Vale Please Like Me

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.

Words. Words like “pert”. What, in the context of discussing a television show, does “pert” mean? According to thefreedictionary.com, “pert” means, amongst various other meanings,
pert  (pûrt)adj. pert·er, pert·est

1. 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.

No.

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23 Comments

  • Matlock says:

    I watched all of them, and I feel like….nothing actually happened. It ended the way it began, with nothing.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Dude:
    http://www.cookdandbombd.co.uk/forums/index.php?topic=33863.msg1877029#msg1877029

    He can’t write- his characterisations are woeful, dialog is clunky at times. His insights are the insights of the worst solipsist adolescents of tumblr (which is why they love it).
    He can’t act- when he ‘cried’ I was unsure if he acting to ‘pretend to cry’ or really crying. This project has been how many years in the making? It should’ve been tightened up a lot more and he should’ve gone to acting classes.

    ‘Please Like Me’ was as far as I could see is about ‘Josh gets in touch with his emotions’ and the reviewer is fucking wrong because Josh asks Geoffrey to get back with him by saying he’ll change etc. Also the scene with him not ringing up the hospital and sleeping on the mattress in his mother’s room is him pleasing his mother rather than releasing himself of a burden etc. These people know nothing! Nothing!

    In short this was a well shot soap opera done by ‘hipsters’ (not real hipsters but what ‘people’ [not real people but what the ABC\Fairfax perceives people to be] perceive hipsters to be). I really think ‘Neighbours’ is a better ‘product’ than this.

    No wonder Josh Thomas and other ‘talents’ in Australia over-esteem their worth with ‘luvvies’ like these.

    (I realise this is my ‘Derek’)

  • Jimbo says:

    “…insights as a writer.” F*ck.Me.Dead.

    I can’t recall the last time I saw a comedy/dramedy where there was no real attempt at developing the characters. Or plot for that matter. And don’t get me started on the dialogue. To describe the characters on PLM as one-dimensional would be generous. My fear is that this sort of crap represents the future of Australian comedy writing as more and more generation Y hipsters enter the media (they will probably be running the ABC in a few years, if they are not already). The solution is obvious – we have to round up everyone who is Gen Y and cull them. I know that sounds extreme, but if we don’t do it then we will just end up with more shows like PLM and Laid.

    “…rich veins of comedy course through Mr & Mrs Murder…” I must have missed that episode!

  • Zac Oberon says:

    Who said it was a comedy? Not the people who made it. One thing IS very funny: a bitter, vitriolic anonymous review like this. Such bravery! No wonder JT is making tv and you’re ‘critiquing’ it. Hilarious!

  • Urinal Cake says:

    I’m Gen Y, don’t blame me for this shit. Also Hardy is definitely Gen X.

    It speaks more of a certain type of ‘artist’ (which they have the temerity to call themselves) who has ever since childhood dreamt of fame without any ‘real world’ experience or in the case of Hardy (probably Thomas as he matures) no proper reflection and humour of ‘real world’ experience. Some of the best stand-ups Kitson, Lee, Pryor, Hicks essentially went straight into ‘showbiz’ but they had a ‘rich’ past and/or ‘interior life’ to create that humour.

    Hardy et all just use ‘drama’ (not very good drama) to hide the fact they can’t come up with the jokes.

  • Matlock says:

    I’m also Gen Y, and if I had my way, I’d make a show packed to the brim with jokes, actual character and plot development. I’m dumbfounded by all the Facebook posts on ABC2, that say “oh my god, I love this show! five more seasons plz!” or “this show is soooo funny!”; what humour is in it? Please Like Me was Josh Thomas being Josh Thomas for 30 minutes, Laid was Alison Bell looking uneasy for 30 minutes. It’s disappointing when all of the great TV comedy in this country is coming from Channel 31 (I’m glad that Mad as Hell snuck through the cracks though, now THERE’S comedy)

  • Urinal Cake says:

    It’ more like, ‘Oh ha ha I’m a bit like that’ or ‘This reminds me when..’ Basically awkwardness around relationships and sex and impositions on the ‘adults’ of your life on your ‘adult life’. The last one is actually interesting and thus can be funny but for a whole host of reasons Josh Thomas can only hint at it rather mine it.

