Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Please Like Me stays in for better or worse

Illustration for article titled Please Like Me stays in for better or worse

“Puff Pastry Pizza” never quite gets off the ground. There are some great hangout premises, like the piñata of secrets—Tom writes one about “testicals” that we unfortunately never get to hear—or the guessing game about why Josh is nervous. I guess that last one pretty much runs its course in less than a minute, so that’s why it feels short. But the first could run a whole episode. Then comes Josh’s casual sex date, which is surprisingly fluffy for that particular premise on this particular show. It winds up feeling like setup for a punchline that we’re still trying to get in that last scene with Arnold, who hasn’t yet been told that Josh got some while he was at maths camp. Finally there’s Claire and Tom trying and failing to figure out how to spend their night without disturbing Josh’s date, but that doesn’t amount to much, either. They just offer some punch-up to the main event. So instead of doing anything or going anywhere, “Puff Pastry Pizza” mostly just sits on the couch all night.

What most elevates the episode is the presence of Ben (David Quirk), Josh’s hookup. When he shows up at the door, he’s neither remarkably handsome nor ugly. Josh later agrees he’s just as cute as in his profile picture. He’s kind of average-looking, at least as much so as someone relatively tall and fit can be. He’s also neither as charming nor as awkward as a rom-com character might be. He’s kind of serious without passing that nervousness on to us in the form of cringe comedy. He reminds the others of a serial killer, he shows up in the aftermath of a plane crash, and he brings up Sylvia Plath and an unrelated suicide himself. Maybe Ben’s the grim reaper. But he can be funny (“All the questions you’re asking sound like we’re in an English language class”), if not quite as good at syncing to the group’s rhythm as Ella or others. Ella showed up on a manic night with a scripted sense of timing and quirk. Ben doesn’t fit in the same way. He almost doesn’t fit at all, except that people tend to meet one another halfway or so in social situations, so Josh generally joins him on his not too funny, not too serious, altogether kind of moody level. It’s an unusual energy, this relatively normal guy bringing his particular personality and baggage into our colorful, witty world. It’s like he’s calibrating Please Like Me. Sorry, folks, the show’s being repaired. Come back next week.

At one point Ben tells Josh about falling in love with his best friend in high school who later killed himself, possibly in connection with his homosexual attractions. “Since your question was ‘Have you ever been in love?’ and not ‘Will you please tell me a deeply horrific story?’ I’ll just answer yes, I think so, to a boy in high school.” See? Funny. He’d never told anyone that before. Josh asks why him. Ben says, “I’m sure I’ll never see you again.” Which makes sense. Hookups are intimacy with a deadline. But how does Ben tell Josh that and then not want to see him again? Isn’t that confession as much a bond as it is a product of them being strangers? At the very least you might expect things to get a little heavier, grander, more romantic as the night goes on. Maybe that’s why the story feels light. It opens the door to a more substantial evening but resists. Josh has a boyfriend after all.

The question now is what will Arnold say? (And did he hook up with any algebabes at maths camp?) Instead of the morning after the hookup, we cut from Josh falling asleep in Ben’s arms to the next day or whenever Arnold’s back from camp, like a reminder that this is the status quo for Josh. There’s a little bit of tension about whether Josh will tell Arnold what he did, but there’s not really enough time to discuss it anyway, and as expected the episode basically just disappears. Josh tells Ben he doesn’t like Arnold less than Arnold likes him. Josh just thinks maybe he has a smaller capacity for love than Arnold. (See, Ella would have pried. She would have opened up that moment until the episode arrived at something. Not Ben.) Josh is adamant there’s no power imbalance there, but I wonder if that’s true. Arnold’s the one who dropped off the face of the earth for a while, who drunkenly returned to Josh’s bed, and who staunchly refused a monogamous relationship. Evidence suggests one does like the other more, but it’s Josh. And it doesn’t take a close reading to see Josh’s actions undermine his self-assessment. Right after declaring how lovely he is—humorously but sincerely—he tells Ben he can understand why someone would think he has Asperger’s.

There is something refreshing about the telling of the hookup. The first time Josh and Ben have sex flies by in a fleet three-shot sequence including the set-up shot of the guys getting undressed. There’s a quick push in on them making out and another with their bodies reversed as they prepare for sex, and before we know it they’re in the shower. It was nothing. It feels TV that Ben sticks around to have sex one or two more times that night, but that initial weightless fling is exactly right.

And it comes just after Tom and Claire get their own little hookup montage. They’re penned up in Tom’s room trying to figure out how to pass the time. Tom suggests making out, which Claire immediately nixes. But still. She can’t shake the idea. You can tell just from the way her head’s turned. And so we cut to the opposite side, behind Claire and Tom, breaking the 180-degree rule to mark the moment. Claire’s sitting next to Tom, facing his direction but not looking at him exactly. She’s thinking about what he said. She leans in close. Then we cut to behind her, looking at him, and then we cut back as they finally kiss and just as quickly break apart. “Jesus, Tom, you’re just the worst person! You have a girlfriend!” Told via slow, close camerawork, their kiss means as little as Josh and Ben’s sex, but the tension and possibility is so much greater. They could have really messed things up for Ella. Maybe they already did. The episode starts by airing Josh, Tom, and Claire’s secrets. It ends with each of them sitting on a new one.


Stray observations

  • “Puff Pastry Pizza” is written by Josh Thomas and directed by Matthew Saville.
  • Claire has such a way with an introduction line. Tom rushes into the episode excited about the piñata, but Josh is staring at his phone and Claire’s doing her toenails. “Guys? Guys?” Tom says. Without looking up, Claire preemptively changes the subject. “Josh is inviting a boy over for casual sex.”
  • Even John has secrets in the piñata. “John hates foreigners.”
  • Josh doesn’t make noise during sex. “You don’t dirty talk?” Tom asks. Claire answers: “You can’t dirty talk with a voice like that.”
  • When Ben gets there, Tom and Claire disperse. Unfortunately Tom has the remote control with him. He passes it through the door to Josh. “A thousand apologies.” Later, when Josh and Ben are in the kitchen, Claire goes through the hall to Tom’s room, keeping her eyes shut and saying, “Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry,” the whole time. Every time they interrupt the date it’s funny. Later Tom knocks on Josh’s bedroom door while they’re naked in bed. “Hey. Sorry to interrupt. Can I please have permission to go to the toilet?” Josh tells him, “Yes.” “Thank you, kind sir.” In the background Claire cackles.
  • Tom: “So I invented this game called Penis Or Not Penis.”
  • Some wisdom in this episode: Tom tells Claire, “You’re just sitting there complaining again that you’re not somewhere else.”
  • Josh: “My housemates thought you looked like a serial killer.” Ben laughs. “That’s a big leap, isn’t it? To decide that I don’t just look like a murderer but that I’ve murdered multiple times.” In the end Josh says it’s okay if he wants to murder Claire and Tom. Ben says, “I wouldn’t wanna take an only child’s friends so close to Christmas, would I?”
  • Ben: “Tom’s a babe.” Josh: “No.”