“Sometimes I have a face that looks like a 50 year old baby,” he admits.
Self-deprecation is a big part of his stand-up act and an equally big part of Please Like Me. Pleasingly, Please Like Me isn’t hard to like at all.
Thomas’s humour thrives on social observance with offbeat, seemingly-naive views of the world that have a ring of truth about them. He also enjoys tackling social taboos. Both drive the narrative here.
Thomas plays a version of himself in this series written by the young comedian. His name is still Josh but he studies a ‘Bachelor of Creative Industries’ rather than having a comedy career, and lives in shared-housing with his best friend Tom (Tom Ward). Perhaps it is loosely based on earlier experiences.
Convinced he is probably gay, girlfriend Claire (Caitlan Stasey) breaks up with him, just before he meets Tom’s attractive new male co-worker Geoffrey (Wade Briggs). Geoffrey, who is openly gay, is drawn to Josh and very-forwardly asks if he can crash the night…
In the hands of director Matthew Saville (Cloudstreet, The King, The Slap, Noise), the subsequent bedroom scene with Josh and Geoffrey is one of the show’s funny / sweet moments.
It would have been easy to leave Please Like Me as an awkward romantic comedy but there is a darker side to this work which makes it so much more fulfilling, pertaining to his divorced parents. Needy mum Rose (Debra Lawrance) has overdosed on painkillers and guilty dad Alan (David Roberts) can’t seem to let go, despite having a younger bride from Thailand, Mae (Renee Lim).
Then there is the kooky Aunt Peg (Judi Farr) who is forced to help care for Rose, against everybody’s better judgement.
So while Josh is exploring his new sexuality, somehow by default, he is constantly being tugged at by his inept parents. In this family, he is arguably the parent and they are the children, setting up very rich comedic terrain.
As an actor Josh Thomas may be upstaged by some of his co-stars, but he remains effective as a loveable loser in the centre of this conflicted universe. His performance is sweet and nuanced.
Debra Lawrence is a revelation as Rose, highlighted in a scene in an elevator where she bursts into tears without a word being spoken. When she is paired with the magnificent Judi Farr as Aunt Peg, everyone else vanishes into the background.
David Roberts is terrific as the hapless father and while Renee Lim’s role may border on stereotype, she delivers a punch that suggests Mae is far more controlling than any submissive mail-order bride.
Newcomer Wade Briggs perfectly underplays his role as the hunky object of affection, with deft amounts of sincerity.
Please Like Me is quite an achievement for one so young as Josh Thomas, and the more this series unfolds the better it gets. It displays a confidence that delivers laughs, pathos and insight.
While lesser local comedies have played on ABC1 with middling results, here’s one that could have easily struck a chord on the broadcaster’s primary channel.
Please Like Me begins with a double episode 9:30pm Thursday on ABC2.