This series is so consistent that every week I know I’m going to be satisfied with the episode in some form or another. There are always laugh out loud moments, Josh will always be the wittiest person in the room and the stories will always be emotionally honest. My favourite thing about this series isn’t even the way that it makes me laugh, but the way that it almost moves me to tears week after week, even through that laughter.
The episode opens with a sombre Alan moping around Josh’s place, juxtaposed with the too up-beat theme music. It might be one of the few, if not the only time that the opening theme hasn’t played against the backdrop of Josh cooking something. Alan is still reeling from the bombshell Mae sprung on him last week and Josh and Tom are both clueless in how to handle him. “Most people are just trying their best,” Alan tells them both, a phrase that could quite easily be the theme of the episode.
The centrepiece of the episode is Arnold’s birthday party, if one could call it that. The gathering is made up of Josh, Tom, Hannah, Arnold’s obnoxious brother, Steve and both of his parents, Bruce and Donna, played Geoff Morrell and illustrious Gina Riley. With the knowledge that Arnold has chosen this day to finally come out to his parents, Josh finds himself preoccupied with how to behave, “Is this cake too gay?” he repeatedly asks his friends. It’s rather endearing how anxious and unsure Josh becomes, highlighting how important it is to him to make a good impression for the parents of the boy he loves. That doesn’t stop him from trying on
Donna’s wedding ring as a joke, “I’ve made a weird choice.”
Tom spends the day acquiring advice from Bruce on how to handle a situation at work. The supervisor that he hooked up with a while back is suing several other co-workers for sexual harassment but has offered Tom hush money. It’s hard to care about this subplot when all of it has transpired off-screen, but it’s worth it just to hear Josh joke about the two of them, “I ship you so hard.”
Arnold’s coming out goes about as well as expected. Only a moment into his speech, Steve aptly takes the wind out of his sails, “Aw fuck, he’s comin’ out” but also reveals he used to delete Arnold’s porn off the computer as a sweet brotherly gesture. Donna admits that she’s known since her son was a kid, but Bruce is bitter that Arnold felt he had to keep a secret in the first place and throws him out of the house. It isn’t a very surprising turn of events and Gina Riley felt woefully underused in a role that didn’t have much dimension beyond ‘waspy mother’. Although her suggestion to go and stay with Josh and “shower yourself in dick and glitter” was perfectly underplayed.
The absolute standout moment of the episode is a scene between Rose and Hannah that features on of the most frank discussions of mental illness I’ve ever witnessed on television. Rose confesses that she is tired of having muted emotions and feels this means she is ready to go off of her medication. Hannah rightly informs her that this means her medication is working, and she’d be worse off without them. She reveals that she briefly stopped taking hers, which led to her beating herself, as we saw last week.
Hannah beautifully expresses the crux of what it means to suffer from anxiety or depression, “You take medication to get yourself out of a dark hole but you end up just in a display home on an empty street.” It’s this aspect of mental illness that is so often ignored or downplayed on-screen, the daily grind of having to live with depression, “It really hurts to know that I need to take pills just to function.” This isn’t the flashy, quirky, glamorised version of mental illness that is so frequently portrayed on film and TV, but something millions of people deal with day in and day out.
Please Like Me is simple storytelling at its best and this episode once again proves just how effective that can be.