The bond between real-life best friends Josh Thomas and Thomas Ward has inspired a show that’s funny, realistic and launching a third season on Pivot
Sitting down with the pair you see the same easy, teasing dynamic their TV alter egos display on the show, except this time they decide that sharing their cheesy carbs is just a lot easier. But that doesn’t mean they don’t jab at each other in the playful way of puppies colliding at the dog park.
“We met in high school when we were 12: we were in the same class together,” Ward says of their youth in Queensland, Australia. “I didn’t like Josh when I first met him because he was irritating and a show-off. He’s still irritating. But he’s funny enough that I don’t mind.”
“I wouldn’t have spoken to me in high school,” Thomas says. “But Tom didn’t have that many options.”
Please Like Me has been critically acclaimed both at home in Australia, where it airs on ABC2, and in the US on Pivot, the small cable channel aimed at young audiences that launched in 2013. Thomas stars as a twentysomething whose girlfriend breaks up with him in the first scene of the series, telling him that he’s probably gay. As he comes to accept his sexuality, he also moves back in with his mother, Rose (Debra Lawrance) who recently tried to commit suicide. Nevertheless, it’s a comedy.
In the second season (the first two series are available for streaming on Hulu), Josh and Tom live together once again, a constant presence in each other’s lives and the very small group of friends that will put up with them. Josh is a bit self-involved and doesn’t always treat the people in his life – especially his father Alan (David Roberts) – as kindly as he should. Tom is softly spoken, passive, hates confrontation and will engage amorously with whichever girl is in front of him and giving him attention.
“They do pretty awful things, but they’re honest,” Thomas says. “To me and Tom the awful things really stick with us.”
“You really have to come to terms with it when it is in the script,” Ward agrees, although a lot of what happens in the show, and the character’s quirks, are inspired by the pair’s real lives. “I find it hard to spot the bad things they do because it’s so close.”
Because the show is about flawed, aimless young people living together and stars a charismatic and talented writer and creator, Please Like Me has frequently been called the Australian Girls.
“It used to really annoy me,” Thomas says about the comparison. “When we were making the show, people would ask what I wanted it to be like and I would piss them off by not telling them. I wanted to do our own thing. And then two weeks into the edit, Girls came out and the network executives said, ‘I think it’s going to be a lot like this show that is on in the States.’ And I had such a grudge. But then I watched Girls and it’s very good and we’re also quite different. So now I’m happy about it.”
The show is also different, not just from Girls but most other shows, in that it depicts a friendship between a straight person and a gay one without making a big deal of it. Tom, both on the show and in real life, is entirely relaxed about gay men hitting on him in bars, as he says happened last weekend when partying in a sea of shirtless guys in New York.
There’s only one thing about gay men that irks him. When he shared a house with Thomas and his boyfriend, “we would watch The Voice and they would be sitting over there not saying anything. Then I would make a joke and they wouldn’t laugh and I’d look over and they’d be kissing. That’s the only time gay activity has ever annoyed me: when it stopped them from hearing my jokes.”
While the friends don’t live together any more in real life, they do on screen. As we enter the third season, Josh’s mother is struggling less with her mental health; Josh is settling into a healthy though unconventional romantic relationship with his tightly wound boyfriend Arnold (Keegan Joyce); and Tom, well, he’s just kind of moping about the house smoking pot and playing Mario Kart like usual.
“Everyone’s saying it’s a lot more grown up, but I don’t know what that means,” Thomas says. And indeed, the show is still about the little moments of everyone’s youth that are funny and tragic and wonderful and disastrous, often all the same time.
Thomas says that Ward is the “sillier” of the two of them and that he laughs at lots of Ward’s jokes but then has to veto them because they wouldn’t be right for the show. Their collaboration sounds comfortable and natural. Ward just finished working on an Australian sketch comedy show and says that it was quite a different experience. “It’s a lot more fun writing with Josh than writing in an aggressively competitive room with male sketch writers,” he says. “It’s weird being in a masculine creative environment when they’re competing.”
Across the table, Thomas, unprompted, starts laughing uncontrollably at one of Tom’s ideas for a sketch on the sketch show. “He wants to have Superman on Airbnb,” he chokes out, gleefully eager to share an idea that he thinks is horrible and lightly chastise Ward for it: something that Josh on Please Like Me would undoubtedly do to Tom.
“It’s a funny idea,” Ward says, grinning and barely defending himself. “He built the Fortress of Solitude to be by himself but then he tries to Airbnb it out because he’s lonely. Then this couple comes along on their honeymoon and they think they’re going to have some alone time, but he’s still there! He’s going to ruin their honeymoon by going over and saying, ‘I’m so lonely.’”
As Ward is carrying on, Thomas is still smiling even though he thinks the idea is “awful”. It’s infectious being around two friends who obviously enjoy one another’s company so much, and that warts-and-all camaraderie is what makes Please Like Me work so joyously.