When did Josh become the stable one? This is the guy who had to be told he’s gay in the beginning. Now his mom calls him when she loses her roommate at a lesbian bar. His step-mom calls him when she loses her husband at their house. His friends rely on him to get through their issues du jour, whether a diet or coming out or deciding whether or not to stay in Hamburg. If Josh is the anchor, what does that say about everyone else?

Now, just because everyone goes to Josh for help doesn’t mean he actually has the wisdom or ability to help them. Rose and Hannah don’t actually need him when they lose track of each other at the lesbian bar. It’s just telling that Rose’s drunken reaction to trouble is to call her son for help. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? It’s also funny that Josh is staying in with his boyfriend tonight, and Rose is adamant about going out on the town with her roommate.

She wants to take Hannah to a lesbian bar, which is a sweet gesture since Rose is the one who has to do all the work to get Hannah out and about. Hannah goes from banging her feet in frustration—as in, clubbing her feet with a tiny mallet of some sort in another of Please Like Me’s hard-to-watch expressions of mental illness—to making out with some girl at the club, but she’s in a sad state the whole night, frustrated with being on hold and sullen about Rose. It’s not something Josh or Rose could “fix,” but I take it as a good sign that Hannah stands up for herself, even if she is taking out her drunken anger on Rose. The culmination of their night out is well worth the hassle: Rose and Hannah admit their platonic feelings for each other. They like each other as friends. And we almost got a “Please like me” in the bargain.

Similarly, Josh isn’t really equipped to handle Mae cheating on his dad, and Alan immediately apologizes for laying this burden on his son’s shoulders. But Josh is surprisingly admirable. He’s about as selfless and compassionate as can be. When he first hears the news from Alan, he doesn’t joke his way out of it or give into discomfort. He takes the phone away from his friends so he can devote more of his attention to his father, he tries to lend support, and he offers to come round. Later when Mae calls him, she asks if Josh is mad at her. He responds like a Zen master: Everybody snuffs up. He understands. He certainly has experience with loved ones cheating. Tom’s right there. But I wonder if Josh would be so chill if it happened to him.

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But Josh really might be ahead of his peers when it comes to responsibility, which is a far cry from where he started. He’s been great with Arnold this season, neither ignoring Arnold’s anxiety nor letting it dictate their relationship. He apparently has the money to help Claire (although I really don’t understand what happens here; Josh is giving her money so she can afford to stay in Hamburg?). And he makes a pact with Tom to avoid white bread. He’s not perfect. He gives up on the white bread embargo as soon as Arnold comes over, and he’s almost merciless with Tom. Notice it takes Arnold to try to appeal to Tom before Josh joins in. The flip-side of his completely wall-less relationship with Tom is that he feels no compunction about backing up the conversation to address something stupid Tom said, like when Tom asks why Arnold’s dad doesn’t like gay people. “As if you could pinpont why someone’s homophobic. It’s not like being scared of dogs, Tom, okay? He wasn’t bitten by a homosexual when he was a child.”

The topic comes up because Arnold is ready to come out to his parents. “Simple Carbohydrates” isn’t as funny or moving as “Eggplant,” but it ends with a showcase that’s both, one of the highlights of the show to date. Alan comes over to get away from Mae for a while, so Josh gets the idea to run through a practice coming out. So there are at least three ways to take this scene. For Arnold, it’s a coming-out scene. For Alan, it’s a reaction to coming out, which makes it something like a repeat of when Josh came out. There’s a moment there where Josh seems to realize that himself. He gets caught on it for a second, perhaps remembering that his father told him, “I’ve decided I’m fine with it.” Not the most supportive response. Maybe Alan’s warm reception to Arnold is a chance to heal some of the pain and guilt that Josh and Alan might feel from their first ride on this merry-go-round. And for Josh, it’s a theatrical production, a self-conscious performance of something very deep in the foundation of the show. So the production is as artificial as can be, Arnold coming out to a man playing his father. Arnold isn’t even saying his own words. He’s singing Sia’s “Chandelier.” And Alan’s reaction is being stage managed by Josh at every turn. But it’s beautiful, not least thanks to Keegan Joyce’s singing voice. Matthew Saville slowly swings in (and then out) on Arnold singing and Alan attentively listening. Just when it gets too sappy, Tom spins around from the piano in applause, and then there’s Claire, who I forgot was even there, weeping on FaceTime.

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“That’s my boy,” Alan says with a proud little fist-pump. “That’s my son.” He can’t help but get swept up in the moment. Joyce’s delivery re-emphasizes the artifice: “Dad, I’m not sexually attracted to women.” Alan shakes his hand and offers fatherly wisdom, and, beaming over Alan’s shoulder, Arnold can’t believe how happy he is, with his fake father’s reaction or his own reaction to this staged run-through or both. It’s a tremendous scene that completely earns Josh’s final self-conscious pat on the back. “Nailed it.”

Stray observations

  • “Simple Carbohydrates” is written by Josh Thomas, Thomas Ward, and Liz Doran and directed by Matthew Saville.
  • Last night I attended a very funny Paley Center panel with Josh Thomas and Thomas Ward. It should be online soon, but either way I hope to share some information from that event in the next couple reviews.
  • Arnold spitballs ideas on how to come out. “I guess I could yell it from a passing car. That’s how people tell me I’m gay. I could flip the system.”
  • Tom: “Hey, Josh, can you please fly me to Hollywood? I just feel like they need to see me.”

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