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.