Over the last few years, there’s been a big wave of shows about queer people coming up: Glee, Queer as Folk… Of course it’s still all comedies or romance, and we’re still far from seeing queer main characters in action, sci-fi or horror, but we’re slowly getting there. And it’s refreshing as hell because we’re opening up and discovering a bunch of different situations that hadn’t been explored in television before.
Today I’m gonna be talking about an Australian sitcom called Please Like Me. I started watching this series when a friend of mine recommended it to me and used the world “real” to describe it. As much as I love fiction, it always puts me out when I can read through the lines and realise that something is being acted. In this case, what actually put me out (in a good way) is that the actions and the conversations were so believable and mundane, that I actually forget that I was watching a TV show.
[ This review does NOT contain spoilers for the show ]
Please Like Me is an Australian show broadcast on ABC2 in Australia and on Pivot in the USA. The show was created by Josh Thomas (who also plays Josh, the lead character) and it currently has two seasons. The first seasons consists of 6 episodes (of aprox. 27min each) and the second season has 10 episodes. Season 3 will come out in August this year.
The story follows a 20-year-old boy called Josh, who has just been dumped by his girlfriend Claire because she believes he’s gay. Shortly after that, he gets involved with an attractive guy called Geoffrey. Josh is confused about it and he needs the help of Claire and his best friend and house mate Tom to figure things out. As if coming to terms with his sexuality wasn’t enough, he also has to take care of his depressed mother and deal with the conflicts existing between his divorced parents.
Like the sitcom and romantic comedy that it is, the show presents very funny situations. But it’s not the typical comedy you see in shows like The Big Bang Theory or Two and A Half Men. For starters, there’s no laugh track here. There’s no recurring gags, predictable jokes or forced conversations. You actually laugh because what happens is funny, and the characters laugh with you as if they had just made up the joke right there instead of just remembering the lines. The episodes always start with an adorable and cheerful intro of Josh dancing while cooking (at least during the first season). There’s hardly ever any music during the first season either, except for some accompanying melodies in funny situations or one catchy song that they all like to listen to in the car. The show has a big amount of comedy gold situations and one-liners too:
“Is this supposed to be insulting? You spent 20 minutes photoshopping a photo of me sucking your penis and it’s supposed to make me look weird? I’m gay. I quite like sucking penis. Are you hitting on me?”
Generally, this is a very light show to watch. But don’t let the funny cute moments fool you, this is actually a comedy-drama. There are mentions of suicide, death and homophobic words. This is reflected in the title itself of the show. At first, it looks cute and funny. But this show is also about acceptance, about insecurities and needing other people’s validation. If you’re considering watching this show, I would first like to give you some trigger warnings for homophobic behaviour and depression and suicide themes.
The show also has an unusual way of using narrative elements. Just like the conversations are realistic, the way and the order in which the events happen is also like in real life. For instance, in the majority of shows, two different important events have their two important separate scenes. However here, two important actions can overlap to the point that we (and the protagonist) can only find out about what’s happening in one of them. There are situations in which you think “oh, I’ve seen this before, now they’re gonna use this to make x”. But it never happens, just like it hardly ever does in real life. This kind of reminded me of the expectation vs reality scene from 500 Days of Summer. In TV shows (and movies, and literature…), when they show you a character doing a certain thing, no matter how small it is, it’s because they’re trying to tell you something. “This will be relevant for the future, otherwise, we wouldn’t bother with it”. However, in this show there are small actions done or things said that… they’re just there because that’s how life is, not because it has to have any special meaning. A clear example of this is a scene in which Josh and Claire are shopping and picking up random stuff that they’re not gonna take. There is also some credit to be given to the magnificent cast, who all play their roles perfectly and make the exchanges as natural as it can get.
On another hand, Josh is extremely likeable. He’s very peculiar, he’s awkward and just plain adorable. He’s the kind of person you’d like to be best friends with. And you feel like you just have to keep watching what happens to him and how he reacts to everything that’s going on around him.
Another thing that has to be pointed out is that gay people are not portrayed in a stereotypical way and they’re not the source of jokes like they usually are in most sitcoms. You don’t see Josh thinking over and over again about his sexuality or being very clear about what he thinks and what he wants. What he wants is usually seen by what he does. This is clearly shown in his relationship with Geoffrey, to the point that it is quite confusing and you never know where they’re standing. However, you do see that Josh is somewhat worried about his new found sexuality, as he admits that he’s googled “gay stuff” and that he doesn’t want anything to go in his “bun”.
The downside of the show would probably have to be that everything is quite short-lived. Like I mentioned before, the first season only has 6 episodes and that is too bad because everything about it is so good that you get sucked into these people’s lives. It’s very sad that some of the characters just stop appearing later in the show and you kind of miss the dynamic they had in the very first episodes. Of course, that’s just a personal preference and you might end up liking the second season more than the first one. Can’t talk much about it either because that would mean giving things away and I don’t want to spoil the fun for you.
Yes, you’ll relate more to this show if you’re gay. But you’ll enjoy it anyway no matter your orientation. After all, Please Like Me is about family, friendship and general acceptance of others and their ways of loving.