Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number

How to explain this?

Currently halfway through its ten-episode second season, Please Like Me steadily gaining the attention of local audiences. Perhaps it was ‘Josh Thomas baggage’ – as cultural critic Dion Kagan dubs it in his wonderful Metro Magazine article – that kept local audiences away.

“Josh Thomas Baggage”. There’s the name of our new grindcore band right there.

That’s actually one of the better Please Like Me reviews we’ve read, in that it actually talks about things taking place in the show that the author likes, rather than just a bunch of vague hand-waving about how “adorable” and “quirky” and “heartfelt” the show is. If the relationship between Thomas and his on-screen mother is what you like about the show, we’re not going to argue with you: it might not be all that funny, but at least it’s an actual part of Please Like Me.

But then we get to this:

Thomas – equipped with skinny jeans, bow ties and an outspoken attitude – is a deliberately whimsical presence (think ‘adorkable’, then hate me for making you think of that word). These traits, when combined with youth, can ostracise audiences.

We won’t deny that “whimsical youth” is pretty much a synonym for “annoying”. But it’s also a little annoying when it’s assumed that the reason why audiences are being put off Please Like Me is his quirky youthfulness and not the way that large chunks of Please Like Me – while clearly well-meaning when it comes to mental illness – aren’t very funny.

We understand that it can seem a fine line between dismissing someone simply because of their youth and dismissing someone because they’re not very good – or at least, it is when you decide that saying someone isn’t very good is really just your way of saying you only like comedians that have spent years honing their craft. Wait, that is what we’re saying. Oh God, we’re prejudiced against the kids now.

Let’s put it this way: twenty-seven isn’t young enough to excuse a show this bad. Chris Lilley was barely 30 when he did We Can Be Heroes, and whatever that shows flaws it was a lot sharper than Please Like Me. But to be fair, Australian comedy has been aging a lot since the turn of the century – when The Chaser are still the up-and-comers of ABC comedy you know something’s not right – so it might seem legit to suggest that Thomas should be supported simply because he’s not pushing 40 like all the other comedy “young guns”.

But for those of us with long memories – or working DVD players – it’s fairly easy to compare the twenty-something Thomas with a whole lot of twenty-something comedians from Australia’s comedy past. And it doesn’t take all that long to realise that by twenty-seven you really don’t have many excuses left for not being really funny. How old were the Doug Anthony All-Stars in their prime? How old were Tony Martin and Mick Molloy on The Late Show? Hamish Blake is only 33: you didn’t hear anyone making age-related excuses for him when he and Andy Lee had the biggest radio show in the country back in 2009 – when they were both twenty-seven.

Come on, Josh Thomas might not be an old comedy pro but he’s certainly old enough for his work to be judged on its merits. The core of Working Dog were barely in their 30s when they made Frontline: there’s a shitload more than five years separating that and Please Like Me.

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15 Comments

  • Urinal Cake says:

    So wait why has Optus hired Thomas for their advertisements? If the majority of people have ‘Josh Thomas Baggage’ and are prejudiced against ‘youth’ he should be advertising leprosy. Maybe it’s because they know better than to let him write his own material?

    PLM hasn’t failed because of Thomas’s age, his looks or anything superficial. It’s failed because of his writing. It’s not a comedy. It’s not a drama. It hasn’t got an interesting story. It hasn’t got interesting characters. It’s just there.

  • Yeps says:

    This is getting surreal now.

    I mean, despite my personal dislike, I’m more than willing to acknowledge that there is an audience (albeit clearly small) for what this show is offering, but the knots into which critics are trying to twist themselves to justify the low ratings is doing my head in now.

    According to the critics, we, the audience, really suck.

    We have backward, unrefined tastes – we don’t realise that this is new, groundbreaking entertainment …like ‘Louis’, and ‘Girls’, and ‘Curb’ (shows that most of us already watch, but, hey, that would spoil the narrative).

    We get confused because it’s both a drama and a comedy (apparently we can’t handle that kind of duality …remember how we raged against ‘The Office’ and ‘Mother and Son’ and ‘Nurse Jackie’ and the wildly unpopular ‘M*A*S*H’?)

    And we are even too stupid to work a remote (we didn’t realise that those big meanies at the ABC moved it to a Tuesday! What are we supposed to do, remember that or something?!)

    No, now we’re also prejudiced against the youngins and their freaky fashions …even though the youth demographic doesn’t even seem to have embraced the show, and Thomas, at 27, has been in the industry for a decade, and was given mass exposure on ‘Your Generation’. Also, most everyone seemed keen on bow ties when Doctor Who was wearing them.

    I’m staring to feel like this is some weird parallel universe reverse-hipster deal – where even though Thomas is too old to be a new, undiscovered talent, and the critics have consistently proved themselves to be incapable of heralding anything of lasting worth (‘Laid’ anyone?), they are nonetheless intent on selling the myth that they’ve got the beard-o, flat-cap-wearing cred to sneer at anyone who doesn’t see how what they like truly is:

    ‘Yeah… I was into ‘Please Like Me’ back when it was screening on television right now. You know, back when everyone else was ignoring it because it was sub par.’

    (*sips wine and then dissolves into smug vapour*)

    Again: I’m happy for anyone who likes it, but I am really getting fed up with this ‘You’re too ignorant to “get it”‘ line that the critics want to repeat ad nauseum, even though they can barely articulate why it’s worth ‘getting’.

