‘Please Like Me’ Is the Best New TV Comedy You’ve Never Heard Of
All six episodes of the first season of Please Like Me premiered last Thursday on Pivot, a cable network that launched on that very same day. Episodes of the show will continue to run on the very young channel fairly often for the foreseeable future. The first episode is available to watch on Pivot’s website.
This review contains mild spoilers.
Signing on to forty million homes last week, Pivot – a network that is unabashedly devoted to appealing to Millennials – devoted three hours of its very first prime time programming1 on an Australian import titled Please Like Me, a half hour comedy-drama based on the autobiographical stand-up of 26-year-old Aussie comedian Josh Thomas. In a failed attempt to attract some controversy, Pivot President Evan Shapiro said that Please Like Me was just like Girls, “If ‘Girls’ had a soul.” This was sort of correct – it’s more like Girls but funnier.
It’s hard to not get hooked right away by this show. By the halfway point of the pilot episode, Josh is dumped by his girlfriend, who matter-of-factly but kindly says that she believes him to be gay. As it turns out, that very night she is proven to be correct. Also on that night, Josh’s mother attempts suicide. That’s a lot of plot packed in such a short time, and as you would figure, those events lead to the biggest stories that play out throughout the season. Josh’s coming out, and all of the complications stemming from that manage to be funny without it losing its significance, and never resorting to broad stereotypes and cheap jokes. That same care in authenticity without the loss of levity came with Josh’s mother Rose and her depression. A huge reason for this was because these events are from Thomas’ life from when he was 20, with some lines of dialogue stolen directly from reality to the scripts2.
Another aspect that puts Please Like Me on such a high level, and reminiscent of the dearly departed Enlightened, is how three-dimensional all of the supporting characters are. Two examples are Josh’s roommate/best buddy Tom and his girlfriend Niamh. Niamh is a boisterous, condescending ass that happens to not be nearly as intelligent as she figures herself to be. She could have easily simply been the token stupid character, but it’s far more layered than that with her. It’s impossible to tell whether or not some of the manipulative games that she played with Tom and his friends are intentional or not. I somehow felt bad for Niamh while simultaneously feeling passionate about her getting some sort of karmic comeuppance. The dynamic between her and Tom was perfectly encapsulated in one very funny sentence: when Josh reminds his insecure BFF that Niamh once lit his passport on fire, he responded, “She didn’t want me to leave, it was romantic.”
The Wiseass Kid/Adults Are Useless tropes are as old as television, and at times the dialogue between the relaxed, full-of-jokes Josh and his uptight father Alan are guilty of relying too much on the tired scenario. But Alan turns out to be a bit of a boob to everybody, the figurative punching bag for not just his son and his ex-wife but from his current girlfriend — it’s simply their way of communicating with him, which is something he apparently will never quite understand. The term “mid-life crisis” is never uttered, because it doesn’t have to be said when Alan drives off the lot with an expensive, cool car that only makes him that much less hip. But Alan is a likable character with just enough dignity to be taken seriously when a scene calls for it.
Please Like Me gets compared to Girls, Enlightened, and sometimes Louie, because like those other 30-minute shows, it isn’t afraid to feature complex and sometimes hateable characters, or to sketch in those characters’ inner worlds, or to not write a laugh line for a couple of pages. Josh Thomas believes in striving for both verisimilitude and running gags. Like Louis C.K., Thomas is okay with having other characters say he isn’t attractive to his face, and to be so self-deprecating as to describe his visage as that of a “50-year-old baby” out loud to a boy he likes. He definitely isn’t afraid to write potentially tear-inducing moments either, justifiably confident that the audience trusts him to come up with a joke soon after, a courage and skill set that was on full display in a particularly memorable moment that I wont forget for a long while.
The show was on the bubble in Australia for renewal because of lukewarm ratings, but Pivot — trying to be like that Millennials-approved Netflix — swooped in and ordered a second season a few days before the show even premiered on its network in America early last week. One reason was that despite the unimpressive amount of viewers aside, Please Like Me received a lot of positive reviews in the Australian press. It’s easy to see why.
1“You kids born between 1982 and 2004 like the binge watching, yes?” While the answer to that question is in the affirmative, it doesn’t seem like prudent programming strategy for its flagship show, when its second season will probably not be ready for at least a year.
2The truthiness of it all is even present in the casting: Josh’s best friend IRL Tom is played by his best friend IRL Thomas Ward, and Josh’s dog John is portrayed by John the Dog.