    Also we give too much credit to Shaun Micallef it struck me at the end of last episode’s ‘Mad as Hell’ (when he is surrounded at the sing-along) how much he is surrounded by comic talent All probably deserving of more television time especially compared to the ‘acting’ in PLM. Also the writers Gary McCaffrie, Michael Ward, Stephen Hall, Tony Moclair, Ian Simmons who really should be applauded to.

    Fuck PLM is just a waste of time and money for Thomas’ ego.

  • Jimbo says:

    Hey Matlock and Urinal Cake. Sorry about the Gen Y comments – I take them back. It’s just that I’m a fat, balding, impotent, grumpy middle-aged loser who hates all young people because they get way more pussy than I do (we didn’t have Ass-To-Mouth in my day, or any of the other cool stuff you get up to – now I’m sounding like an online pervert, so let’s stop here!). At least I don’t write letters to the editor about young people (I’m saving that particular pleasure for my old age).

    Anyway, it’s heartening to hear younguns such as yourselves paying out on crap comedy. Maybe the future is going to be OK after all. Are either of you actually writing or doing comedy at the moment, perchance? I ask because I suspect this forum is full of frustrated writers who seethe with resentment at the crap that gets commissioned on TV. Or maybe they are just, like me, chronic procrastinators…

  • Urinal Cake says:

    There are assholes in every generation, Jimbo.

    I think when it comes down to it I’m annoyed that JT has this opportunity and blows it but then is unable to realise how lucky he is and expects another series just because his fans unquestioningly love it. I sort of have hope with ‘Legally Brown’ because it will sort of escape the solipsist rut Australian comedy is in at the moment.

    I’ve thought about trying out stand-up and have a few bit down but don’t feel ready to bite the bullet. TV comedy is well and good and people do seem getting things commissioned without a lot of thought but for me stand-up is comedy at it’s purest. I never really contemplated doing comedy until I saw the dearth of talent in Australia and thought, ‘Hell I can do better than this’ because apart from Micallef I always paid more mind to UK comedy (which was obviously out of reach).

  • Matlock says:

    I’m currently trying to get into doing stand-up, I’ve done it a couple of times to okay reception; so yeah, I’m trying to get into doing comedy. I don’t know if I should go in further in explaining because I don’t want it to turn into annoying internet self promotion (I mean, who am I? Insert popular Australian comedian who uses social media here?)

  • Jimbo says:

    You’re a step ahead of me. I’m refining my standup routine and working up the courage to step in front of a mike at my local comedy club’s open mike night. Writing my sitcom is taking up most of my time. But the good thing about writing sitcoms is that the jokes fly thick and fast (unless you’re Josh Thomas!), and any jokes that don’t work in the sitcom can be recycled for standup (and vice versa).

  • Uh uh says:

    No no no. This blog is no place for the “you’re just jealous, why don’t you make something” bullshit. Criticism is a valid part of the artistic discourse. Don’t you dare.

  • James says:

    I’m glad I devoted the three hours to this show.

    I reckon I laughed about twenty times, which is a terrible amount, laugh a three minute, but those laughs were more rewarding than anything from most other recent Australian comedies (i.e. anything not called Mad As Hell). Despite what Thomas is trying to retcon, like a reverse Tommy Wiseau calling The Room a black comedy, Please Like Me was obviously written as a comedy first, adorned with dramatic elements. Watching it you can see how there was at least a joke per page in the script. In the finished product these jokes mostly play as little wry moments, raising a smile at best, but at least they don’t lie there dying.

    This show was a misfire, but it had something. Australian comedy in 2013, where faint praise is a rave.

    P.S. I found it quite horrifying when Josh was crying and the best friend character was too awkward to comfort him. At that point the best friend is basically a sociopath. Too much.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Regarding your P.S. I’d put it down to Tom Ward being unable to act ‘concerned’ and inconsistent writing from Thomas. Earlier ‘Tom’ was far more in touch with his emotions (crying over his grandfather’s death, crying over a young bird and all that soap opera nonsense over a false pregnancy, trying to be neutral between his ex and new gf). This show it doesn’t make sense.

