Please watch meLatest Issue, Movie Review, Section 4A Thursday, February 2nd, 2017
In October, the little watched cable channel Pivot shut down. Few people noticed, and even though this is the sort of thing I do notice, I didn’t find out until one of its shows, the Australian import Please Like Me, debuted its new season on Hulu. At first I was happy, because I don’t get Pivot but I do have Hulu, and Please Like Me is my favorite TV show. I’ve called it the gay love child of Girls and Louie, as frank and maybe more funny in its examinations of gay sex, chronic depression and the agonies of adulthood. It is a masterpiece of the New Golden Era of TV, but it is criminally under-watched. Hulu could change that! Then I found out the problem. Without Pivot, Please Like Me doesn’t have funding for another season. This may change, but the comments the show’s creator and star Josh Thomas has been making do not express much optimism. Season Four may be Please Like Me’s last. And among its six episodes are some of the best half hours of television of the last several years.
Please Like Me is a half-hour, single-camera comedy that revolves around Josh, a wise-cracking gay twentysomething living in Melbourne. He shares a small house with his dog John and straight, long-time best friend Tom. John is played by Josh Thomas’ dog John, and Tom is played by Thomas Ward, Thomas’ long-time best friend. Josh’s flighty, sweet Mum, played by Debra Lawrance, is bipolar and attempted suicide in the series’ first episode; Josh comes out, to one’s surprise, to his girlfriend Claire (Caitlin Stasey) and to Tom in that episode, too. Also around is Josh’s gruff but loving father Alan (David Roberts), who has a baby with his much younger Thai girlfriend Mae (Renee Lim). Aside from Claire, who ends up dating Tom as well, Josh and Tom’s various relationships have major roles, the most important being Josh’s neurotic boyfriend Arnold (Keegan Joyce) and Tom’s sweet and quirky girlfriend Ella (Emily Barclay).
Over the first three seasons, Josh has grown up considerably, fully embracing his sexuality, managing his mother’s mental illness, and settling into a job running his own gourmet food cart. He’s also still occasionally selfish and foolish and his reliance on jokes gets him in trouble with just about everyone. Tom, meanwhile, is still a man-child with no direction and fickle morality. The beginning of the fourth season has Josh tentatively settled into his relationship with Arnold, and Tom is planning to move in with Ella. Alan and Mae have repaired their relationship, and Josh’s mother seems to be stable living with her friend Hannah (Hannah Gadsby), who she met while in a psychiatric hospital. Things start going awry on a camping trip for Hannah’s birthday, and by the end of the season, Josh, Tom, Mum, Hannah and Alan are put through the ringer on their way to epiphanies of various sizes.
Thomas, who writes or co-writes every episode, is particularly adept at what is known as a “bottle episode,” which usually focuses on one setting and only regular characters. Season Two’s brilliant Scroggin focuses solely on Josh and Mum as they hike a park in Tasmania; I put it on the same artistic level as Mad Men’s Nixon vs. Kennedy and The Suitcase or Seinfeld’s The Contest. Season Four has two bottle episodes. The camping trip for Hannah’s birthday is the setting for Porridge, and Thomas and Ward weave old and new threads into a hilarious and sad ode to misplaced expectations. Josh takes his parents to an expensive and pretentious dinner in Degustation, partly to cheer up Mum, and almost the entire episode takes place at the table as the three share stories, reveal secrets, make jokes and get angry. I laughed so loudly while watching it my neighbor knocked on my door to ask if I was OK. The fifth episode of the season starts out as a typically silly sex-and-neuroses story and then the second half is a bottle focused on shocking grief.
While much is resolved by the end of the season, and I’ve read some critics say that it would be a fine place to end the show, there is too much undone and unsaid to satisfy me. Of course, I can’t stand to lose characters that I’ve grown to love. I’m still not over the last episodes of Six Feet Under, Lost, or Mad Men. With Please Like Me, however, if enough people watch it on Hulu, it might return. Hulu’s head of content Craig Erwich has left the door open: “We’ll have to see. I wouldn’t rule it out. Let’s see how Season Four goes, what the fans think of it and how it is, and then also where the producers [want it to go], but it’s certainly always an option.”
Please Like Me
Created by Josh Thomas
Starring Josh Thomas, Thomas Ward and Debra Lawrance
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