Please Like Me is a hell of a title. Most shows are named after their subjects (The Muppets), some sound like improv groups (It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia), but the recent strain of honest romances wear their anxieties on their sleeves: Looking, You’re The Worst, Please Like Me. It’s a little too much to call it desperate. Please Like Me is just insecure. It calls out the power imbalance between two people when one isn’t sure where he stands with the other. It isn’t something you’d ever say. It’s something you think and hope. It’s a command to someone who never hears it. It’s a sign of being trapped in your head.
“Eggplant” is all about the characters’ anxieties right from the get-go. It opens with Arnold literally needing to let go (of his fears as represented by a shopping cart he walked home and is terrified is being tracked by The Authorities) and Josh talking him through it. It’s a hilarious scene. “What are you doing tonight?” Josh asks when the ordeal is over. Arnold’s lying on his grass, overcome with excitement at having let go. “Panicking that the police will track the trolley.” “Eggplant” digs up heaps of sadness and sweetness and wisdom, but just about every scene is first and foremost funny: The adorable sex scene is comically overdone, the Skype commiseration is cut with one hilarious confession after another, the climactic Love Actually riff starts by bagging on Love Actually. Partly because that’s how Josh is, always a little afraid to be serious, but partly because that’s how people are, prone to joking and laughing their way through as much of life as possible.
Arnold’s biggest concern is something he’s basically said before: “I don’t want you to get too close and realize I’m actually not that likable.” Josh, Tom, and Claire get in on the anxious fun in a Skype chat. Claire’s still in Hamburg but now she’s sleeping with a hot guy who sucks. “When I’m with him, I feel less alone, but then the next day it’s like a tax on my loneliness.” Sometimes the lines all sound like they’re in Josh Thomas’ voice, and that could be no different, but Caitlin Stasey doesn’t play it like a quip. She makes it into a resolution. Josh is happy Arnold slept with him, which also solves his “does Arnold even like me?” problem, but he keeps piping up with anxieties, like maybe he doesn’t deserve happiness. All the while Tom keeps reassuring him, “He’s not a bad choice. I know bad choices. I’ve made bad choices. I’ve been a bad choice.” So Tom’s the same. But the takeaway here is that even though they’re all able to express their doubts and concerns and self-pity, they’re not necessarily better equipped to fight them than Arnold is. No matter how much his best friend tries to support him, Josh still has two more scenes worrying he’s ugly inside and out.
Back to Josh and Arnold sleeping together. Please Like Me has been fuzzy about Josh’s sex life, but it looks like he never slept with Geoffrey or Patrick. And nobody plays it like this is his first time with a guy. So the show that begins with Josh’s girlfriend telling him he’s gay, a show that finds so much comedy in sabotaging Josh’s sexual encounters, has completely skipped his first time with a guy? At least the show makes up for it in other ways, like letting Arnold make their first time cheesy (“This is exactly how 16-year-old girls imagine they’re gonna lose their virginity”) and then completely giving into the sweetness in the moment. It’s also refreshing how casually the show depicts sex, never embarrassed and only compromised, if you can even call it that, by that big, comical galaxy-comforter covering them. Take the time they just make out, both of them still wearing clothes, and then fidgety, playful Josh bends Arnold’s legs back. That’s something people do in real life that you never see on TV. It took a protagonist who can’t sit still to show us what hook-ups sometimes actually look like.
That’s one of the main things “Eggplant” needed to do, show us the sparks between Josh and Arnold, because these two haven’t had a smooth ride to this point. Rose speaks for some portion of the audience when she says, “Don’t you think Arnold’s maybe a little bit annoying?” Last season Arnold brought his therapist to meet Josh. He couldn’t deal with Josh accidentally running over a rodent. And he had a panic attack when Patrick tried to kiss Josh. Arnold would pass nobody’s subconscious cost-benefit analysis. And Josh is kind of self-centered kind of a lot. It’s not all that clear what Arnold sees in him, either. “Eggplant” skips over what specifically they like about one another and instead just shows us their chemistry. They have fun together and not just as friends. Also Arnold’s a little bit hard to get, which fans the flames for Josh. But Arnold does like Josh, and Josh is a positive influence on Arnold in that he gets Arnold out of his (tremendous dis)comfort zone nestled amid his wealthy parents and overbearing therapist. The red flags remain. Arnold’s hot (getting naked and climbing into bed with Josh and whispering “I love you” three times) and cold (dropping off the face of the planet for a week with no warning or explanation even upon his return). But it makes sense now why both Josh and Arnold would want to deal with their problems instead of giving up.
