Welcome back to my weekly review and recap of “Please Like Me.” To catch up on previous coverage, click here.
I can’t think of a show on television right now that cuts through all the bullshit as well as Please Like Me. Every week I seem to sing the praises of this show, either due to how it handles mental illness and other sensitive subjects (like last week’s storyline and how it handled Claire’s abortion) or how it seems to understand the fine line of confident bravado and crippling insecurity that twenty somethings grapple with each day. This week’s episode “Puff Pastry Pizza” is another phenomenal episode by creating something of a bottle episode, where little is explored except for the relationships between characters, which offers up more than enough depth to fill the half hour, and by the end, left me wanting more.
The big thing that happens is that while Arnold is away, Josh takes advantage of his open relationship status and sets up a hook up between himself and a stranger, which results in Claire and Tom locked in Tom’s room, up to their own devices. The episode begins with Tom making a pinata full of secrets they all have, ready to be smashed open, and it sets the stage for an episode that sees friendships with no boundaries. These three share just about everything with one another, to the point that one of them being ignorant to asinine information is nearly insulting.
Tom and Claire are only a room away while Josh is having his Before Sunrise moment with his hookup, Ben. Ben is serious, a journalist, has been spurned by love and has a potentially life threatening condition. He is the exact opposite of who Josh is, who deflects just about every question Ben has in order to keep things light and breezy. And they work so well as a pair.
They work to the point that I now may have a problem with the show.
I LOVED Ben. I loved Ben so much that I wished Arnold was no longer around, because Ben and Josh had chemistry that leaped from the screen. Ben didn’t put up with Josh’s nonsense, and Josh was allowed to be frank about just about everything. They’re complete opposites, but Ben still manages to drag information out of Josh that he typically would never admit. Things such as how, even though his rational head tells him he’s wrong, that sometimes he blames his dad for his mom being mentally ill. Sure, he immediately takes the comment back, but it’s a rare insight into the character. Who of us haven’t thought irrationally? Who of us haven’t acted on these irrational thoughts? Josh’s character development this season has been marvelous, and this week we are gifted with greater glimpses of this growing maturity.
However, the pairing of he and Ben is also a refreshing reminder that Josh doesn’t actually have it all figured out, as it has seemed compared to his friends and family who have been spiraling. It just takes someone whose stability is greater to shine a light on this.
Final thoughts: Ben would be a welcome addition if he weren’t just a one off character, even if I understand the special nature of having one fresh faced character enter the mix, to see how he reacts to the characters we all know so well and their idiosyncrasies. It works for the isolated narrative that the episode achieves, but I’m also very attached to Ben and enjoy him as a character in a way that I haven’t always with Arnold.
In the B storyline there’s Claire and Tom, both dealing differently with having little to do on a weekend night. Tom doesn’t always get to be the beacon of human decency, with the show mining much of the character’s humor out of his screw ups, but this week we see him being almost insightful in the most Tom manner imaginable. Claire is bored and complaining (“Tom, why is everything so sticky?”) and Tom is growing frustrated by this (“Ugh, so many questions.”) Claire even contemplates making out with Tom before shaking herself out of it. The breaking point comes when Tom asks her to play the penis game with him (where one thinks about something, and the other has to guess if they’re thinking about a penis) and Claire lashes out at him. Tom essentially tells her to chill out, to stop complaining about not doing anything or not having the life she wanted in this very moment, and to instead, enjoy a simple round of penis game with her friend.
And she does and she has a lovely night getting drunk on cheap wine and turning the silly game into ones with dares where the two disrupt Josh’s nights. This might have been one of the most strictly funny episodes I’ve seen of the show, with Claire, Tom and Josh all earning big laughs in the episode. Moments such as Josh casually saying “I’m less capable of love, maybe, but I’m very into him”, to the funnier exchange where he tells Ben he once stole his year five teachers broach for the “thrill of the crime”, to Ben thinking Tom’s a babe are only a few of the laugh out loud moments in the episode.
It also, once again manages to capture the in between moments with friends, the ones that I wonder if even the writers realize they’re capturing because of how natural they are to everyday life. Things such as Claire sitting down on Tom’s bed and invading his personal space, or Josh ducking underwater to escape an awkward question, to Josh getting his arms stuck in his shirt and needing Ben to unbutton them. These are such natural moments, ones we wouldn’t think of in our own lives but that are rare to see in television and it’s great.
At this point we only have three episodes left in the season, and each week continues to prove that the series is one of the very best on television right now.