Submitted without comment from TVTonight:
It’s no laughing matter when a network picks the wrong timeslot for your show, and it’s a fate that appears to have befallen Please Like Me for Josh Thomas.
Last year it launched to 176,000 viewers on Thursday nights on ABC2 and was the channel’s highest-rating scripted show. This year on a Tuesday night it began with 103,000, but has now dropped to 57,000 in a timeslot not known for local comedy offerings. Despite positive reviews, viewers are either not warming to the material this season or are just forgetting it’s there.
Oh wait, we do have a comment: When a show loses 50% of its audience in a few weeks, there’s no “either” in front of “viewers are not warming to the material this season”. Clearly audiences found Please Like Me, then they lost interest in it: ABC2 is really going to struggle finding a timeslot when the already locked-in season three comes around.
I’ve been watching PLM closely, and I’ve finally figured out exactly what’s wrong with it. It’s the lack of (or more appropriately, the complete absence of) plot development. Normally, you have a setup (or catalyst or inciting incident or whatever you want to call it) which leads to a series of developments and complications, each of which escalates the jeopardy (which usually translates into increased laughs), until the climax and resolution occur, which ties together all the plot strands with some sort of ironic or thematically-related twist. PLM has none of that. Instead, you get a series of vignettes which occupy one scene only. Then the next scene introduces something new. There is no attempt at integrating or contextualizing all these mini-plots, or at increasing jeopardy, hence the overall feeling that the show lacks plot and momentum. You keep waiting for “something to happen”. It’s like an endless series of first acts with no follow-up second acts. It’s akin to driving around only in first gear. On top of that, the dialogue is of the social realism school, which means it doesn’t have the comic thrust of Setup-Punch dialogue.
What PLM gets right is the tone, which is something that The Moodys and Upper Middle Bogan could learn from.
And in case you’re wondering why the PLEASE LIKE ME bandwagon keeps flogging its dead horse, some insights from Anthony Morris:
… with more writers having to do less, they’re at the mercy of PR companies bombarding them with press releases about what’s going on. The reporters then regurgitate the press releases with barely a second glance, not having the time or the knowledge to check the facts or the spin put on them. It’s a grim scenario… or at least, it would be if it were true: unfortunately the reality is much, much worse.
… Now the media’s job is to tell you about things you already know, and to do it as often as possible.
… pitches that put a slightly new spin – or even no new spin at all if enough time has passed – on something already popular have a much greater chance of success.
… Far from the explosion of information in every direction the internet initially promised, what we’ve ended up with is a narrowing of subject matter as internet sites all chase after the same few topics that can draw a big crowd.
of course media insiders doing promotional fluffing for their mates is also rife too, but that is nothing new !
The show is great. Josh Thomas is a genius. This is a high watermark for Australian content.
The ratings are in free fall – not were never there, thus people never knew it was on, but rather, people clearly checked it out, went, ‘No thank you’, and never came back. Even the love-struck critics of the show cannot explain amidst all their gush what the show and its characters actually are – they keep having to dredge up comparisons to Girls and Larry David and Louis, all while still claiming its terribly original. Most of the time it seems that the reviewers are too busy talking about how charming and sweet Thomas himself is that they don’t bother mentioning the show at all.
But actually bothering to look at the show reveals the problem.
As Bernard said above, it’s a series of moments, scenes that don’t always have to (and rarely do) coalesce into a narrative. But that’s okay. Vignettes can be funny. They can be moving, and insightful, and snarky, and subversive. Louis CK’s self-titled show proves that every week. But even though all those fawning reviewers keep name-checking Louis while they trip over themselves to blame the audience’s bad taste or the ABC’s incompetence for why his show is tanking, they keep completely missing the point of why one show works and the other keeps circling the drain.
One is the unique vision of a quintessential observer of human behaviour, using the film medium to expand his comic voice in experimental, provoking ways; the other has an underdeveloped character, walking through half-baked scenarios, failing to commit to anything – characters, story ideas, comic riffs.
Consequentially, it’s a show that feels uncomfortable in its own skin. It can look pretty, it certainly has a tone, but under the aesthetics, at the moment anyway, it doesn’t seem to have anything to say.
That’s not an insurmountable problem – clearly the show has so few constraints that it has allowed itself the room to grow and adapt – but when reviewers keep spewing this ‘Audiences are too stupid to eat their vegetables’ crap, then it will never have the chance to evolve into something better. Viewers will just keep missing out on worthy content, and critics will be on to salivating over the next Marieke Hardy flop.