Despite all his worrying about whether he deserves happiness with Arnold and how repulsive he is as a human being, Josh stands up for himself in the end. When he returns Arnold’s “I love you” the next day, Arnold says he isn’t ready. (Another warning sign: He was so drunk he doesn’t even remember saying, “I love you” first.) Director Matthew Saville’s clean geometry keeps them at opposite ends of a tense diagonal. Josh says, “Sometimes my feelings need to be thought of.” The way their relationship has been all about walking on eggshells so as not to disturb Arnold is almost condescending. It needs to be balanced. And finally Josh isn’t too anxious about being liked (or loved) to give in. He isn’t worrying he’s unlikable anymore. He’s saying he is lovable, dammit.
Arnold can be stubborn with Josh in a way he isn’t with his parents. Maybe he’s been sheltered too long. He’s definitely still learning independence. But it’s hard not to get wrapped up in his apology. It’s sweet, self-deprecating, wise—exactly the right tonal mix for Please Like Me in general and “Eggplant” in particular. Arnold shows up on Josh’s doorstep with a stack of cards and a boombox playing Christmas carols, the first card straight out of Love Actually: “Say it’s carol singers.” Josh shouts, “It’s carol singers,” and then responds to himself as if he’s his roommate, “‘Oh, well give ‘em a quid and tell ‘em to bugger off!’” Arnold says, or writes, that he watched Love Actually, one of Josh’s favorites. The cards continue: “I can’t say I liked it / This scene is particularly troubling / He is a stalker.” But at least the movie gave him an idea for an apology. “To me, you are perfect / Like, obviously you aren’t perfect / I want to stress the caveat ‘to me’ / I love you.” And so the episode ends how it begins, with anxious Arnold letting go of his hang-ups, only this time, he doesn’t celebrate alone.
- “Eggplant” is written by Josh Thomas and directed, as always, by Matthew Saville.
- When Josh regrets trying to be just friends with Arnold, Tom says, “No one wants to be friends. Everyone knows this, don’t they?” Josh responds, “You’re right, yeah. I already have one friend and where did that get me?” Tom protests, “I won those Cirque Du Soleil tickets!”
- Tom complains about letting Josh sleep in his room. Josh: “It’s not like you’ve actually inconvenienced yourself for me.” “Can’t masturbate now because of you.” “Were you going to?” “No, but you’ve taken away my freedom.”
- Two delicious morsels from the script: “patronizing rabbit statue” and “dainty deer hooves.” There’s also a dog, baby chickens, rubber duckies, and the fish-themed bathroom tiles.
- Love how Claire is introduced this season. “So I had sex with that guy that I regretted having sex with again.”
- Josh adds, “Meanwhile, Tom fingered his boss.” Tom: “Are we telling people that?” Josh: “Apparently.”
- Beautiful framing of Josh on the treadmill. He’s in profile, facing right, framed by rich purple floral curtains with a backlit lace scrim behind him.
- Josh: “I think I love him, but also I don’t know what love is.” But also maybe thinking that is what’s holding him back from experiencing it. Everyone’s just a nesting doll of anxieties on this show.
- At the cold, brutal butcher shop Josh has chosen as a setting for his post-maybe-break-up debriefing, Tom tries to comfort him one last time. Tom’s a delight this episode. Tom: “You’ll find someone else though.” Josh: “You don’t mean that.” “No. It’s you and me against the world, baby.”