Australian Import ‘Please Like Me’ Balances Humor and Pathos Brilliantly
You’ve probably never heard of Please Like Me, the Australian series created by and starring comedian Josh Thomas, but trust me: this is a show that deserves your attention. It’s not surprising that the series hasn’t been on many people’s radar; the first three seasons aired on Pivot, a relatively unknown network (which is now defunct). Last year, however, it was picked up by Hulu, and the streaming service is currently the only place where people in the U.S. can see it. Thank goodness, because it’s excellent. It’s also the perfect series for a weekend binge-watch, so adjust your schedules accordingly. Hulu released Please Like Me’s fourth season recently, and it has some of the show’s funniest, most powerful material yet.
One of Please Like Me’s biggest strengths is the way it balances its humor with pathos. Darkness is embedded in the show’s DNA right from the pilot. Josh’s coming out (normally the central plot point in most LGBT narratives) is given just as much time and attention as his mother’s attempted suicide, and the juggling of these two tones become a blueprint for how the show tells its stories. Josh’s mother continues to struggle with depression and bipolar disorder throughout the series and it’s never sugarcoated. When asked in an early episode what the difference between sadness and depression is, Josh’s mother, Rose, replies that depression, “can’t be cured with ice cream.” The way the series weaves in comedy with its more serious stories makes for a far more interesting and layered viewing experience. With this latest batch of episodes in particular, any given moment can make you laugh, or cry, but they’re almost guaranteed to make you feel something.
Please Like Me also handles LGBT issues better than so many other series do. The characters don’t come out in big dramatic ways, and yet the show isn’t cynical about making those moments meaningful, either. In Season 1, Josh tells his father he’s gay while going through a car wash, and after some initial awkwardness, his dad tells him he supports him. This is later paid off in Season 3, with Josh’s boyfriend Arnold, who struggles with severe anxiety, and is terrified at coming out to his own parents. Josh suggests they first practice on his own father. The scene is set to Sia’s Chandelier, and it’s seems ridiculous at first, but the show turns this “rehearsal” into a beautiful moment where Arnold finally feels accepted.
Please Like Me has a very specific point of view, one that lets all its characters be seen as real people, flaws and all. The storytelling is layered enough that while the audience is rooting for Josh in many instances, there are plenty of times when he’s completely unlikeable. Everyone’s a bit narcissistic, at least in Josh’s inner circle, and no one’s ever 100% happy. Please Like Me fleshes out all its characters, even the supporting ones, and lets them be complicated. Josh’s Aunt Peg, for instance, who recurs throughout the first season, is initially depicted as a staunch conservative who’s not happy when she finds out Josh is gay, but she later defends him in church in the middle of their pastor’s homophobic sermon. Since the show filters everyone through this lens, it feels like all the characters are represented fully and realistically.
The six episodes in this fourth season are best enjoyed with as little information as possible. But it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that they contain a major development in Josh and Arnold’s relationship, the return of Josh’s ex-boyfriend, Geoffrey, and a personal tragedy that might be the biggest gut punch of the series. The standout chapter is “Degustation,” a bottle episode where Josh and his parents have a big meal at an expensive restaurant. These thirty minutes are funny and poignant on their own, but they take on a whole new meaning after watching the season as a whole.
With Please Like Me’s arrival on Hulu, hopefully more people will discover this delightful show. Season 4 is certainly an emotional roller coaster, but these six episodes truly represent some of their best work. While the ending of this season could very plausibly serve as a series finale, personally, I’d love to spend more time with these characters. If you’re still reeling from 2016, or maybe just need a temporary break from politics and the constant flood of bad news, do yourself a favor, and watch this show.