ENTERTAINMENT
09/09/2014 09:06 am ET Updated Sep 09, 2014

If You Only Watch One Show About 20-Somethings, It Should Be 'Please Like Me'

There's a real dearth of entertainment that chronicles the entropy of modern 20-somethings, according to everyone who's never heard of "Girls," Sloane Crosley,
"(500) Days of Summer" and the numerous other series, books and movies that chronicle the entropy of modern 20-somethings. Which is to say we're already wading through a sea of cliches when it comes to this genre, if you can call it that, and therefore in constant search of novelty. That's why we recommend "Please Like Me," an Australian series from 27-year-old comedian Josh Thomas that captures the same befuddlement plaguing, say, Kat Dennings' and Beth Behrs' characters on "2 Broke Girls," but without the fussiness or entitlement captured in all of the aforementioned entities.

"Please Like Me" has the trappings of many series created by Millennials for Millennials. As is the case with Lena Dunham's "Girls" and Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson's "Broad City," Thomas created and writes the show while playing a version of himself, also named Josh. It circles his small group of friends and the messy dynamics of his divorced parents, including his mother's botched suicide attempt and his father's much younger new wife. Currently four episodes into its second season, "Please Like Me" transfers the sensitivity of becoming an adult into a biting comedy about the awkwardness of being not a boy and not yet a man. It skips the pretentious self-discovery. It's also one of the best shows you probably aren't watching.

Take, for example, the pilot's opening scene. After praising an ice cream sundae during a day date, Josh's girlfriend informs him, at almost 21 years old, that he's "probably gay." She's right, but the point is not to emphasize our protagonist's sexuality. "Wouldn't really be that different, would it?" Josh says when his new ex suggests they remain friends. "This $19 sundae's suddenly pretty fucking humiliating." It's this hybrid of self-awareness and self-deprecation that crystallizes the show's charm. Josh, with ever-tousled hair and the self-described face of a "50-year-old baby," doesn't know quite how to be gay, or at least how to conquer the dating world, just as much as he doesn't know what to do at clubs or how to take care of his new half-sister or how to avoid being blackmailed into attending church with his pious aunt. And he knows he doesn't know those things, so the serial humility and crisp sarcasm make you want to hug Josh instead of strangle him, like you might a certain cohort on a much moodier HBO dramedy.

"Please Like Me" thrives because its irreverence belies the earnestness at its core. Comedies don't work when it seems they only serve to extract maudlin sentiments or push buttons, so Thomas folds both extremes into each other. You're cracking up while the characters' self-absorption reveals itself, but in a lovable, relatable way instead of an obnoxious, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" way. When Josh and his mother scarf down a box of chocolates with two of her psych-ward friends in Season 2, his mother suggests the person with the worst story about losing his or her virginity should score the final candy. One woman says she was raped and the other complains that she didn't know rape counted and would like to alter her answer. It sounds cheap, because gags about sex crimes usually are. But the way the scene plays out -- undotingly, so that the rape joke barely registers as such -- buries the potential distastefulness far beneath the punch line. Josh and his mother are appropriately concerned when they hear her friend's confession, but the two ladies one-upping each other's stories with such flippancy brings levity to a moment that could easily raise eyebrows or venture into dark territory. This is the M.O. of "Please Like Me," from messy hookups that end in tears to urinating in a cup while stuck in traffic on the way to a choir performance at the aforementioned institution.

"Please Like Me" is not a heavy show, even if the notion of death frequently lingers. Seeing Josh crush on his first boyfriend, despise his best friend's girlfriend (that his straight best friend is played by Thomas' real-life straight best friend, Thomas Ward, is another charming element), pretend to like Australian football for said boyfriend and miss his own birthday because his aunt dies is as much a whirling dervish as anyone's post-coming-of-age years. It's easy to embrace the episodes of Josh and his friends' lives because they skip the angst that's become a credential for Gen Y depictions. Maybe it's the lack of Americanization, or maybe it's the emphasis on comedy that isn't bookended with hysterics or plagued by improbabilities. Either way, the show reflects 20-somethings in a way that I think we'd like to see ourselves represented. What Josh lacks in assurance he makes up for in wit, and in turn we adore his every graceless move. With "Please Like Me," it seems we are truly getting insight into a character's life, rather than contrived vicissitude of situations meant to demonstrate the struggles of embracing adulthood. We really like "Please Like Me," and you will, too.

"Please Like Me" airs on ABC2 in Australia and on Pivot in the U.S.

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