  • Jimbo says:

    I have to confess that the last episode did actually have a couple of funny jokes in it. The scene with the guy and Josh’s father talking about Thai women was genuinely laugh out loud (“I’m sitting next to a Thai woman, saying to myself, don’t get an erection, don’t get an erection – but she did”). But my problem is why did we have to wait until the last episode to get any jokes?

  • Urinal Cake says:

    It’s a pretty old joke, some baby boomer you are!
    http://www.sickipedia.org/subcategory/view/102

  • Jimbo says:

    Thanks for that. So we can now add unoriginality to the list of Josh Thomas’s crimes. Man, and here I was thinking there may be a glimmer of hope for young Josh on account of being able to insert one joke into an entire comedy series…

  • Urinal Cake says:

    No worries. But now, dammit I feel I have to defend Josh Thomas. It is a pretty old joke and in the context of that ‘larrikan’ character it makes sense that he would retell an un-pc joke he heard from a ‘mate’. But still it is quite funny- an old ‘anonymous’ joke is better than anything a new comic can tell.

  • Andrew says:

    ABC2 seems to think it was a comedy:
    http://www.abc.net.au/tv/pleaselikeme/about/

  • UnSubject says:

    I do honestly wonder about JT’s ability to transition his comedy as he gets older. While he’s currently young and bumbling and – as you say – fey, his rambling style that’s all-about-him works. But as he gets older and loses that feyness, I really wonder if he can continue to mine the comedy vein of being gay that seems to be his main act.

    He works well with Micallef because Thomas is mostly a comedy punching bag in that situation – he doesn’t have to be funny, he just has to make a stupid comment and then let Micallef work that into a joke. But apart from that, he seems to be too one note. Once the cuteness wears off (and I saw him in the 2012 Gala show they had on TV last night and he looked sick or something) and he’s forced to move onto something tougher than “here are some funny things about my childhood / current life” I think he’ll struggle.

    Very possibly because of that bumbling style, actually – no-one is going to call him up to be a comedy interviewer if he can’t clearly string a clear sentence together.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    I think it’s more of a question if his fans can ‘grow up’ without him. He’s basically a teenage star and very few of those guys have transitioned well apart from another JT.

    That being said he does seem to be transitioning to a ‘statement’ or ‘social critique’ comedian with his quite literal sermons on homosexuality in PLM and his appearance on Q&A as an atheist as opposed as to concentrating his personal life. But due to his rather bland soft left positions he’ll become a worse version of Wil Anderson. Wil Anderson atleast has enough artisitic integrity not to appear in celebrity reality shows and has a solid political understanding to his views. Thomas affects this, ‘I don’t knnow, yoo knaw, love is, like, it dooesn’t mater etc’ as if he comes from this deeply personal interior and realised these views for himself all the while doing that teenage of girl thing, ‘I’m such a ditz’. Like a very ditzy, shitty Kitson.

    It seems more to me he is trying to solidify his role as token gay, male comedian (Australia only has room for one marginalised minority spokesperson- like people expect Waleed Aly to represent all Muslims) before Tom Ballard realises that what he’s doing. I mean you think Ballard is probably due for a breakdown of some sort- harsh I know but we’re talking about the health of Australian comedy here. Mental, a drug addiction or even more interestingly a turn conservative that will shake him up a bit. But Thomas is quite comfortable unless he sees a reduction in his bank balance but then I don’t think he can change how hard he tries.

  • Jimbo says:

    I wonder what sort of a hip young Gen Y comedian he’s going to be when he goes completely bald. That wildman hair of his is designed to disguise his rapidly balding noggin. In a couple of years he’ll look like Flacco.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    As a stand-up\comedian who knows? Hopefully he doesn’t get offered another season.

    But he’s on the Denton\Hills\Hughes etc path where he’s going to end up hosting. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets offered ‘Spicks and Specks’.