At the beginning of season three of the Australian dramedy Please Like Me, Josh (Josh Thomas) and his anxiety-prone paramour Arnold (Keegan Joyce) — whom we last saw checking himself into a psychiatric facility — go on a date in a hedge maze. Director Matthew Saville gets in some crane shots of the two wandering around, getting lost in a sea of greens. But then Arnold complains about how much he hates eggplant, and Josh realizes this is a clue to how much Arnold must like him: “You’ve eaten my eggplant twice!” It’s this mix of entrancing, colourful staging and a fixation on everyday neuroses that makes Please Like Me both one of the most romantic shows on television and one of its most realistic.
The course of true love never did run smooth, and the genius of Please Like Me is in how it finds the comedy in the rocky bits. The first episode of the season riffs on scenes from She’s All That and Love, Actually by taking a romantic setup and asking, how would smart characters actually behave in these situations? If your lover set up an elaborate light show for your date in the middle of nowhere, would you be able to prevent yourself from wondering how the lights were powered?
Please Like Me is as much about family and friendships as romantic entanglements. The first season found Josh juggling caring for his mother Rose (Debra Lawrence) after her suicide attempt, managing his father Alan’s (David Roberts) self-absorbed neuroses, and coming to terms with his homosexuality. But Josh’s problems mellow each year, even as the show deals with serious issues. The second season was about Josh finally looking for a romantic partner with potential while watching over Rose, now in a psychiatric facility, and being a shoulder to lean on for his father who was starting parenthood all over again. By the end of last season, Rose was encouraging Josh to stop worrying over her and have his own life, and his father was on rockier territory with his partner.
As the characters’ studies and careers are practically non-existent on the show, it’s able to focus deeply on relationships — of all kinds. It also leaves more time for episodes where not much strictly happens, which is often the show’s sweet spot. Last year’s best episodes were easily the two-hander “Scroggin,” in which Josh and Rose went on a camping trip to cope with the suicide of a friend, and “Truffled Mac ’n Cheese,” which was mostly just Josh, Tom (Thomas Ward), and Claire (Caitlin Stasey) hanging out and talking. I’ve only seen the first four episodes of the new season, but the fourth one is in this vein: the boys decide to try MDMA, which of course can’t happen without some self-conscious blips.
Here in the third season, we get the sense that everything’s going to be OK — Josh, Tom, and Alan even repeat this mantra in unison — even if there are more storms to weather. Josh is finally in a loving, stable relationship in which he’s the rock. Tom is slowly figuring out how to grow up, as he plays third wheel to Josh and Arnold. Rose is living independently with her twenty-something friend Hannah, whom she met at the psychiatric facility last season, and their storylines are often independent of Josh. Josh still spends time with both of his parents, but he actually gets support from them rather than merely putting out their fires.
Even when the show is dark, it’s never sombre. That juxtaposition between warm and funny and biting and intense is what makes the show unique. Director Matthew Saville’s visuals are crucial to establishing this upbeat, optimistic aesthetic. He creates a world of bright colours that you want to inhabit, no matter how difficult that reality may be.
Season three digs in deeper on each of the characters. As Arnold becomes a more central part of Josh’s life, he’s also more closely woven into the fabric of the show. His coming out and the fallout are major story points, his quirks and interests a key part of the comedy. Their relationship also leads to the show’s first gay sex scene, which is funny, frank, and so so sweet. Tom gets a new love interest, who is actually age-appropriate and lovely. And as Alan faces problems with his partner, his relationship with Josh and even Josh’s friends deepens.
Please Like Me has never been short on great one-liners. Whenever I show episodes to friends, we find ourselves constantly quoting them back at each other for weeks. There’s also great attention paid to season-long and series-long character arcs. But what distinguishes the show is its pacing. Executive Producer Josh Thomas plays a major part in the editing process, working to find the right beats and cuts to nail the comic timing and find the show’s dramatic heartbeat.
Like HBO’s Looking, what distinguishes Please Like Me from other dramedies is its meticulous mise-en-scène. Saville knows how to use wide shots to show the relationships between characters and augment both the comedy and the romanticism. Every single one of Josh’s kisses is visually memorable, but then so are the key moments with his mom, whether it was ending season one on a mattress on the floor next to her or the two of them looking out at the water from a dock in “Scroggin.”
In its first season, Please Like Me had already earned a place among the best shows on television. Impressively, the second season was even better and deeper, and that pattern has continued into its third season. This season promises to address self-managing mental illness, single parenthood, when coming out goes badly, and the characters’ continued attempts to find love and companionship. It’s smart, compelling, and irresistible. No matter how dark it gets, it brightens my day, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
The third season of Please Like Me premieres on Fri. Oct. 16 at 10 p.m. ET on Pivot. The first two seasons are available to stream on Hulu or for purchase on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.