‘Please Like Me’, A Show About People Doing Their Best, Kept Me Sane This Week
It's nice to see other people doing what we're all trying to do -- just get by, as best as we can.
The average start of an episode of Please Like Me is a joyous montage of people singing along to the same song, the extremely catchy ‘I’ll Be Fine’ by Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes.
Throughout the four seasons, the opening sequence treats us to snapshots of daily life for the characters: cooking dinner, dressing up a baby, shopping, dancing at a club, gardening, hiking, and constantly, constantly eating.
Please Like Me, if you’re not familiar, is a show created by, and starring, comedian Josh Thomas. A lot has been written about the critically acclaimed show and some of the spectacular things it gently achieved, such as frank and nuanced depictions of mental health and suicide, statements about homophobia, and real and sometimes extremely hot depictions of queer sexuality.
All of those things are great, and worthy — but often what is glossed over is the simple happiness, and even sensuality, that the show finds in the every day, in the domestic, in the normal.
And that’s what’s been bringing me back to Please Like Me lately, during *gestures dramatically* all of this.
Touching, Smooching, Eating, Cooking
People are constantly talking about the things they miss the most during coronavirus — things like going outside, or smooching, or jerking off three people at once. Whatever, those are all valid.
For me, what I’ve been struck by, is that it’s not NOT normal for me to spend a week pottering around my house and reading. It’s not inherently bad for me — it’s more that I’m forced into doing it now. It’s outside the world of normal — and I miss the comforts of normalcy, in all its forms, in how its represented. Whatever *gestures again* all of this is, it is not normal.
Please Like Me is a love letter to all of that — it’s constantly about people eating, cooking, touching, hugging, making out, having sex. Simple scenes where the characters are all just sitting around a sharehouse table, eating and cracking jokes and teasing each other, are giving me some real yearning vibes. Let’s not even get into the kind of vibes the smooching and sex scenes are giving me.
Not a huge amount happens in most episodes of Please Like Me — the characters mostly just…hang out. Sometimes they go out, and it’s nice at best. I love the episode where they take MDMA and then just go running through town in weird joyous abandon (before Tom breaks an arm). I love it when they decide to go on the Melbourne Star, and end up having a semi-shit time.
I just really love it when they sit around and be casually silly. That’s what I miss.
Has anyone else watched Please Like Me??? pic.twitter.com/tfMi1CYyDj
— manic pixie dream goblin (@phoebeannek) April 2, 2020
Selfishness And Joy
Another part of the immense comfort that this show manages to bring me is the fact that everyone in it are trying as hard as they can. Which isn’t always very hard to be honest, but fuck that’s real.
Nobody is always good, nobody is outright bad, and nothing is ever truly solved. Josh has to be one of the most outrageously self-centred characters on television, and his self-awareness does little to mitigate that. Josh’s best friend Thomas is just a shit bloke, a really selfish shit person. Josh’s dad a sad sack, his mum’s a mess (even without the bipolar issues).
Sometimes people are given little moments of redemption, sometimes not. In the first season, Josh’s aunt Peg has a moment of small heroism, of standing up for her gay nephew in church. That doesn’t stop her being ornery, prickly, and even casually racist in later episodes.
Ahead of this week’s #FeelGood premiere – another deeply personal exploration of love, mental illness and sexuality from a writer-creator comedy auteur – I’m going back for seconds of #PleaseLikeMe, the incredibly incisive and beautifully made dramedy from our own @JoshThomas87. pic.twitter.com/0RAf4GnrGd
— Netflix ANZ (@NetflixANZ) March 18, 2020
But they do all try, in their own way. They all muddle through. A lot of that stems from the fact the majority of the protagonists are in their early to mid-twenties, a period in which you’re allegedly an adult, but also, conversely, a giant pile of shit who doesn’t know what the fuck they’re doing at any time.
The episode where Josh lies about having worms, ostensibly to help Tom slip an antibiotic to his girlfriend whom he has probably passed chlamydia to, is just this perfect example of stumbling through choices and decisions. There’s no ethical lesson learned from this, just cascading hilarity and growing cringe, as the lies perpetuate, and expand, and finally self-destruct.
It already feels hacky to loop cultural criticism back on the ‘Roni — but we’re in a similar world to this. There are no rules, no set path to what we’re all experiencing through the pandemic. It’s affecting people differently — some with great tragedy, others with simply existential inconvenience, like me.
But it’s nice to see other people doing what we’re all trying to do — just get by, as best as we can. It’s nice to be understanding of that.
There’s no guidepost to how we should act, and the greatest gift this show gives its characters is understanding that its sometimes OK (or at least, normal) to act a little bit confused, a little bit shit.
Emily Nussbaum wrote in a New Yorker review of Please Like Me that “for a series with so many unhappy characters, it’s a surprisingly joyful watch.”
And it’s true — while screamingly funny at times, the show opens with Josh discovering that his mum, Rose, has attempted suicide. Throughout the show, we’re dealt with multiple, extremely affecting deaths.
For every madcap shenanigan, or extremely involved and selfish drama around threesomes or unresolved crushes with hot roommates, we’re juxtaposed by an image of Hannah Gadsby’s character tenderising her own foot with a marble pestle.
“As humane as it is, Please Like Me has none of the bullying positivity of more formulaic “issue TV”: it allows for the rough fact that not everything can be fixed,” continues Nussbaum. “That might sound depressing. It’s not; it’s a relief.”
And it’s true — one of the strange side-effects of living through the sadness, uncertainly, anxiety and fear of a pandemic is that I’m not massively into glossing over it. There’s no ignoring it, there’s no quick fixing it. We have to live with it for six months.
Please Like Me faces all its sadness and uncertainty head on — sometimes with humour, sometimes earnestly, but most importantly, always honestly.
In the last season of Please Like Me, Josh receives the news that his cute sharehouse might be breaking up.
“I’m sick of things ending. It’s disappointing to think about Harry Potter ending, and how Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t hot anymore.”
He goes on to describe the feeling as being like “this whole little world we’ve created is dead, and now we have to create another little world.”
My little world that I’ve created in my every day life — Monday nights at the pub with my friends, visiting my family, seeing and performing in shows, even eating lunch at work — that’s all ended for the time being, due to the pandemic.
I’m hoping that it’s simply paused, but regardless, I’m in the process of creating another, far tinier world to live in as a response.
Please Like Me, is above all, about enjoying the warmth and comfort of a little world, and that’s pretty joyful right now.
Patrick Lenton is the Editor of Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton.