Situational Comedies, or as they are more commonly known, “Sit-Coms”, have been through interesting phases of development since I Love Lucy graced people’s tiny black and white boxes in the 1950s. In the 66 or so years that sit-coms have been popular, shows within this genre have been fake documentaries, candid peeks into “real” family lives and tales of “nerds” trying to exist in the real world. And although these shows attempted to represent “situations” between a family or a group of friends, no other modern show comes even close to being as realistically situational as Josh Thomas’ Comedy, Please Like Me.
Every episode’s plot in Please Like Me is a situation. Although the show’s synopsis on Netflix assures us that a major plot line of the show is Josh coming to terms with his sexuality, a big part of the show is Josh coming to terms with the fact that he’s an adult. Josh (surprisingly played by Josh Thomas) lives in his own home with his awkward and shy best-friend Tom (played by Thomas Ward; a pattern of the show is reusing the actors’ names for their characters) and together they both explore who they are as people and how they are meant to contribute to society. In a strange sort of coincidence, Ward and Thomas are both the main writing contributors to the show, and seem to vicariously write themselves into these brutal and melancholy life situations. Josh’s girlfriend, Clare (a familiar face from the long-forgotten and underrated Tomorrow When The War Began one-off movie), breaks up with him, which leads him to finally accept his gay sexuality. Tom struggles with an abusive relationship that just never seems to end (a long-running theme throughout the show). The two main characters never seem to catch a break and it is made abundantly clear that is completely and utterly their faults. As lovable and funny as Tom and Josh are they are human characters and make mistakes, a lot, and a lot of mistakes. In Josh’s positive outlook on life he can never really seem to take it seriously, and Tom’s compulsive need to constantly lie always makes his personal life fill with more problems.
Throughout the show’s four seasons, the show explores the ethics surrounding abortions, gay rights, coming out, Australian multiculturalism, mental illness, workplace harassment, early adult independence, feminism, parenting and real estate through the often inappropriately rose-tinted glasses of Josh and his friends. These escapades are presented through symmetrical, nuanced and stunning visuals. Directors Josh Thomas and Matthew Seville produce lovely and delectable cinematography that does push the show’s genre slightly closer to drama-dy than sit-com. When most shows within the sit-com genre have a fixed-camera set-up or a crew of camera operators zooming in and shaking the camera at random for “realism”, Please Like Me decides to fix the cameras in classy, stunning locations within the scene to depict realism in a fairly beautiful style. The cinematography alone is a pull for any film loving reader and the first few minutes of the first episode is a testament to the show’s scrumptious visual style.
Another main pull of the show is Josh, who is a figurative tour guide for those wondering what adult life is like. “On your left, you can see the struggle of dealing with your divorced father starting a new relationship with another woman, and on your right you can see the painful experience of caring for your suicidal and suddenly bipolar mother,” Josh would say on the disastrous and agonising excursion into his unique but possible adulthood. “We’re grown ups, this is it,” says Clare to Josh in a tender moment of catharsis, which practically summarises the show’s plot. Josh is not the main focus of this show however. As previously mentioned, Tom’s relationship woes is a massive portion of the show. Rose (the brutal AACTA award winning performance from Debra Lawrence, long term cast member of Home and Away as Pippa and Helena from Silver City), Josh’s mentally unstable mother deals with online dating and the intricacies of having to live in a private mental hospital. Alan (Roland from the Matrix series and Phil from Offspring), Josh’s father also deals with similar adult issues, having to “care” for his “incompetent” son who never really seems to ask for his father’s advice and also has to deal with his Thai girlfriend, Mae’s, reluctance towards marriage. The characters in the show represent a sort of rogues’ gallery of different ways to screw up but persist in adulthood.
The show’s title is worth pondering over. In two quotes from the show, which will remain sourceless to save those wanting to watch the show from horrible spoilers, two characters criticise Josh for being “always so self-conscious and seeking approval” and on “a pathological quest for stimulus…you are never going to be happy, Josh”. Josh really does just want people to like him but in this pursuit for bountiful respect and admiration he can really come off as an ignorant and emotionless person which is the show’s ultimate tragedy. Being a comedian he understands and projects in his show how being optimistic and positive and funny can really be an awful situation where people can’t take you seriously when it’s time to be serious but when it’s time to be serious, can sometimes not be serious in the first place.
Ultimately, Please Like Me is a tragic, and heartbreaking insight into finally moving out and discovering yourself and finding the horrible things that come with realising who you truly are. There are moments in the show that will have you slapping your knee and there are moments that will have you gripping your knee unable to even fathom why you’re crying so much over a TV show. The show is recommended for all who are saying modern Australian TV is awful because this show is proof it is doing quite the opposite and only improving.
The show’s season 4 finale aired this week on ABC – You can catch the entirety of the series both on ABC iView and Netflix.
Radio Monash met Josh Thomas at the AACTA Awards in Sydney last week! You can watch the interview with him, where we discussed the writing of Please Like Me and the good ol’ days of Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, in the media player below.