Big Swinging Dicks

“I’m not the problem today mum, you’re the problem”

Well, no Josh, you’re always the problem in Please Like Me. But for a brief shining moment early on in episode two of series two, it looked like maybe that problem had been solved. Josh was the put-upon son, his crazy mum was crazy, and as comedy set-ups go hey – isn’t it about time someone ripped off Mother & Son?

But that would be a situation, and Please Like Me is the standard bearer for an era where having a situation in your sitcom is death. Life doesn’t have situations, right guys? Life is random and awkward and so the best comedies should reflect that. Even if that isn’t funny. Which it isn’t, especially if you’re not all that good at writing comedy. Presumably being so badly written it’s like the events on-screen just randomly happened is what passes for good writing these days.

Ok, serious question: does anyone know if episodes of Please Like Me run at different lengths in the US? Because this one had a really weird structure that kind of felt like either it ended too soon or went on too long. First Josh drops his mum off at the private hospital, then he goes to a party and so far so good – but then about five minutes before the end he suddenly leaves the party (plots resolved: zero), goes back to the private hospital where he meets a couple of big name actors playing patients, has maybe three minutes with them THE END. Nothing’s resolved, but then again pretty much nothing was built up to either: it’s just a bunch of stuff that happens.

Something else that’s a sign of bad writing is repeating phrases over and over in the hope that they’ll magically become funny. Sam Simmons used to do this a lot; it never worked. So when Josh says “Elder Flower Gin Spritzer” three times in ten seconds (some random guy also says it during those ten seconds), that’s ten seconds when we’re not laughing. Plus it’s another awkward semi-flirtation scene between Josh and a cute boy: remember how Seinfeld used to just cut to “hey, it’s Jerry’s new girlfriend” every episode? That’s because actual relationships are funny in a lot of different ways; the first tentative steps in a relationship are funny – if they actually are funny – in pretty much the same “awww, it’s so cuuuute” way.

As this second episode wears on, one difference between it and Mother & Son – ok, there’s literally dozens of differences, but here’s one – comes to mind: in Mother & Son, at least some of the laughs came from never quite knowing whether the mother was senile or just really cunning. A lot of comedy is about the balance of power between the characters, and having the Mother possibly be just really sneaky made it possible to laugh at her ditzy antics in a way we couldn’t if she really was mentally ill. Josh’s mum, on the other hand, is just mentally ill. Not really that funny.

As for why we were thinking so much about Mother & Son during an episode of fresh new youth comedy Please Like Me, that’s because when we did pay attention it was either Josh being a stud or Tom revealing the “fact” that he has a really large penis. Oh, and Josh’s penis is “aesthetically pleasing”. See, this could, in theory, be funny if it didn’t feel like it was actually an advertisement for Josh Thomas’s real penis. Basically, the scene felt like the comedy equivalent of this column:

Today, some statistics report a third of women still never experience orgasm, which suggests to me I’ve been very lucky with partners or I’m dating great actresses.

There’s certainly been the odd one unable to reach the stars but, being of sunny disposition, I’ve tried not to wallow in culpability. A good tradesman never blames his tools, and all that.

Overall, however, this wholly unsatisfactory experience has been dwarfed by the numbers of women I’ve met who go off like a frog in a sock. There’s even been a few notable occasions when I’ve put in such embarrassingly little effort I’ve asked “Do I need to be here?”

The moral being, talking about how great you are in bed – or how big or “aesthetically pleasing” your penis is – almost always makes you look like a jerk.

Maybe we’re idiots [pause for Josh Thomas fans to nod violently], but we kind of thought the idea of having Josh flee the mental home where he’d offloaded his mum for a party at his share house was going to be to show how the guilt from offloading his mum was going to prevent Josh from having any fun. Yeah, we know “Josh” is meant to be a bit of a dick in the series – by which we mean, Josh is kind of erratically written, what with being a dick to his friends (fine in a comedy) then some kind of sad puppy in love (also fine – just not in the same character) – but usually even shitty comedies realise that bad people still feel guilt, and seeing a horrible person struggle against an emotion that forces them to act decently can be a good source of laughs.

But instead Josh sits around talking about penises and mocking Tom when he goes to hit on a girl and staring at his latest cute boy victim and complaining that his body may not be attractive to look at and trying to get his frog costume back and obsessing about a ham he’s cooking. Lucky his mum walks out of the private hospital to make his life hell, right guys? And the cute boy also has mental health issues! This is clearly a serious show tackling serious issues with laughter. Only without the laughter.

“I’m not the monster here,” Josh says, after mocking an orphan for not having a mother. So wait, he… really is a dick? This kind of awkward comedy requires you to be a consistent jerk if it’s really going to work – there’s a good reason why Larry David didn’t spend a third of every episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm pining after a girl. But don’t worry, Josh soon finds his way back to the private hospital where the nutty patients are sure to supply plenty of laughs. Well, Denise Drysdale is one of the patients and they’re telling first time sex stories (worst one wins the last chocolate). And then Hannah Gadsby’s character says “then I was raped”.

It’s technically not a rape joke because it’s not a joke – well, not until Drysdale’s character then says “I was raped too” in a desperate attempt to get the last chocolate. What are we going to say here? Honestly, we weren’t even disappointed; Please Like Me is such a sloppy, haphazard production once you pay more than the most superficial attention to what’s going on that any old hack idea just slides right in there. This is, after all, a show that can’t actually manage to give an individual episode a beginning, middle and end – not in that order at least.

