Matilda Dixon-Smith on “Please Like Me”: Now we’re Cooking with Gas

Posted on March 18, 2013

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There’s something intensely endearing about the opening scene of Josh Thomas’s new comedy on ABC2, Please Like Me. Twenty-year-old Josh is about to enjoy an extravagant sundae on a sunny afternoon with his girlfriend Claire (Caitlin Stasey), when she breaks up with him. Her reason is simple: they’ve been drifting, and also Josh is “probably gay”. Josh is a little perturbed, naturally, and explains, “This $19 sundae is suddenly pretty fucking humiliating.” And the tone for the rest of the six-part series (or at least for the four episodes that have aired so far) is set—we are to share in Josh’s beguiling bemusement as he endures all manner of intensely awkward encounters with those closest to him.

Most of us are probably familiar with Thomas—the wunderkind comedian who is the youngest-ever winner of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Raw Comedy competition (in 2005)—as the captain of “Generation Y” on Channel Ten’s Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation. Thomas’s award-winning stand up is the inspiration for Please Like Me, a show that has taken three years to develop. Thank goodness for ABC2, because I wonder whether the series would fit anywhere else in Australia’s narrow television market.

Josh Thomas and the cast of “Please Like Me”.

On ABC2, Josh’s silly, self-deprecating, glorious comedy fits perfectly. The series exists in two worlds: that of Josh’s disparate family life with his dopey divorced parents (Debra Lawrance and David Roberts), and his life as a young adult, which often includes Claire; Josh’s best friend, Tom (Thomas Ward); Tom’s hideous girlfriend, Niamh (Nikita Leigh-Pritchard); and Tom’s sweet (and rather gorgeous) colleague, Geoffrey (Wade Briggs). When these worlds intersect, it is always richly embarrassing.

The series is a lot about Josh coming to grips with the realities of adulthood—including the realisation that his parents don’t always have it together— but it’s also a cogent, refreshing exploration of sexuality. In the first episode, not long after his break up with Claire, Josh finds himself in his bedroom with a cute, shirtless boy on his bed, trying to change into his pyjamas while concealing himself respectfully behind a chest of drawers. The scene, like the series, is impeccable; a potent mixture of tenderness and brutal comedic timing.

Wade Briggs as Geoffrey with Thomas.

I never really warmed to Thomas on Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, but after four episodes of Please Like Me, I’m ready to join the fan club. The series is very impressive; it’s courageously written (by Thomas, who is also an executive producer) and it has a similar off-beat style to another recent (and fabulous) ABC comedy, A Moody Christmas. Thomas is also a captivating star; he skilfully commands the show, but has the grace to allow the other (wonderful) actors their moments to shine. The best performances come from the parents, and Josh’s crotchety Aunty Peg (Judi Farr). David Roberts’s hopeless portrayal of Josh’s father is good fodder for Thomas’s sharp writing—he stutters amusingly through his scenes—and Debra Lawrance has an appealing fragility as Josh’s mum. I also love Wade Briggs’s earnest, amorous Geoffrey; scenes with him and Thomas are usually the most fun.

There’s just so much to like about this series, and it galvanises that faith we need to have in our own television industry. It’s sometimes hard to convince people to leave their HBO box sets and CBS comedy re-runs for a cracking Aussie series. (The ratio of American to Australian series that we’ve written about on this blog appears to indicate it’s difficult even for us.) But when I think about some of the superbly produced, refreshing, entertaining shows I’ve seen in the past couple of years—Offspring, Wilfred, Twentysomething, A Moody Christmas, Puberty Blues, Tangle, Redfern NowThe Slap—I’m reminded that we’re always producing great stuff. In particular, Australian’s have a unique ability to sketch the most fascinating family lives into their television. For me, that’s the common winning element in the above shows, and the best part of Please Like Me.

That dog is just adorable.

That dog is just adorable.

And despite any contention about where Please Like Me should go in the network line up, I think its encouraging that the show has a place on ABC2. This is a series that deals in conversations that a broad portion of the Australian public, and the government, has trouble participating in. The fact that it’s there, as an articulate and successful exploration of sexuality, being watched and talked about is something.

Apart from anything else, it’s just a fun series. Plus, I can guarantee you’ll only be slightly annoyed by Josh Thomas and Caitlin Stasey’s strange penchant for fake accents. So go forth and watch, readers!

Please Like Me plays on ABC2 at 9:30pm on Thursdays. You can catch up on missed episodes here

Matilda Dixon-Smith is You’re Dripping Egg’s editor-in-chief and their resident television obsessive. Her column, Fantasise or Perish, in which she convinces you to watch ALL the television, is released on Mondays. 

What do you think of Thomas’s new series? A winner, or a loser? Comments, ahoy! 

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