'Please Like Me' Season 4 Review: Australian comedy takes a devastatingly brilliant turn
Editor's note: Spoilers for all seasons of Please Like Me.
One line in season three of the Australian comedy Please Like Me captures the essence of the series perfectly. Josh is lying in bed with his boyfriend Arnold and casually asks him: "What can I do to make today less shit for you?"
Throughout its run — a six-episode fourth season is now available on Hulu (it used to air on Pivot before the online service went kaput) — Please Like Me has been one of TV's boldest, albeit under-appreciated, comedies, a tender portrayal of the life of twenty-something Josh, who, in the pilot, is dragged out of the closet by his girlfriend over a $19 sundae.
We meet Josh as an insecure, somewhat narcissistic 20-year-old — not unlike Hannah Horvath of Girls — who deals with the rougher aspects of his life with dismissive humor. His mother is bipolar; his eventual boyfriend, Arnold, suffers from a severe anxiety disorder; and his father is well-meaning and neurotic. But as heavy as his life can be, Josh copes with his day to day by trying to make it "less shit" for not only those around him but also for himself
As a result, the series — created and directed by Josh Thomas (who stars as Josh) — is a lovely, low-key marvel, one that sees Josh and his friends force color into the mundane. Each day (and episode) is a struggle to stay positive, to be happy and find meaning. The show seems to always be asking, why not use one's creativity to make life slightly more bearable?
A standout example, from season three, is "Pancakes with Faces," an episode where Claire, Josh's ex and best friend, has an abortion. She comes home from the hospital depressed, and while only Josh knows why, he has Claire dress up in a dinosaur costume. She then proceeds, perhaps cathartically, to destroy the cardboard city made by Josh's roommate and other best friend Tom.
Unfortunately, we don't see moments like these in season four: the bleakest and toughest — but perhaps greatest — season of Please Like Me. Josh's attempts to make everyone, including himself, feel better don't work. Nothing works. Everything just falls apart.
Season four is a rude awakening, a reminder that distraction and avoidance have an expiration date. If the first three seasons were building up Josh's mom's spiraling breakdown and his insecurities in his relationships (both romantic and friendly), then season four is the inevitable, Earth-shattering return to reality.
In episode two of season four, Josh and his friends go on a camping trip, where, on an impulse, he breaks up with Arnold, who he just doesn't feel the same way about. Arnold breaks down, calls him a bunch of names and quickly disappears from Josh's life — the way lovers do. Therefore, he's not there for Josh when his mother kills herself in come season four. Neither is Claire, who has moved in with a rich boyfriend and has distanced herself from Josh — the way friends do.
The death of Rose, Josh's mother, is preceded by a perfectly strange bottle episode, where Josh takes his divorced parents to an avant garde restaurant where there's an elaborate prix fixe menu. Amidst splendid and bizarre dishes we see Rose tell Josh how proud she is of him, how she actually deep down, is still in love with his father. In retrospect it's obvious the conversation foreshadows her death, but in the moment, it mostly comes across as a rare sentimental exchange between mother and son. It's also a rare instance of intense lucidity on Rose's part. She knows that she couldn't be the mother or wife she wanted to be and that can't ever change.
It's unclear whether the season — which ends with Josh selling his mother's home and buying a posh apartment by himself, is the last we'll see of Please Like Me. But there's something realistically final about it. It's a perfectly mundane homecoming for a show that has spent so much time fleeing the trials and tribulations of the real. Even when living a more grounded life, we're still afforded brief moments of safety or warmth amidst the chaos.
All four seasons of Please Like Me are available to stream on Hulu.