unremarkable early twenty year old who got lucky. Even if he was sexually attracted to wallabies it’d still be boring.

  • Baudolino says:

    “With Laid it was ‘everyone our hero has had sex with dies’ – explain to us again how that’s funny, please – with Problems it was ‘Sam Simmons is strange’ – again, not exactly a gut-buster – and with Please Like Me it’s ‘Josh Thomas is gay’.”

    As far as Laid and Please Like Me are concerned, their problem – that’s an unreasonably generous choice to not use the plural “problems”, I know, but just go with it – is that, in comedic terms, they don’t bother to go beyond their premise. That being said, I would assert that the premises themselves are not inherently anathema to good comedy. The premise is just the shows hook; there’s no reason that a good version of a show like Laid – where everyone who sleeps with the central protagonist dies – couldn’t be made.

    I goes without saying that that decent version of Laid would have to have no association with Marieke Hardy whatsoever, but you get my point…

  • Urinal Cake says:

    To add to your points- they’re basically not funny.

    Hardy has had enough opportunities to prove us wrong but hasn’t.
    Thomas seems too content to feed on the unquestioning love of his fanbase.
    Simmons I think just needs time and to heed useful criticism much like Louis CK and other acts who found success in their 40s.

  • Richard says:

    So Thomas is now appearing in diving with the stars. A reality show where “celebrities” learn to become elite divers

    To see his pasty white 98lbs in his bathers on the front page of today’s smh made me I’ll

  • Urinal Cake says:

    I wonder if we can take this as some sort of clue that he hasn’t got a second series?

    Here is a negative review I found http://themusic.com.au/blog/arts/2013/03/06/thetv-set-finds-it-hard-to-like-josh-thomas/ which seems to be fair because they seem outside the ‘circle jerk’. Though it can’t be that hard to figure out why Josh has that accent. He has wanted to be a comedian since the age of what 13? He probably has been listening to so much stand-up (probably British) that it has affected his accent in this peculiar way.