Maybe if you find Josh Thomas hilarious all this shoddy writing just passes you by. Maybe if you’re impressed by US sales it doesn’t matter if plotlines are just forgotten and situations go nowhere. Maybe if you think having young people in a show is all you need to do to appeal to young people you can enjoy an episode of Please Like Me without constantly thinking “what the fuck is this shit that I am watching?”

Us? We’re just waiting for Thomas to tell us more about his fucking dick.

 

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12 Comments

  • Bernard says:

    According to TV Tonight, Please Like Me dropped its broadcast audience from 102,000 (episode 1) to 74,000 (episode 2). This does not include iView. As we all know, sitcoms never claw back lost audience numbers. The first series settled around 100,000, so there’s no way you can say this show is slowly building an audience.

    I suspect the ABC is grateful they didn’t put this turkey on ABC1. However, they probably are embarrassed that they commissioned a third series without having seen the second. Yes, I am aware that Pivot TV is the mover and shaker here.

    Congratulations on you guys being the only commentators to criticize PLM. Every other reviewer gushes all over it.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    The cinematography in this is really better than it needs to be. Also you can see the money in the production values. Pity the rest doesn’t stack up. One difference in the writing is that the dialogue is more ‘bantery’ now than awkward and laconic.

  • Billy C says:

    I reckon when you’ve got three additional writers listed and one of them is the script editor you’ve got a decent amount of drafts that probably aren’t done by Thomas.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    And when you’re the star and executive producer as well as one of the writers you’re not saying anything you don’t want to say.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Very true – for all the massive writing flaws, it actually looks pretty good. Having Matthew Saville as director is a big factor there.

  • Billy C says:

    I believe they are shooting with an Arri Alexa. Woodley was the first Australian show to use one and it looked beautiful, particularly the night shooting. So the same camera as some hollywood films. They may capture using a lower codec given their only going out at 720p but they might shoot higher for the blu ray or so they can punch in a little and alter shots in post.
    They shot Outland and 20 Something with 5d’s so they obviously had much smaller budgets.

  • felix says:

    Did you see today’s gush? As always, it seems the fault for this thing failing is being laid on the viewing audience, rather than the poor writing, lack of decent jokes etc. http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/please-like-me-is-quality-comedy-despite-low-ratings-20140818-105dkf.html

  • Andrew says:

    just the fact it’s Josh Thomas is enough to make me not to watch it.

  • Yeps says:

    Yikes:

    ‘Then a comedy series comes along that ticks all the boxes and is all but ignored. One of the very few brave souls making a mark in a chronically under-nourished sphere, a creative talent who also happens to possess a distinctive voice, is overlooked.’

    Is Debi Enker Josh Thomas’ mum?

    By the fourth time it (without irony) she likened the show to Seinfeld I was feeling nauseous. When it declared that in a ‘just world’ we would all be flinging flowers at Thomas’ feet, I had to sit down for a minute and catch my breath.

    Isn’t it enough that this kind of garbled, unscripted faux-whimsical crap gets funded and put to air? Isn’t it enough that Thomas is given a platform to actual produce something that might find an audience – while other artists in this underfunded industry are never given that chance? Now we the public are not even allowed to make the decision to not to watch it? We have to be insulted and cajoled into loving the damned thing – told there’s something wrong with us and that we’re killing all hope of making better shows – because we already saw it, decided it’s wasn’t that great, and that life is too goddamn short?

    The show is apparently about the life of the ‘millennial’ generation, who – if every baby boomer and gen X nut job in your family ranting at Christmas is to be believed – have life too easy and expect a constant barrage of praise for doing nothing.

    And so now, according to Debi Enker, we have to lump unearned adoration on their television shows too?

    Even by her definition the show goes nowhere. Says nothing. The most enticing thing she mentioned was a dialogue about whether mother cats eat their deformed offspring.

    Mm mm. Sounds hilarious.

    But despite all that we’re just meant to tune in, bump the ratings, and ensure that none of the reviewers who gushed praise over this drivel before it aired have any reason to reconsider their jobs.

    Well. All right then.

    ‘It’s okay that you made a crap show with no redeeming value or anything to actually say, Josh. Everyone will still watch it anyway and tell you your great. And you reviewers too. You certainly know how to pick a winner right out of the gates. Good on you.

    ‘We’re so proud of you all. Don’t anybody bother trying to do better.’

  • Billy C says:

    Seinfeld may have been about nothing but it had incredibly crafted plots in each episode. Usually 2 separate stories, where things happened and conclusions were made. I think also as with Outland there’s a certain large element of the population who while they don’t have a problem with the gays just don’t really want to watch fiction about them. Hard to tell if that’s a factor or not. I think the Optus ads probably stopped a new audience tuning in.
    I was pretty surprised by Debi Enker’s whinging column too. People don’t like it Debi, get over it.

  • Yeps says:

    Agreed about Seinfeld.

    It actually gets on my nerves when people thoughtless peddle the ‘it was a show about nothing’ cliche. That was an ironic, self-depreciating label the show gave itself. In truth it was a show about minutia – four narcissists picking apart the codes and unspoken meanings of daily life.

    Thomas’ show, in contrast, is about random drivel. An adorable man-child, who the writers can’t decide is a prick or a sweetie, who thus swivels unsuccessfully between both while voicing inane non sequiturs about drug-addicted police dogs and how long it takes to cook a ham.

    ‘Nothing’ was a word Seinfeld used as code for the fabric of the comic universe.

    For Please Like Me its a summary of how much effort was put into the script.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    ”Please like Me’ is supposed to be about people like ‘us’. Sort of self aware, sort of ignorant, sort of serious, sort of funny, sort of liberal, sort of conservative, sort of white, sort of multicultural, sort of old and sort of young. But very much boring. In real life that’s okay because we have television. And drugs.