PERFECTION IS IMPOSSIBLE. Try as we want, even aiming for contentment is difficult. Even if you manage to achieve the lofty aims of feeling like you have that barest of minimum levels of happiness, reaching it is nowhere near as hard as maintaining it. For many of us, we exist as part of a generation mis-sold a future, informed that we have the ability to do whatever but with no opportunities and no guidance to work out what the hell that is. I’m not trying to pretend that we have it worse than anyone else but as a generation, we have our fair share of problems. Luckily that brings me to the paradoxical statement that there are people out there who understand this exact feeling but also are that much more focussed and proactive to make a series that illustrates such issues, like Please Like Me.
Please Like Me is the brainchild of Australian comic Josh Thomas, who writes, stars and frequently directs the semi-autobiographical series. Despite Thomas’ background in comedy, the show would be better described as a drama with jokes than a straight comedy. I’m avoiding using the phrase dramedy because when you see that word, if you’re like me, you assume it means a comedy that’s not funny. Trust me, PLM can be very funny just not in a traditional sitcom way. It’s the closest I’ve ever found to an actual ‘hang-out’ sitcom where it feels like you’re just hanging out with a group of slightly funnier, slightly quicker version of your friends. It just so happens your friends are really dealing with some stuff at the moment.
Season one began with Josh breaking up with his girlfriend Claire, discovering he was gay and his Mom attempting suicide. By Season four’s opener, Josh is still living with best friend Tom and Tom’s girlfriend Ella, he is experimenting with boyfriend Arnold who wants to bring other people into the relationship, Claire is being distant, his Dad is very busy making his new family work and his Mom is now living with friend from the clinic Hannah who hasn’t stopped beating herself but has taken up self-defence. You really have to be prepared if you’re going into the series, it might be called Please Like Me but the show isn’t eager for your love, it will make you work for its attention and probably drag something painful out but it’s definitely worth it.
What works so well about the show, beyond the unique and wonderful cinematic style defined by frequent director Matthew Saville, is that it deftly handles being a real combination of laughs and tears, often within seconds of each other, without being jarring in its shifts. It even manages to present characters performing musical numbers in a realistic way, sometimes it doesn’t matter how talented you are, if it’s not the time for a song, it just makes everyone really awkward but then it can also make everything OK for a moment. In Episode two of Season four, the gang go on a camping trip for Hannah’s birthday and Josh realises he has to break up with Arnold, at the end of a hard episode full of awkward moments, failed attempts at group fun and a dead body on the beach, they’re driving back and Justin Bieber’s ‘Love Yourself’ comes on the radio. It’s an odd moment as everyone joins in and for a moment, it makes everything fine again. Use of music as emotional shorthand can often be a little lazy but in the moment, it works, we’re dealing with a group of people drawn from a generation who have been told to make something of themselves but given no tools to do so. Many of us find that pop culture isn’t just what we watch or listen to but how we experience things and that one moment illustrates that almost better than anything else.
The cast are uniformly strong with Josh Thomas and Thomas Ward surprisingly strong for a pair of previously non-actors, Caitlyn Stacey isn’t given as much to work with as Claire but still brings a lot of charm to a role that could have been insufferable and plum roles are given to Debra Lawrence, David Roberts and Renee Lim as Josh’s Mom, Dad and new Mom respectively. WHat’s nice is that everyone is treated like a real person, even the inevitable bad date one-off characters aren’t just cartoonish caricatures but shaded, interesting beings who feel like they exist outside the realm of the programme.
If the series has an issue, it’s that six episodes are not enough. Previous 10-episode series were tight enough to feel focussed but without feeling rushed but the 6 we get, while being minor masterpieces each enclosed, feel like they’re missing some beats in between. Rushing between major event and major event does work for certain events in the series that are dropped on you without warning like a ton of bricks. Structurally the series works but it doesn’t help me feeling like it is missing a few more moments that would tie it together more thoroughly. It’s a hard sell as a show, it’s not easy to love and the realistic sense of humour won’t be to everyone’s taste as there are few jokes per se but if you want something different with some surprisingly excellent performances (especially by Josh’s dog) then why not give it a go. I’m sure you’ll like it.
Please Like Me Seasons 1-4 are now streaming on Amazon Prime.
You can find Jozef on Twitter @NotJozefRaczka