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.