Please Like Me returns for season 2, and it’s even funnier, smarter, stronger, and more mature.
The terrific first season of Australian comic Josh Thomas’s comedy series, Please Like Me, set the bar high with its unique blend of humour, pathos, and awkwardness, which didn’t shy away from the very dark – in the first episode, Josh’s mother, Rose (Debra Lawrence), attempted suicide – but always remained buoyant. After getting dumped by his girlfriend because “[he’s] probably gay,” Josh spent the season dealing with starting to date boys, taking care of his divorced parents – he moved in with his mother who’s depressed and was constantly calming down his mostly helpless father – and still finding time to dress up his dog, John, in dresses. As one of the best-directed comedies on television, by Matthew Saville, it even improves with re-watches.
The second season, which premieres tonight, not only lives up to the first season but takes it up a notch again: it’s darker, funnier, more epigrammatic, more mature, and even smarter. I watched the first three episodes twice, back-to-back, because it was just that good.
While the first season was very much about dealing with crisis – his mother’s paralyzing depression and his newfound homosexuality – the second season is more about what happens when the crisis ends. More than a year has passed since the end of season one, and in that time Josh and his best friend, Tom (Thomas Ward), have acquired a new roommate, Patrick (Charles Cottier), with whom Josh is secretly in love; his father (David Roberts) has had a new baby with his new partner, Mae (Renee Lim); his mother has gone off her antidepressants and become manic (she’ll be checked into a psychiatric institution by the second episode); and his romantic relationship with the empty-headed but beautiful Geoffrey (Wade Briggs) has ended.
One of the things that the show does best is showing how you can be incredibly mature and generous in one context, and hopelessly immature and insensitive in another. Since his parents are divorced, and his mother has no other family, it falls to Josh to care for her. He deals with sending her to a psychiatric hospital, visiting her, and caring for her. At one point, he finds himself sitting in deadlock traffic in a suit, trying to get to the hospital to see the “shit [therapy] choir sing to be nice to [his] mom.” He’s also quite good at babysitting his baby sister, although he can’t believe he’s been allowed to (“I’ve never been in a room with a baby before with no adults”), and he does send her home once covered with eyebrow-pencilled prison tattoos. But he can’t muster the energy to be polite when he goes on a date with a guy who raves about Reiki massages (“I just don’t understand why an adult would pay someone money to lie naked in a room with someone who’s either crazy or lying to them.”).
After spending a couple of episodes hearing Tom and Patrick consistently getting laid, while he spends the night alone, Josh temporarily reconnects with Geoffrey. There’s the awkwardness of not having seen each other in a year, and the strange intimacy of having dated: a lot of complex character beats here build on the first season’s events. At their hilariously awkward and disastrous dinner, they can’t find more to talk about than Josh’s recent triumph of learning how to touch his eyebrow to his nose. Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop them from falling into bed, or sharing a moment of vulnerability only possible between people with their history. But now that the novelty of kissing boys has worn off, Josh is interested in something more.
Two potential romantic interests surface. There’s Patrick, whom Tom and Josh mock for being too cool (“You’re so cool. You’re so comfortable with yourself” and suggest he must therefore talk to “his gang” about “Harley Davidsons, hip hop music, and quinoa”), and whom Josh is mean to in an attempt to hide his love (“Remember when you told him to ‘fuck off’? Twice?”). And there’s Arnold (Keegan Joyce), a quiet, sweet, and scruffy fellow who winds up in the “mental home” where Josh’s mom is staying. He and Josh meet at a hot tub party, and they bond over feeling awkward and out of place; Arnold eventually ends up indoors, sitting under a table with John (“People kept asking how my weekend was going, and I didn’t know how to tell them this is my weekend. This is my weekend event.”). Both Patrick and Arnold are more realistic suitors than Geoffrey – they each have conversations and banter with Josh – and both have the potential to spark an interesting and deeper relationship.
The show has also expanded its world. Tom continues to make bad decisions about women, whether it’s using his insufferable ex-girlfriend Niamh (Nikita Leigh-Pritchard) as his fuck-buddy or dating a child (“She’s in high school. But she’s eighteen!”). Once Rose lands in a “mental home,” we meet some of the people there with her. There’s the eccentric and brightly dressed Ginger (Denise Drysdale), who’s also bipolar and middle-aged, who explains, “it’s like prison, except we don’t separate by race. We separate by illness. It’s like prison mixed with high school.” There’s also the twenty-something Hannah (Hannah Gadsby), who’s introverted and depressed; and, of course, eventually, Arnold. The only time the show falters in tone is in the first couple of episodes when the camera gets shaky and ragged in an attempt to mimic Rose’s state of mind during a manic episode; it’s much more sure-footed in the psychiatric institution where Rose is interacting with others.
The series continues to be a masterclass in dealing with weighty issues with a respectful and light touch. When Josh visits his mom at the psychiatric hospital, with a box of chocolates, once only one remains, they play the “Notting Hill”-saddest-story-wins-the-last-treat game with the other patients: it could be crass, but instead it’s melancholic and funny. That’s partly because, as Arnold explains, “everyone thinks they’re the least crazy person there,” which means the patients think about their situation with a self-deprecating sense of humour. It also helps that no matter where the characters are, they’re surrounded by warm, bright colours or earth tones: Josh’s apartment is full of red couches and pastel decor, while even the psychiatric institution is surrounded by green gardens. And the show switches between story-lines to break up the dramatic tension, or add to the comedic effect. This allows Please Like Me to go very dark, and stay realistic without ever feeling too painful.
Although Please Like Me is still very much Josh Thomas’s brainchild – he penned the entire first season and the majority of the second, based largely on events in his own life, and he stars as a version of himself while acting as the show-runner – it’s also benefitted from an expanded writing staff this season. The fourth episode, which was written by Thomas and Ward – the first to have another writer also get top billing – is the funniest the show has ever been, has some of the best character beats, greatly advances the plot, and still finds the humour in the melancholy. Although some of the jokes in the show are recycled from Thomas’s stand-up gigs, it still feels fresh because of its context, and adding Ward and Gadsby to the writing team has helped spiff up the jokes throughout. While Thomas was new to acting last year, you can see his performances get stronger with each episode: watch the mixture of fear, panic, and exasperation that flashes across his face when his mother announces she’s off her meds. No matter how great the show gets, Thomas seems to find a way to make it even better. And I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Read more: Review of Season 3 of Please Like Me >>