It's time Canadian television got its own 'Please Like Me'
We should take more risks — and take our episodic storytelling to new levels
Last week, Please Like Me — one of the most criminally underappreciated series on television — quietly came to an end. Its creator and star Josh Thomas tweeted that its fourth season, which aired in its native Australia late last year, would be its last. This news was a huge disappointment for its small but devoted fanbase, many of whom were just discovering it.
Please Like Me originally debuted on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's ABC Televison in 2013, and slowly but surely found its way out into the world, including a brief run here at CBC (and then later on Netflix Canada). Initially — and reductively — pegged as "an Australian Girls if Hannah were a gay dude," the show centred on twenty-something Josh (played by and suggestively based on Thomas himself) as he navigated his relationships with his friends, family and lovers. This, of course, sounds like the tagline for countless other series, but under the guidance of Thomas — previously known best in Australia as a comedian and podcaster — it easily set a high bar for wit, insight and charm that will be sorely missed.
Just before Thomas announced the show was ending, I had been finding it come up in a handful of conversations, mostly with friends who had recently discovered through its addition to Netflix Canada. Almost all of them eventually asked the exact same thing: "Why doesn't Canada have a Please Like Me?" And it's true: why don't we?
Narrative episodic storytelling (at least of the English-language variety, as it's the only form I'm well versed in) is having an extraordinary moment. There's so much great scripted television out there that most of us can't find the time to keep up with it, even as we increasingly watch those series on-demand on other screens. And Canada is certainly contributing, particularly in the youth (Degrassi), sci-fi (Orphan Black) and family comedy (Kim's Convenience, Schitt's Creek) departments. But our country's overall scope does seem oddly limited, and it definitely lacks in any series that could be seen as the Canuck contribution to a specific category of television that Please Like Me belongs to — a category that is collectively playing a huge role in the medium's current renaissance.
Thomas created, starred in and wrote or co-wrote every episode of Please Like Me. And while he has also surrounded himself with an extremely talented co-cast and crew, it felt consistently like his artistic vision — just like Atlanta feels like Donald Glover's, Insecure feels like Issa Rae's, Fleabag feels like Phoebe Walter-Bridge's and, yes, Girls feels like Lena Dunham's. But it isn't the youthful auteurism of these shows that binds them. They each — in large part through the controlled visions of their creators and stars — express half-hour narratives that feel exceptionally naturalistic and profoundly explore the human condition through the same grounded mix of comedy and drama that most of us experience in our everyday lives (and though she isn't the star of her show, Jill Soloway's Transparent is also definitely part of this). Some of them even reach levels of brilliance you'd be hard-pressed to find in most full-length movies these days.
There's no reason why we can't effectively join the ranks of this kind of storytelling. There are so many talented Canadians who absolutely represent a remarkable spectrum of experience. Surely we can find our own Josh Thomas or Issa Rae or Phoebe Walter-Bridge among them. And now's the time for our broadcasters to take a risk on them. Our primary disadvantage to Please Like Me's Australia — despite Canada having over 10 million more people — is that so many of our most promising talents have their sights set on a writing gig in Hollywood. But if they're down there right now struggling to get on staff at a mediocre NBC sitcom despite having the untapped genius of a Jill Soloway (or even half that), something tells me there are more than a few reasons why they'd be happy to find fulfilling work back up in their home and native land.
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