Yet Another Theory About Please Like Me

Okay, so despite Please Like Me tanking in the ratings- yes, despite wall-to-wall media attention in this country it rates less than, oh, every other show you’ve ever heard of – local critics continue to go nuts over it. Here’s a quick cross-section that’s been brought to our attention:

There’s this:

American and Australian critics compete in their love for the show. James Poniewozik, TV critic for Time magazine called it one of his favourites for 2013 and, more recently, the magazine gave it prime real estate in a story titled How an American Network Saved One of TV’s Best Twentysomethings.

And this:

The Top Ten Australian Characters on TV

Phryne Fisher

1 Billie Proudman (Kat Stewart in Offspring, Ten)

2 Alice Ross-King (Georgia Flood in Anzac Girls, ABC)

3 The Micallef persona (Shaun Micallef in Mad As Hell, ABC).

Elizabeth Bligh

4 Elizabeth Bligh (Noni Hazlehurst in A Place To Call Home, Seven).

5 Ja’mie King (Chris Lilley in Ja’mie: Private School Girl, ABC).

6 The Politician (John Clarke in Clarke and Dawe, ABC)

Josh Photo: Supplied

7 Josh (Josh Thomas in Please Like Me, ABC2)

8 Gemma Crabb (Julia Morris in House Husbands, Nine).

9 Caroline Tivoli (Claudia Karvan in The Time of Our Lives, ABC)

Gemma Crabb Photo: Natalie Boog

10 Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, ABC)

And this:

When the actual plot is explained, it’s clear that everything happening is fairly dramatic, but when you’re watching the show, somehow the Big Things that are so often Dramatic are treated with a comedic touch that manages to be light without making light of anything. They’re going for realism, Thomas told BuzzFeed, but it’s also narrative, and “stuff has to happen.” When you reflect on the show, he said, you realize, though, “Wow, he’s had a really rough fortnight.”

Plus glowing reviews in TV Week and The Green Guide.

Previously we asked why – why all this love for a little watched show on a minor channel starring a guy from Celebrity Splash and a bunch of Optus commercials? We concluded it was because Thomas was the kind of quirky inner-city goofball a certain segment of the Australian media could happily get behind – but it’s gone far beyond that now.

So now we reckon this: Please Like Me is one of the few – actually, it’s pretty much the only – Australian made television show being shown in the US. And because no-one in Australia is actually watching it, critics here can happily praise it to the high heavens safe in the knowledge they’re not going to be contradicted… which wasn’t a freedom they had with the last Australian show to air overseas, Chris Lilley’s Jonah from Tonga.

That makes pretty much all these articles and reviews talking up Please Like Me nothing but clickbait. For once Australian TV writers can talk about a local show – which they kind of have to, because no-one on the internet gives a shit about what they think about overseas shows (we can read much better overseas writers’ thoughts about them) –  while also, in theory at least, taping into a much larger overseas audience of readers. More readers = less chance of being sacked and replaced with a slideshow titled Top Twelve Times Beyonce Yawned In Public.

Obviously, actually saying concrete things about Please Like Me isn’t part of the plan. Pointing out the show’s flaws would only turn off the fans, and people who aren’t fans aren’t going to read your article anyway – it’s only when something becomes so popular it’s impossible to ignore that it becomes possible to attract an audience of haters. So everyone writes the same crowd-pleasing article about how good Please Like Me is in the hope of attracting the same mass audience of mildly interested chumps.

Man, we’re totally doing this internet thing all wrong.


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  • Paytahr Escobar says:

    This is the least sure I’ve ever been that there’s any value in my leaving a comment on a website, but: I’ve been on board with just about everything you’ve written here (and in the old CaB thread) over the years, but I really, really enjoy Please Like Me. I like jokes, I like solid, consistent characters, I’m forever annoyed by the shift towards discomfort and casual cruelty and lazy “oh I know someone like that” type realism as a substitute for comedic invention, I start from a position of instant distrust of any comedian under 30, there’s nothing I can say about the current state of mainstream TV reviewing that hasn’t already been said here time and time again, and I don’t have the time or the energy in my life to commit to watching anything I only kind of half like, just to have something on… hence my unending surprise at how excellent I’ve found PLM for its entire run so far and how deftly it’s sidestepped so many of the most likely pitfalls for a show of its type.

    I can go into specifics as to its high points if you’d like, but I’m afraid it’d come off seeming like the very most futile “no but here’s why you’re wrong and you’ll come around to it if you just pay attention” argument, which I’m not after at all; you don’t dig it, and that’s fine. It’s just that there’s been a tone to your last few posts of total disbelief that anyone could genuinely enjoy it without a severe deficiency in taste or some kind of agenda, so I felt the need to serve myself up as an exception.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    No, please do go into specifics as to why you like it! There are certainly some shows where our minds are pretty much closed, and Thomas himself is probably never going to be a comedian we have much time for, but if you’re enjoying Please Like Me we’re definitely interested in hearing why.

  • Paytahr Escobar says:

    Well first of all, on the awkwardness factor – I might just call it “tension”, as that’s a bit less loaded – each character has a unique way of dealing with tension (and experiencing relief from it) when they see it or create it. Josh likes to comment on it, his mum charges right through it, his dad’s a bit more old-fashioned both as a person and as a comedy character (though he still does great things with the “quietly embarrassing dad” model, such as his bonding moments with Josh’s boyfriend in series 1, because his relief comes from successfully doing the correct thing in a social situation, especially when he’s very self-consciously Accepting His Gay Son). Tom is more stable and well-adjusted but is completely twentysomething-straight-boy hapless in tense situations, which if you think about it (as I’m doing for the first time with a lot of this stuff, so thanks for the invitation!) shows what Josh has picked up from his parents and how he’s become a cross of them both; he’s not as loud and boisterous as his mum but he’s not all hrm-let’s-change-the-subject like his dad. So all of the above is how the show avoids the “oblivious man talks and everyone else stares at the floor” situations typical of Gervais and Lilley’s work.

    I find Josh and Tom’s self-absorption to be played in an oddly remarkable way, too, written with seemingly more distance/hindsight than you’d expect the real Josh to have while still pretty deep in his 20s. There’s a very old argument to be had there, is he cleverly writing like that or just writing himself with absolutely no self-awareness, but in this case I’m inclined to lean towards the former.

    As for the big laughs: so far this series they’ve mostly come from scenes that do a lot of shifting. Tom’s dick pic mix-up (and bloody hell who’d have thought that would ever be the setup for anything but sheer death in a comedy show) and how it only leads to Tom being chided for being a bit classless, and Josh and his friend’s momentary bewilderment/annoyance that it didn’t turn into a proper fight; everything about Hannah and Denise Drysdale at the end of the sex stories game (you think about the empty shock merchants who would have ended that scene on “I was raped”, and the slightly more trad comedy sorts that would have ended on “I knew I was gonna get the chocolate”, and it becomes all the more impressive how the scene continues and resolves from there – there’s a lifetime of disappointment in Hannah’s reaction after Denise takes the last chocolate), that extraordinary single long take of Josh’s mum coming to the house at the end of the first episode, revelling in all the distractions and deep emotions…

    Anyway, I know how you see it, and that’s how I see it. Thanks for reading!

  • Erin says:

    If you have to write an essay length comment justifying why a show is funny chances are the show’s not funny.

  • Forum Joe says:

    That’s hardly fair. Paytahr said he(?) didn’t want to post a long comment on why he likes the show, but AusTumb asked him to. He’s not trying to defend the show or justify why it’s funny, he’s just documenting why HE finds it funny. What’s wrong with that? Don’t be so judgemental on people with different tastes.