For a show that’s just jam-packed with bubbly hipster fun like wandering through mazes, or running down a well-manicured suburban street with a stolen trolley, or cracking jokes in cool inner-city eateries, or putting a chicken on your head, the one word that comes to mind when thinking about Josh Thomas’ sitcom Please Like Me best is inert. No, the word we’re thinking of isn’t actually inert, we’re thinking of the word “inert”… let’s start again.
Usually any halfway decent sitcom has as many plots and subplots going as it can manage – it’s far from unusual for a show to have an A, B and C plot on the go in a 22 minute episode. Please Like Me series three episode one has one plot: “will Josh* get to fuck an attractive yet annoyingly erratic and sometimes distant young man.” Maybe if this plot was “will Josh fuck off”, we’d be interested, because even Two and a Half Men isn’t this fixated on giving its lead opportunities to make out with attractive people.
But look! They’re playing with cute little chicks in the opening credits! Surely aggressive and consistent quirkiness counts for something, right? Not when your sitcom has nothing else to offer. Perhaps if you’re a long-time viewer watching this for the “will they or won’t they” soapie angle then you might care about whether Arnold and Josh get together; going by the way this provides zero back story to either Josh or Arnold (Josh has no back story anyway; Arnold’s stay in the mental hospital would at least explain how they met) they’re not expecting too many new viewers anyway.
To restate our case: this is an episode about a somewhat annoying young man (Thomas is still young, right?) trying to have sex with a more attractive man. Fortunately, the more attractive man is somehow even more annoying than Josh, so it’s almost plausible that they might get together. That’s “fortunately” in a “fortunately this boring plot is at least plausible”, not “fortunately” as in “fortunately there’s a sliver of amusement to be found in their antics”
And then they fuck and for a heartbeat it’s like “oh well, guess they’ll have to make the episode about something else now” BUT NO because then it shifts to scenes of Josh fondling and groping and in one case literally rolling around under his lover while his lover talks about all the ways no-one will like him. Call us sour old bastards, but it seems that having two characters being intentionally massively annoying in distinctly different ways that only amplify each other’s worst traits is just a touch excessive. And if the ratings are any guide, it’s not the kind of thing anyone wants to watch either:
But it was bad news for Please Like Me. While 129,000 improves on its ABC2 outings, the show is yet to overcome its place as being a critical hit but not a popular one.
We’re going to be controversial here, but is it just possible that a comedy – or even a dramedy – can be really good as far as giving marginalised groups representation on Australian television yet somehow also be dull as fuck to watch? This episode is focused entirely on charting a relationship between two unlikable characters, which has proven to be ripe comedic grounds since time began. And yet there’s what feels like a deliberate attempt to avoid anything funny past the occasional dump of banter. If you think having funny things happen in a sitcom is unrealistic, why not make a drama? Oh wait, no-one would watch a drama where nothing happened; if you call it a comedy you can at least pretend people aren’t seeing the humour.
So maybe the comedy here isn’t for us. Where are the insights into relationships then? You’re telling us that if you relentlessly pursue someone you might a): get them but b): not always like what you get oh wait c): it all ends happily because… it just does? What about, oh, going into why Josh wants to fuck Arnold so badly? If it’s just because he’s hot – and we’re not really given any other reasons in this episode – why are we spending 24 minutes on this story?
We’d love to go on to talk about something else, but there is literally nothing else going on in Please Like Me. Thomas’ show is often compared to Girls, but Girls has (at least) four central characters who each get their own subplots – plus loads of guest stars in those subplots – and usually at least half of those subplots are about things other than relationships. Episode one of series three of Please Like Me is focused entirely on Josh; sure, it re-introduces the cast, but every scene they’re in is a scene about how they relate to Josh. Is anything interesting going to happen to any of them over the course of this series? Fucked if we know, and for a series opener it certainly doesn’t give us any reason to care.
“Sometimes my feelings need to be thought of” Josh says during the big dramatic climax. Looked at a certain way it’s the funniest line here, because the whole episode is about nothing but his feelings. Everyone is constantly talking about him; he’s always talking about himself. Yes, Arnold is being a bit of a dick in this scene because he’s a dick in every scene he’s in: there’s a case to be made that he’s intentionally a callback to the way Josh was in series one to show how Josh has matured. But as Josh is still totally self-absorbed, what’s the point? It’s holding a mirror up to an arsehole. Pardon us if we don’t like the view.
*”Josh” is the character; Thomas is the performer writing and staring in Please Like Me.