2014 is the year of uncommonly real relationships, from Looking to You’re The Worst, and Please Like Me is the latest ambassador. The Australian comedy about a group of twentysomethings putting off adulthood has a knack for cruising through romantic high points while taking the scenic route through the lows. On some level, the characters don’t think they deserve happiness. In the words of closeted, anxiety-prone Arnold (Keegan Joyce) at a wistful moment, they all think everyone else thinks they’re big idiots. The title isn’t ingratiating. It’s longing.
Not that Please Like Me needs to ask. The show’s a party, a lot of fun and a little moody toward the end. The season’s first title sequence—traditionally Clairy Browne & The Bangin’ Rackettes singing, “I’ll Be Fine,” while main character Josh (Josh Thomas) cooks and dances—becomes a drag performance in the season premiere while Josh’s straight best friend Tom (Thomas Ward) and their crushable roommate, Patrick (Charles Cottier), each find lust on the dance floor. Part of what’s so invigorating about Please Like Me is how it presents a vibrant, credible world centered on gayness. It’s part discussion of men’s beauty inside and out, part parade of weak-kneed hookups, part carousel of men’s underwear. It’s no more wish fulfillment than Looking is, but the vibe is a lot lighter.
That’s because creator, writer, and star Josh Thomas knows exactly how to tease his characters. Josh is a fifth-year senior who doesn’t work and strives mightily to put off adulthood. His peculiar performance anchors the awkward show. He’s always smiling, fidgeting, slouching, whining. The others are childish or nervous, too, in their own ways. Tom is so afraid of confrontation that he can be expressionless until you get up close and see what’s going on behind his eyes. But Josh sets the table for Please Like Me. His low-filter engagement with the world comes through in his body language and his spoken language. He just can’t stop talking. And when a touchy topic comes up, you can feel the show itself taking after Josh, everything conspiring to postpone confronting whatever happened.
The first season sent Josh a fit, affectionate boyfriend named Geoffrey (Wade Briggs) to help him address his sexuality, like a sexy angel on a mission. Over those six episodes, Josh and Geoffrey try to get together and then split up three different times. As Geoffrey says, Josh only likes him when he’s lonely. In season two, the roles reverse, but with the permabuzzing Patrick instead of Geoffrey. When either Patrick or Josh brings another date back to their apartment, it’s Patrick and Josh trading subtext. But when they get together, it’s only out of convenience for Patrick. And then there’s Arnold, a patient at the same psychiatric hospital as Josh’s mum. Where Josh and Geoffrey were always crystal clear about their relationship, Josh’s romances in season two live in the tension between singlehood and a relationship. Even Geoffrey’s return thrives on the question of what Josh and Geoffrey are to each other now.
Those relationships are expressed vividly by solo director Matthew Saville. The art direction is full of clutter and color, but Saville’s clean camerawork always brings out what’s going on between the characters. What the split screen is to You’re The Worst, the overhead shot is to Please Like Me, a kind of violation of space—in that nobody can really see from that angle—that captures the characters in all their wistful glory.
With 10 episodes this season, Please Like Me has filled out beautifully. It takes its time building romances, and then naturally progresses from Geoffrey to Patrick to Arnold. After the pain of rejection, Josh takes an interlude to go backpacking with his mother, Rose (Debra Lawrance). It’s a duet, just Josh and Rose in the woods, and it’s one of the best episodes of the series. The next week, Josh locks Tom in his bedroom, and the two of them spend most of it sitting on opposite sides just talking with their ex, Claire (Caitlin Stasey). Rose’s suicide attempt, Claire’s decision to return to Hamburg, and Tom’s romance-related depression are the fodder for some of the realest moments on the show.
Ultimately, Please Like Me is a coming-of-age story, centered on Josh but about all the characters. The rom-com-dram comes by way of Josh figuring out who he is as a person, first needing to face up to his sexuality and then understanding what he wants. Hence the second season finale posing a test for Josh. He doesn’t pass, exactly. He’s not ready to be a good boyfriend. But he does take some small steps toward developing as a person. In the end the camera quotes the first season finale. There’s only one difference, and it speaks volumes: Look how far everyone’s come in a season.