Well, that certainly wrapped up in a fashion that was bog-obvious from the start. So let’s let our attention wander a moment from the exciting world of Josh Thomas learning how to feel human emotions while remaining unable to speak in a human accent and discuss words. As in, do words actually mean anything in the context of Australian comedy reviews?
First off, The Age’s Paul Kalina gives us the history of Australian comedy in roughly 500 words. It has a happy ending, naturally:
On the home front, the record so far in scripted narrative comedy isn’t too shabby. Writers and actors Robyn Butler and Wayne Hope hit their stride with The Librarians and will hopefully do it again in Upper Middle Bogan. We’ve had the terrific A Moody Christmas, the pert and irreverent Laid, twentysomething and the under-appreciated Please Like Me, and rich veins of comedy course through Offspring, Mr & Mrs Murder and Rake.
There may not be enough of these shows and we should be alarmed that so many of them reside on the ABC, but the claim that Australian comedy is dead just doesn’t stack up.
pert (pûrt)adj. pert·er, pert·est1. Trim and stylish in appearance; jaunty: a pert hat.2. High-spirited; vivacious.
3. Impudently bold; saucy
Which means Paul Kalina should be sacked.
Of slightly more relevance to us today is Kalina’s phrase “the under-appreciated Please Like Me“. On the surface this seems like a refreshingly bold statement to be coming from an Age Green Guide deputy editor, in that it seems to be an opinion about the actual quality of an Australian television program. Unsurprisingly, on closer inspection it proves to be the kind of generic yet arrogant term that can apply to almost any current program that isn’t My Kitchen Rules: a vague, hand-waving suggestion that a show should be more popular than it currently is combined with the sense that in not appreciating Please Like Me the general public is incorrect. Yeah, you heard him. Lift your game, general public. Stop paying attention to that sports-related program and watch a fey and presumably balding Australian mumble for half an hour.
Meanwhile in the sense of seeing print a few days earlier, everyone’s favourite Fairfax TV writer Melinda Huston had this to say about the end of Please Like Me:
PLEASE LIKE ME: FINAL
Thursday, 9.30pm, ABC2
Josh Thomas showed us from the start that he wasn’t afraid to go dark, and he was keenly aware of the absurdity of life’s tragedies, so it seems fitting that the final instalment of this excellent series should open with a funeral. Aunty Peg is dead and as the family prepares in its own peculiar ways for her send-off, Please Like Me is alternately funny, poignant, silly and occasionally terribly wrong. Debra Lawrance puts in another fabulous performance as an ordinary housewife on the edge but, once again, Thomas is just as impressive, both in his performance as an actor and in his insights as a writer. The final moments are satisfyingly elegiac. So just one question remains. Nothing about this series was really about Josh’s search for approval or acceptance. On the contrary, it was about him realising he didn’t need those things. So why was it called Please Like Me?
“Wasn’t afraid to go dark”. Jesus.
Look, “going dark” hasn’t been a risky move for a comedy since the end of the second series of the UK Office. That, by the way, was a decade ago. “Going dark” is, in fact, the easiest, safest, less to-be-afraid-of thing a comedian can do, because “going dark” is a comedian throwing his or her hands up in the air and saying “I can’t be funny any more”. “Going dark” is giving up on trying to make people laugh and turning your show into a cod-drama for a few moments so people – by which we mean reviewers – will take you seriously. So what Huston should have written is “Josh Thomas showed us from the start he wasn’t afraid to not be funny.” Which we think you’ll all agree is a shitload more accurate.
“Terribly wrong”. Last time we checked this is a slightly more twee version of “he went there”. This is a building block of comedy – that is, surprising the audience and pushing boundaries is a building block of comedy – but it isn’t actually comedy, in the same way that a pile of bricks isn’t a three bedroom house.
This is the big problem with pretty much every single television reviewer in this country when it comes to comedy: they can identify the basic elements of comedy, but they don’t have the gumption to actually say whether they found a show funny or not. To wit: “The final moments are satisfyingly elegiac”. Uh, you do realise this was meant to be a comedy, right? What makes you think this sounds even slightly like a decent ending for a comedy series?
At least Huston manages to use the word “funny” in her review – rapidly followed by “poignant”, just in case we got the impression we should be judging a four star show simply by whether it made us laugh. Was this a comedy series, or a photo of a sad-faced dog curled up atop his newly-dead master’s grave? Huston seems to suggest the latter – and worse, that this is a good thing.
The best we can say for her is that she managed to ask the right question: “Nothing about this series was really about Josh’s search for approval or acceptance. On the contrary, it was about him realising he didn’t need those things. So why was it called Please Like Me?”
Please allow us to explain: Josh’s journey, such as it was, was about him blossoming into the kind of arrogant, dismissive twat who would make a show as smugly self-mythologising as Please Like Me. So of course the conclusion was him realising he didn’t need acceptance or approval, because hey, he’s a cool dude who hires hot guys to make out with him on his own television show then complains on air about how hard it is when attractive men are into him. Suck it losers.
But while he – uh, we mean his character ‘Josh’ – can’t be bothered actually becoming someone funny and likable, he’s not stupid enough to think being patronising and self-obsessed is attractive to people who aren’t fame-whores. Thus the desperate pleading nature of the title, Please Like Me.