Most of us, whether we care to admit it or not, watch film and television to escape the monotony of our ordinary lives. For the time that our eyes are glued to the screen, we live vicariously through those characters whose lives seem much more interesting and exciting than our own—whose wacky antics, fantastic adventures, and tantalizing dramas we share in. So, it is not surprising that one of the most unique shows to premier in the past few years has tried to break this implicit tradition by presenting a character whose life is unequivocally… ordinary and, because of that, compelling.
Please Like Me (2013—), an Australian comedy-drama, follows Josh (Josh Thomas) as he deals with that humdrum thing called life. When his girlfriend, Claire (Caitlin Statsey), realizes that he is probably gay before even he does, she gently ends their relationship. But Josh straddles onward, with best friend Tom (Thomas Ward) and his unpleasant girlfriend, Niamh (Nikita Leigh-Pritchard), to keep him company, while still denying his ex-girlfriend’s claims. That is, until Josh meets Tom’s new coworker, the out-and-proud Geoffrey (Wade Briggs), whose forward advances forces Josh to confront his sexuality head on.
Meanwhile, in a darker twist of events, Rose (Debra Lawrance), Josh’s mother, has just tried to commit suicide after falling into a major depressive episode. Alan (David Roberts), her guilt ridden ex-husband and Josh’s father, blames himself and his budding relationship with new girlfriend, Mae (Renee Lim), for exasperating his ex-wife’s condition. Soon, it becomes apparent that Rose cannot be left on her own and Josh must manage the situation.
Over its arc, Please Like Me attempts to mirror real life as closely as television can. Neither comedy nor drama is the ultimate goal of this series. Rather, the goal is to tell a well-crafted and compelling story, with humor and intrigue as the natural byproducts of that story. And, like most of the humor we experience in real life, it is usually awkward, self-deprecating, and driven by the personalities and dynamics of its characters. Sometimes, it fails and does not provoke even a chuckle. And sometimes, it is hilariously brilliant. But all of it is, at least, genuine.
This may also be said of the characters, whose personalities complement each other’s’ well. Some characters are more triumphant than others, more likeable or believable, but when they interact, their personalities shine through as engrossing and utterly exciting. This is also when the actors’ performances are most clearly distinguishable as naturalistic, an appropriate technique for a show that tries to imitate real life. Of particularly worthy note is Wade Briggs, whose portrayal of Geoffrey is perfectly nuanced, as if Briggs himself has experienced all of Geoffrey’s life and brings that knowledge to his performance.
But what makes this series truly worthy of note is that it is beginning (just beginning, but it’s a really good start) to touch upon something greater than the sum of its parts. It already begins to explore relevant and important issues, such as mental illness and homosexuality, without any didactic, heavy-handed “themes” or ridiculously outrageous gags. Instead, it faces these issues in the same way it faces life: with grace and sincerity, a dash of pathos and a touch of feeling. Indeed, there is a heart tucked away in this show and, unlike many shows on the air now, this one actually beats.
Please Like Me reminds us that our own ordinary, humdrum lives are just as wacky, fantastic, and tantalizing—in one word, interesting—as the ordinary life of Josh, if only we could see it through the same genuine lens. And that, at least, is worth the watch.
Please Like Me is currently airing its second season in the U.S. on Friday nights, 10:30 pm, on Pivot TV.