  • Yeps says:

    Apparently I was frothing at the mouth too much to spell check. That should be:

    ‘…intent on selling the myth that they’ve got the beard-o, flat-cap-wearing cred to sneer at anyone who doesn’t see how GREAT what they like truly is…’

    Hopefully the wild, directionless contempt came through clear at least.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Presumably everyone is getting pretty sick of us going on about it – we’re trying to stop, honest – but there does seem to be something deeper going on here that’s worth exploring. Why is Please Like Me getting all this press when Kinne was hardly mentioned anywhere and Die On Your Feet (featuring an all-star cast, relatively speaking) has had zero press? Is it just that Josh Thomas has people doing PR for him while the other shows didn’t? Is it his US success that has local reviewers falling over him? Or is there some deeper cultural thing that makes him a critical darling while other shows of similar quality and exposure are ignored?

  • Bernard says:

    Rebel Wilson had her own show in the US, and the press here ignored her (mainly because the show was such obvious crap).

    I don’t want to start a flame war, but I notice that just about every reviewer – here and in the US – who gushes over Josh is, well, let’s just say they bat for the other team. It’s also a bit like everyone going bananas for Redfern Now (derivative and repetitive and boring as fuck) because it’s Aboriginal. Oops, I’ve done it now, haven’t I? I swear I’m not Andrew Bolt moonlighting.

    Or maybe everyone is treating Josh like he’s the handicapped kid at school who gets a special encouragement award for finishing the egg-and-spoon race, albeit four hours late. Let’s face it, Josh DOES sound sorta slow-witted. Sorry if the word ‘handicapped’ is not in vogue, but I am an old fart and I don’t know any better.

    My main problem with PLM is that it vindicates the commercial networks’ decision to stay out of the comedy business. Seeing as those networks have a younger demographic, if they did commission a sitcom, it would be something like PLM rather than Utopia.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    I think it’s
    – Has a high profile from TAYG and now Optus,
    – PLM is in the vein of the zeitgeist of Girls and Louie
    – He has the ‘right’ values. ‘Right’ as in being liberal without being too confrontational.

  • Yeps says:

    I’ve got to believe that it’s because he’s got the US deal. After all, they did the same thing with Chris Lilley once HBO wafted it’s royal scepter over his head – despite repeated diminishing returns.

    I think local reviewers are just desperate to try and bathe themselves in the reflected shine of an export deigned worthy by the big guys overseas – no matter how self-evidently undeserving. I submit to the court: Rebel Wilson (soon to be a deleted feature in the ‘Night at the Museum 3’ DVD).

    I imagine it’s born from a kind of cultural cringe where critics want to justify their existence by ‘proving’ that they are somehow the curators for our ‘best’ artists, personally responsible for cultivating our brightest and cutting away the chaff.

    Of course, not only is that complete crap, but it’s just prelude to the tall poppy backlash once it all goes south (Chris Lilley must be quaking in fear for whatever he puts out next now that the echo chamber of love from the critics has faded).

    I think it’s just that in times previous the disparity between the hype and the ratings have never been so immediately evident.

    …If you can block Rebel Wilson from your mind (…why do I feel that’s not the last time I’m going to type that sentence in my life?)

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Just so you know, we’re letting this run because we’ve been the ones speculating about the media’s motives in promoting PLS, so we opened this particular door. But no more handicapped comparisons or references will be published.

    As for Thomas’ sexuality, that’s hardly the point. It’s entirely natural and accurate to have sexually active gay people to be part of a show dealing with a group of Melbourne young hip types. The issue with the show is that it’s shit, not that it shows gay people.

    It’s far more likely that – if you think it’s being praised for cultural reasons rather than the quality of the show – it’s being praised because it’s about inner city hipster lefties (with some characters being gay as part of that) than simply for Thomas’ sexuality alone. Even now, he’s hardly the only gay person or gay character on Australian television.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    The Girls / Louie thing has definitely been a theme in the local reviews. Which makes us wonder if they’ve actually watched Girls or Louie, because they (Louie especially) are very different shows.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    The US deal must have played a massive part in all the hype. Comparing it to Laid, which has a similar push with s1 but was largely dropped with s2, it seems clear that someone new must have been added to the mix to draw this much attention to a serious that hardly look off here the first time out.

    And obviously Australian online critics talking about an Australian show airing in the US means a much greater readership for those critics than writing about an Australian show that only airs here.

  • dfd says:

    Yep, I reckon Americans telling us that it’s good is a huge part of it.

    I haven’t been able to work out if it has any traction at all in America. It got a couple of excellent reviews but it’s on a niche network – is anyone watching over there?

    Amusingly I feel that the American reviews were way too complimentary because it was foreign and thus exotic.

    I didn’t mind series one but ten minutes into ep one of series two and that fucking music was about to make my head explode, had to stop.

  • Valancy says:

    I think you guys need to stop going on about it, because you really are embarrassing yourselves. The show receives good press because it is GOOD and it deals with issues that have not been dealt with in TV shows before, like a realistic depiction of mental illness.

  • felix says:

    If the show is so good, why are its viewer numbers in free fall? Tens of thousands of people who started watching it have turned off. The show isn’t an undiscovered gem, its been discovered and then rejected. The more posts on here questioning the media groupthink on this underperforming show the better- other Aussie comedy shows have done better and been completely ignored by the media. As for portraying mental illness realistically, that’s nice but not really the primary role of a comedy. Portray whatever you like, but make it funny, otherwise your ‘comedy’ show is a failure.

  • Andrew says:

    I thought PLM was meant to be a comedy show, not a remake of GP

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    “Great” column by David Dale in the Fairfax papers today, where he interviews Shaun Micallef for Mad as Hell but mostly asks him if it’s his fault people don’t respect Josh Thomas, and therefore aren’t watching Please Like Me.