I have had many conversations about TV over the last few weeks, all of which have gone something like this.
"I need a new thing to watch. You know, something light and funny and easy that isn’t Friends."
"Have you watched Please Like Me on Amazon Prime? You should watch Please Like Me on Amazon Prime."
"What’s it about?"
"And... parents. Family. Depression. Cooking. Um, mental hospitals. Sexuality. Houseshares. There’s a dog!"
I’ve tried to explain Please Like Me as, respectively, "Girls meets Love, but with likeable characters", "Grandma’s House but Australian", "a twentysomething About A Boy" and "a serious Flight of the Conchords, but without the music", none of which is even nearly accurate. But like all really great TV, it’s pointless to try and explain the magic. It just is. And I’m furious nobody made me watch it sooner.
Written by and starring comedian Josh Thomas, the loosely autobiographical dramedy centres around Josh, a 20-year-old living in Melbourne, as he navigates the dating world, begins his first relationships with men (girlfriend Claire breaks up with him in the opening scene, telling him: "I just think we’ve drifted. Also you’re gay.") and supports his mother through her struggles with bipolar disorder. From the first episode, after a suicide attempt involving "quite a lot of Panadol and half a bottle of Baileys", two things become clear: 1) that Debra Lawrence as Josh’s mum Rose gives a performance more nuanced and heartrending than many Oscar winners, and 2) that this show that isn’t afraid to laugh at, well, anything.
In its four short seasons, Please Like Me ticks off an impressive checklist of real talk. Wrapped up in the offbeat lols there’s death, divorce, grief, STIs, adultery, homophobia, self-harm, drugs, depression, racism, cancer, anxiety, polyamory, religion and an abortion. And it’s not a tragic abortion or a guilt-laden abortion, but cheerfully matter-of-fact in both emotion and visceral detail, with Josh yelling his friendly support through the toilet door. There are painfully accurate parent/child arguments, charming intergenerational friendships, and moments of truly perfect millennial-whispering.
"I can’t be her carer! I don’t know how to do caring!" whines Josh in a hospital corridor after seeing his mother. "I don’t even know how to care for myself. I never floss."
Please Like Me chews over some of life's meatiest themes but doesn’t do anything as try-hard as ‘tackle’ them. It simply serves them; sweet, soft and beautifully tender. Bad food analogies are an inevitable side-effect, I’m afraid, as it’s also a show that will make you hungry. Josh’s gastronomic passions are given nearly as much screen time as his romantic ones. Every episode is named after a dish ("Rhubarb and Custard"; "Puff Pastry Pizza"; "Horrible Sandwiches"), most start with a cooking montage, and many of the show’s best scenes take place around a table. Episode four of the final season, "Degustation", unfolds over all 15 courses of a fancy restaurant tasting menu, while "Burrito Bowl" is the penultimate episode, and the most devastating.
The show was applauded by critics for breaking new ground, particularly in its frank, fearless depictions of mental illness and, more joyfully, of gay sex and relationships. Groundbreaking depictions of gay sex and relationships, of course, tend to be the ones most similar to average depictions of hetero sex and relationships – that is, shown in full. Josh’s love scenes aren’t limited to angsty, doom-laden encounters or primly chaste cheek-pecking. Like so much else in Please Like Me, they’re honest, messy, genuinely sexy and often hilariously awkward.
There are smatterings of the surreal – not least wondering why Thomas, an Australian comedian on an Australian show set in Australia, appears to have a Welsh accent (the internet is full of confused fan theories but no conclusive answer. Maybe Wales’ sing-song intonation is to Melbourne hipsters what Aussie rising inflections are to young Brits? Anyway, you’ll just have to let it go) – and it can teeter on twee, but don’t let that put you off. Watch in fist-gnawing self-recognition as Josh’s best friend Tom dates a composite of every kooky gal you tried to be in your early 20s ("Of COURSE she has a turtle"), stages baby/dog fancy dress photoshoots, and invents genitalia-based games to while the hours away.
Watch it because it’ll make you nostalgic for an intimate student house share you never actually had. The kind where you crawl, platonically, into each other’s beds for morning pep talks and keep up a stream of rapid-fire, deadpan piss-taking – dialogue that in real life would earn you a month of passive-aggressive kitchen notes but which on screen just seems witty and adorable. It makes you realise just how rarely we see TV friendships that are stable and affectionate, not ripped apart by screenwriters for the sake of a little drama. I’d rather watch Josh barricade Tom in his room with furniture as punishment for nicking his bougie dinner ("You will rue the day you ate my truffled macaroni and cheese!") than another Marnie/Hannah/Jessa melodrama any day.
Watch it because at least once an episode, there’ll be a line so perfect you’ll want to pause and write it down on your phone notes to recycle at a dinner party. Watch it for the theme tune, the brutally catchy doo-wop number "I’ll Be Fine" by Clairy Browne & the Bangin' Rackettes, which I thought was an old gospel standard until I looked it up. In the context of the show, it does sound almost spiritual – an alternative hymn to the creed of simply keeping on going.
And whatever you do, watch it slowly. Resist the urge to binge, and savour each episode as if it were a portion of Josh’s coq au vin. Especially because Please Like Me executed the signature move of all truly classy TV shows: quitting while it’s ahead. Thomas announced last year that the programme won’t be returning for a fifth series.
"This show is so intensely personal, it recreates the most intimate moments of my life and lays them out for anyone to watch," he said in his Twitter statement. "Seeing how people have connected with this show has been tremendously confidence building for me and I’m really grateful for that."
So please, watch Please Like Me. You’ll be grateful too.
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