Don’t blame yourself if you managed to miss the debut of season four of Please Like Me on Hulu as it did so with little notice or fanfare. This in and of itself is a shame since Please Like Me has been one of the greatest, most honest television series of the past few years and it’s latest season isn’t just the strongest it’s ever been, it’s also placed a high bench mark for quality for this years television lineup. Delicately continuing to master the art of balancing humor and tragedy in a manner that greatly reflects the mundanity and hilarity of life, Please Like Me, despite it’s underdog status, should go on as one of the greatest comedies to air. If you’re still looking to Girls to provide a real, unbiased look at what it means to be a mid to late 20 something these days, pivot your stance and look to Please Like Me instead which understands not only that individuals at that time of their life-no, not only millennials-can yes be cruel and selfish but also hold an enormous capacity for empathy and warmth.
Please Like Me season four is a season of television that has worked out every prior inconsistency and has waltzed out a confident and enlightening show that is both commanding in it’s ability to reckon with the age group its portraying while simultaneously offering a look at problems more timeless, be it mental illness, sexuality and love.
Here are just a few of the reasons why Please Like Me has already become the must watch show of 2017.
Break ups suck
If you have followed any of my previous coverage of the show (or, perhaps unlikelier, on Twitter) then you’d know that I’ve never been a huge advocate of the Josh and Arnold pairing. While I appreciated the show depicting the realities of Arnold’s anxiety, I didn’t think it ever excused him of his sometimes selfish behavior towards Josh who, over the course of the relationship, became more understanding and receptive than we’d ever seen him in the past. They didn’t feel like an “endgame” couple and more like a transitional one where both learn from one another but ultimately find happiness elsewhere. Keegan Joyce was charming in his own right and he and Josh Thomas shared an immeasurable amount of chemistry in the early days but it, like the presented relationship, had seemed to have fizzled out as the couple set their eyes elsewhere to satisfy their lust and craving for love.
So, no, I wasn’t particularly sad on the offset to realize that their relationship was about to go off the rails-on Hannah’s birthday weekend no less.
I was not however prepared for how raw and honest that break-up would be and the mess of conflicting emotions it would leave me in. Television, and sort of media really, in its very best moments, transcend their storytelling medium with their ability to lock onto the very real emotions felt by the audience and offer a sense of catharsis-to show that what we’ve felt, the pain or longing we’ve endured, is felt by others; it shows that we’re not alone in our grief and that alone offers a sense of comfort.
I got that from Arnold, of all characters, as he stood drenched in rain outside the tent he’d shared with Josh, chilled to the bone is his sweatpants, screaming shrilly at Josh through the barricade of the tents fabric about how loathsome he is before breaking down sobbing and apologizing for all of the heinous and vindictive words that had just projectile vomited out of his mouth. Josh was right to break up with him because it was true that they were unhappy but one could argue the time and place, but one can’t argue Arnold’s reaction of feeling completely and totally dejected, rejected and utterly dumped in the most vulnerable situation one could find them in.
It was a scene that rendered me speechless, to a point that I doubt the writers even intended to, because it was this moment where the show so painfully and accurately depicted the stage of grief following the end of a relationship, a mixture of anger and desperation that just about manages to swallow you whole.
That the episode ends with the group singing and Josh playfully trying to, even now, lift Arnold’s spirits by being his persistently obnoxious self is just a testament to the understanding the writers have for these characters. Pain happens. Heartbreak lasts. But it’s the bonds between us that help us through the healing process.
A bottle episode about why family matters
If there’s been one facet of the show that hasn’t worked as well as the rest it’s always been Josh’s dynamic with both of his parents, at least once we moved past season one. Season one dealt directly with the impact Rose’s attempted suicide had on Josh as he was forced to move back home and take on a role of guardian that he was in no way equipped to handle. Since that season Rose’s plots have grown further and further removed from Josh, Tom and co., to the point where they started to feel more like distractions than parts of the actual plots. However, with the higher focus on Hannah towards the end of season three and then in season four the series was able to bridge both generations and Rose and, to an extent Alan, was brought back into the fold.
This was highlighted the best in the fourth episode of the season where Josh, inexplicably, decides he can treat his parents to a luxurious dinner that spans well past ten courses. In this episode we don’t just get a chance to further glimpse into Josh Thomas’s clear intrigue in food but we also for once get to truly experience and understand this family and their dynamics. Having met them past the point of breaking, we’ve never seen them operate just as a trio and it’s rewarding to see how much Josh acts like the child, how Rose harbors feelings for Alan and how Alan is still a lovable dope who can’t help but overlook his privilege.
This is arguably also Debra Lawrance’s best performance on the show, especially when looked upon in retrospect. Warm, giving and full of life and laughter, on one last high, this very much was the goodbye Josh feared in the following episode.
There is no right way to grieve, something that Please Like Me manages to highlight in the devastating fifth episode of season four where Rose succumbs to the mental illness that had been trying to sink its claws into her for years. Finding his mother dead in her room, having committed suicide, renders Josh into a shock, a near state of paralysis as he finds himself unable-or unwilling- to move forward with anything that people would call the “necessary” steps.
In an act of true poetic storytelling, prior to finding Rose, Josh had been nearly ready to rekindle a romance with old flame Geoffrey from season one before they both realized how polarizing their personalities were. They’ve grown up and in a way, the story comes full circle except this time Josh manages to miraculously sidestep a mistake in his love life. And then boom, a bomb detonates in his life and someone who had been a pillar in his life is gone, just like that. And the reason the dam breaks comes when Alan, business as usual, takes stock of perishable food in Rose’s fridge.
The depiction of grief here isn’t just strong with it’s focus on Josh-but more on that in a moment-but in it’s take on Ella and Tom too with Thomas Ward delivering a fine and nuanced performance as a friend who wants desperately to help but can’t.
As Claire tells Josh later over the phone, there’s nothing that can make this better for him. It’s shit and it’s going to stay shit until the pain dulls a little bit to the point where life is manageable.
Sometimes depression is too strong and Please Like Me delivers a honest ode to the emotional turmoil that the loved ones deal with in their wake. To some Rose was no one, be it a woman they saw in passing at the grocery store or a woman who breezed in and out of the hospital or even just a face in an obituary but to Josh she was his mom. Thomas is heartbreaking in the last scene where he cradles his dog, sobbing, unable to do anything this time to fix the problem.
Life Goes On
The show lives and breathes through the odd, dysfunctional and sometimes antagonistic friendship between Josh and Tom so it only makes sense that at the end of the season of so much metamorphosis the two would end up on the couch, with their dog, eating pasta, in their typical routine, but now with different scenery. Josh is still processing grief even if his therapist is giving him the go-ahead to go and live his life and Tom is dealing with an abrupt, but not really, breakup from Ella where the latter just fell out of love. They’re not perfect, they’re a long way from happiness, but they can share a couch and a laugh at one another’s experience.
Please Like Me doesn’t feel the need to dwell on the “big” moments but would rather focus on the ones that fall in between, the ones that we cherish just as much as those aforementioned big ones. Sometimes, it’s the in-between ones we remember the most.
If season four is indeed the shows last it will have gone out on a high note, genuinely capturing the awkward shift between young adult and still figuring it out and should have figured it out by now adult. Life happens, it goes on and friends, family and loved ones come and go and all we really need sometimes to get by it is the comforting presence of a best friend, the reliability of comfort food and a well formed scathing remark.