The strange / hilarious thing about the media coverage of Please Like Me is that it is following the same pattern as Chris Lilley’s coverage over the last few years. In both cases the ratings dropped *after* the shows aired, so it was clear people were trying the shows then giving up, and in both cases the media claimed “it’s the best show you’re not watching” and that external factors (timeslot, a shift to online viewing) explained the dud ratings.
What seems much more likely is that the critics, having staked their reputations on the “quality” of these terrible shows, were forced to double down on their original support in a desperate attempt to save face. It didn’t work with Lilley and it’s not working here: it seems reasonable to expect no-one will be saying much of anything when the third series of Please Like Me rolls around.
Fairfax are oddly obsessed with this show. No review of Backseat Drivers or Die on Your Feet but countless pleadings to watch this.
And yes the problem is the structure and narrative of the show is appalling. It’s very badly written and Josh’s character is not very likeable.
I was expecting the ABC to deliver a press release on iVIew numbers much like Jonah by now but they too must be so low they’re not worth it. Which is bad considering how large Thomas’ established fan base was. The ratings that ultimately count are on Pivot any way.
Perhaps they realised everyone has seen through that. PLM picked up some viewers on time shifting putting in the 100k range which is still low but better than nothing. Will be fascinating to see what Lilley does next. I wonder if the ABC will give him more chances.
Michael Carmen writes:
I don’t know which lactating control freak at the ABC programming dept, (who clearly envisaged Josh Thomas as the gay son she always wanted to suckle but couldn’t, due to her marriage to a sports commentator) authorised the production of the excrement titled “Please Like Me”, but PLEASE!!!!! TAKE IT OFF!! I DONT LIKE YOU, WE DONT LIKE YOU, NOBODY FUCKING LIKES YOU, JOSH!!!
Well, I love it and feel sorry for people like you here on this blog who seem incapable of enjoying its quirky brilliance.
I’m glad that you enjoy it – and I mean that genuinely. It’s not for me – clearly – but I’m happy to hear that there is an audience for whom it’s ticking all the boxes.
Can I ask you, though (and I promise, I’m being completely genuine when I say this), what are those boxes that it ticks? What is that ‘quirky brilliance’?
Because personally, I am having another Chris Lilley/Marieke Hardy moment with Josh Thomas, where I keep getting told that he’s great, but nothing that any of the critics are saying is matching up with what I’m seeing. And I’d hate to think that’s what happening.
For Lilley it was how ‘true to life’ and ‘real’ and ‘deep’ his characters were, but all I was seeing was cheap, one dimensional caricatures repeating themselves ad nauseum until some contrived ‘drama’ popped up (and then dissolved just as quickly) in the last two episodes. For Hardy it was how ingeniously macarbe and insightful her scripts were, when all I saw was gormless plotting, ham-fisted dialogue, and smarm.
For all of my snark, I really don’t want to believe that the same thing is happening with Thomas; but I keep hearing how ‘original’ and ‘sweet’ and ‘unique’ the show is, but no one – especially not the critics – seems to be able to explain to me what that actually means in terms that don’t immediately dissolve into ‘Well if you had a heart you’d like it, so nyah nyah.’ After all, a puppy is sweet and unique, but that doesn’t mean I want to watch it do two seasons of limp observational non sequiturs.
I know it probably sounds like I’m having a go at you, but I’m really not trying to, I promise. I can’t imagine I’ll ever personally like the show, but I’m glad for people who do, and I’m genuinely curious to understand why.
If you respond – and I truly hope you do – I promise I will not pick what you’ve said apart, or disagree. I will merely say thank you.
The fact that you can’t see the appeal of the show despite having given it a go means that there is probably nothing I can say to make you understand why I like it, because you either relate to the humour and poignancy of it or you don’t. But I will try to explain and give you some specifics, since that seems to be what you are asking for.
First, I think I have a pretty broad sense of humour, which means I can see the funny side of many things in life and I enjoy a wide variety of comedy, from stand up to sketch shows to sitcoms (Aussie, British, American). I would not classify PLM as pure comedy though, it is really a mixture of comedy and drama, which is one of the things I like most about it. Because that’s what life is – there is rarely a situation in life that is pure comedy or pure drama, most things have elements of both and I think the show does a great job of portraying that continual tension in life between the amusing and the sad or dramatic. Do I need to give an example? Ok, here is one from the very first episode. Josh is at his mum’s bedside after she has attempted suicide with “lots of Panadol and half a bottle of Bailey’s”, so it’s pretty sad and grim. The nurse asks Rose if she still has a headache. Josh says “a headache? … She took quite a lot of Panadol”. That was funny.
