The Australian series is ‘carefree gay entertainment.’
by David Goldberg
Please Like Me, that darling Australian series you keep hearing about, has gained a reputation in the States as the gay man’s Girls. But thankfully for star and creator Josh Thomas, it is far less politicized. Besides, I doubt Thomas has the thick skin required to be the Australian Lena Dunham. Please Like Me doesn’t fit in a spectrum with series like Will & Grace and Queer as Folk because it doesn’t pack a representational agenda; just fun baking montages. And it’s no wonder that we have to travel to another hemisphere to find carefree gay entertainment: Please Like Me hails from the land of Muriel and Priscilla, where joy is the key ingredient to queer portrayals, not just pain.
Pivot, by way of the Australian Broadcast Channel, has something special here. Please Like Me, which just launched its second season, is made with love, and leaves the smugness to other shows. Thomas, who writes every episode and stars as its protagonist of the same name, never judges his series’ leading man, who is cynical, lazy, and totally stunted when it comes to romance. Deborah Lawrence, playing Josh’s bipolar mother, gives us the full manic-depressive spectrum without the standard gloom of most TV mental illness stories. Her manic episodes should be viewed in 3D—she twirls and bounces, screams and sings, and embraces everyone on screen and beyond. But when she goes down, you better believe you’re going with her. And shining as Josh’s clueless dad, David Roberts plays a loving dolt who is too self-emasculating to be a threat to his son.
Josh lives in a charming house with his dog and his roommates. His parents implode regularly. He trades barbs with his friends over tea. Cute boys seem to find the house by radar. And that’s about it.
Not every show should be like Please Like Me, nor could they be even if they wanted to. Political and cultural ground needs to be broken—especially on network television—for queer people and people of color. But sometimes, these pioneering efforts can be exhausting. With the best shows come loaded Internet debates over portrayals of race, gender, and lately, sexual assault. More and more, it seems like there is no middle ground between smart cable dramas with dark subject matter and geriatric sitcom dribble on your aunt’s DVR. But Thomas is contemporary and confident. You can relax with his show, because he knows what he is doing.
HBO attempted a similar approach of message-free gay serialization with Looking, which debuts its second season in January. The intent seemed honest; gay men have too often been reduced to soapboxes and stereotypes on TV. But if they can’t be stereotypes, they should at least be interesting, or something. The men of Looking were so stripped down of anything that they seemed tokens or offensive—femininity, fun, desire—that they became gay ghosts. And, tragically, the ostensibly postmodern storytelling of the show circled back on itself, returning to some of the worst stigmas of our culture, such as infidelity, ageism, and juvenilia. HBO has been one of the best creative outlets for our community, but in this case, they missed their own point.
The true peer of Please Like Me is Broad City, a spunky feminist Dumb & Dumber that moved from the web to Comedy Central this year. Inhabiting a world that Jennifer Saunders, Tina Fey, and Lena Dunham built, the Broad broads can finally do something truly revolutionary for women on screen—have their own fun. Important art doesn’t always have to be difficult.
And that’s the delight of Please Like Me. It’s easy enough to not light up debate, but smart enough not to stagnate. The fight for proper representation in the media is far from over. But seeing blithely confident quality—free to be funny or silly or free of sensationalism—makes our efforts feel valid.
Please Like Me airs Fridays at 9:30 p.m. CST on Pivot TV.
David Goldberg is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.