It’s likely that you haven’t heard of Please Like Me. It’s okay—I only found it by chance myself. But this sitcom imported from Australia is a fantastic comedy with realistic characters and refreshing takes on topics not often seen on television.
Please Like Me is the creation of Australian actor and comedian Josh Thomas, who plays the main character, also named Josh. Josh is in his early twenties, and when the first season starts he’s just been dumped by his girlfriend, Claire (Caitlin Stasey). He doesn’t have a steady job, but he does have a steady best friend in his roommate Tom (Thomas Ward). Getting dumped sends Josh reeling, but not because of a broken heart — Josh is gay and hasn’t come out yet. In addition, Josh’s mom attempts suicide, and he moves back in with her and his Aunty Peg because she’s not allowed to be alone.
Sound like bummer territory for a comedy? It could be. But in Thomas’ hands, it’s strangely not. Please Like Me—which airs on American cable channel Pivot, and is available to stream on Hulu—treats heavy topics with a light hand and a lot of humor, and amidst the pathos they’re even made to feel like every day inconveniences, as opposed to giant tragedies. Thomas easily could have made his show a navel-gazing look at carefree twentysomethings, but instead created a show that’s realistic and honest, and heartwarming even in its coldest comedic moments. Here’s a few reasons it’s worth checking out this show you maybe haven’t heard of.
Please Like Me’s main characters can be unsympathetic much of the time. Josh doesn’t show emotion well, prefers not to talk about difficult topics, and he needles his friends nonstop, even in the face of tragedy. But his friendship with Claire and Tom reads as realistic and genuine, even when they’re mercilessly mocking each other. Whether Josh and Tom go out in costume with Claire because she’s leaving a costume party and doesn’t want to be the only person dressed up, or Josh barricades Tom in his room for eating the rest of his special mac ‘n’ cheese, or Claire is destroying a cardboard city while wearing a frog onesie, you’ll either be glad for having such friends in your life or run outside seeking them if you don’t.
Though Please Like Me has been touted as a millennial sitcom (what does that even mean?), it also places a refreshing emphasis on the lives on Josh’s divorced parents who have only semi moved on. Over the course of its three seasons, we see Rose, Josh’s mom, struggle with her mental health but find friendship and possibly even love in a mental health facility. And his dad frets over his mother’s well-being, even though they’ve been divorced for years, in between urging Josh to get his financial act together. And having his parents on the show deepens Josh’s storylines as well, ranging from lighter moments like when he helps his mom with her online dating profile, to the tougher ones where he’s become a sort of parent to his mother and doesn’t get to be the child anymore.
As the show gives Josh’s parents their own storylines, it later follows Rose into a psychiatric hospital. It not only humanizes Rose and her friends suffering with mental illnesses, but presents their plights with levity. In fact, despite being a comedy, Please Like Me addresses a lot of pretty dark topics—including suicide and abortion—and finds humor in them. But the show wrings laughs from these subjects by empathetically presenting the perspectives of people who’ve been through them. As we see Rose struggle with her bipolar disorder, it’s depicted as something that isn’t a life-altering tragedy but rather something regular people live through every day. Later, when a character has an abortion, Please Like Me treats it as both not a big deal and also as something that can cause even the most pro-choice of us pain.
Josh isn’t so comfortable talking about feelings and would rather crack jokes than tell his parents or friends anything about his dating life. In fact, Josh doesn’t ever actually “come out” in the traditional sense, rather than slowly let those he’s closest to find out on their own. As Josh later explains his discomfort, “Coming out just seems so ‘90s. Do we really need a discussion?” And to a degree, a coming out story is unnecessary, at least for Josh. As he says to his mother, “Can you at least pretend to be surprised?” But the show doesn’t pay short shrift to those without the privilege of coming out so casually, either. When Josh’s boyfriend comes out to his parents, his father kicks him out.
Please Like Me does a different credit sequence every episode, and it is always magic.
Erica Lies is a writer and comedian in Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in Splitsider, Bitch, Rookie Mag and The Hairpin.