There are little moments of humour like that throughout pretty much every scene of the show, but it is not just a string of moments. Each scene is well crafted but each episode is also beautifully balanced with the stories of each character interwoven with a kind of central theme in each episode. Take episode 5 of the current season. It started with the plumber and the tampon and continued from there to the amusing ending of Tom admitting that it was he who had flushed the tampon down the toilet. In between there was the toilet graffiti, the hilarious school musical with Jenny’s “wings”, and the cute gymnastics routines.
I think the characters are multidimensional and I love the interactions between them. The way Josh kind of delights in Tom’s patheticness and poor choices while also recognising how hurtful he was to Niamh. One of my favourite scenes this season was in episode 3 when Tom accidentally sent his dick photo to Jenny instead of Niamh. The way Patrick and Josh kind of led Tom with how to behave, and then the way the confrontation between Jenny and Tom fizzled out: “that’s it?” says Patrick, disappointed. “You should marry her” says josh as he’s on his way out. All the characters and the actors who play them are great and they just gel together as an ensemble.
I love the production values and the attention to detail in everything – the set decoration, the camera angles, the music, and so on. There is a great “behind the scenes” video on the Pivot website where josh goes through the house showing some of these details.
The dialogue and the scenarios just feel very true to life. I am a 50-something married female with young adult kids (early 20s and late teens). We all like the show, my sister and her family like it, my brother in law and his wife and teenage kids like it, and I have several friends of similar age with young adult kids who also like it. Maybe we are just the right ages and demographic, but I think the themes of the show are pretty universal and yet I don’t think there has been a show quite like it before.
I could go on but I think I have said enough. Cheers.
PS. If you’d like to read a blog with quite a lot of detail about each episode that I think explains fairly well what there is to like about the show, search for indiewire blog please like me recaps. Sorry I am no good at copying and pasting links on an iPad.
Thank you, Valancy. I really appreciate the reply.
As you say, I don’t think it will ever appeal to me – but that’s okay. Not everything is for everyone, and it sounds like you have a wide demographic in your family who do enjoy it.
More importantly, though, your description of what you see in the show has literally told me more, and been a more meaningful a window into the show, than the entire sum of empty hyperbole that the paid television critics have been burbling about it over the past two years. In your description I see a tone and a perspective; in theirs all I get is ‘it’s genius’, ‘it’s masterful’, ‘it’s like Girls’ but ‘its also unlike anything else’, and I can’t actually do my job and explain why.
So again: thanks.
Okay, couple of discussions running parallel here.
My chief concern around the kerfuffle about PLEASE LIKE ME — the one that kicked off the discussion in the beginning — remains the suspicious lack of independent thought demonstrated by supposedly independently-thinking TV reviewers all miraculously saying exactly the same thing at the exact same time … demonstrating the kind of lock-step propaganda mentality of Rupert Murdoch’s editorship team.
As for the merits of PLEASE LIKE ME, I am in no position to judge …
but perhaps the question should be …
how much MORE public funding should a dedicated “niche” program receive if even the intended “niche” audience is switching off.
Because I don’t think anyone can argue PLEASE LIKE ME is a niche program.
which in itself doesn’t bother me. In fact, I think it is the job of Australia’s public broadcaster (glory be to Allah) to produce such shows seeing as Channels 7, 9, and 10 sure as hell won’t.
Idiots will argue that taxpayers money shouldn’t go towards funding things those idiots personally don’t like — but that’s because they are idiots.
But there is still a question to be asked about PLEASE LIKE ME.
Which is whether a different niche program would serve that intended niche target audience better, if indeed PLEASE LIKE ME is failing to resonate with them.
Now that is a question I would have like to have seen just ONE of those supposedly independently-minded reviewers willing to ask the show’s intended niche target audience …
It seems more than a little likely that Pivot is stumping up most, if not all of the production budget. ABC2 is almost certainly getting Please Like Me as a freebie (or very close to it). Which is good news!
But it does also mean that it’s a proven failure that the ABC wouldn’t have kept going with on their own (what, no second series of Outland? Or Woodley?), which is why we remain puzzled by all the press talking it up.