Author’s Note: If you missed the first two seasons of “Please Like Me,” they are now available on Hulu. Also, spoilers ahead!
The interim period between TV seasons can create a range of temporal and spatial ellipses. For instance, two years in the diegetic world of “Please Like Me” pass between Season 1 and Season 2, while only a few days/weeks pass between Season 2 and Season 3. The fundamental difference involves the immediacy of the plot and its engagement with the audience. For the Season 2 premiere, viewers have to decipher how the characters came to their current state based on contextual clues and inferences, while the Season 3 premiere looks toward the immediate conflict of the ambiguous Arnold-Josh relationship (which spills over from the Season 2 finale).
“Eggplant” – directed by Matthew Saville and written by Josh Thomas – opens on the quotidian updates of our three central characters: Josh (Josh Thomas) runs his seemingly successful coffee cart; Tom (Thomas Ward) eats Josh’s culinary confections while offering sarcasm and witty banter; and Arnold (Keegan Joyce) calls Josh because of his anxieties surrounding stealing a shopping cart. After guiding Arnold through his anxieties about leaving the shopping cart, Josh invites Arnold over to have dinner and to take a gander at his and Tom’s new baby chickens. Josh and Arnold’s ambiguous relationship is paradoxically straightforward in its uncertainty: Arnold wants to be friends while Josh wants more.
The opening credits are something that I have been eagerly anticipating since last year’s season finale…and they definitely did not disappoint. The musical montage begins with Josh and Tom breaking the fourth wall by lip synching to the camera (the first – I believe – since an episode in Season 1) and it compiles images of the baby chickens, food preparation, and interactions between Josh, Tom, and Arnold. The upbeat melody of “I’ll Be Fine” transitions to the awkward sexual tension between Arnold and Josh, who share a friendly peck on the cheek before Arnold leaves. Josh’s face reads of internal angst, best summed up by the following interaction:
JOSH: My feelings hurt.
TOM: Sorry, just did not realize you had feelings.
Arnold has chipped away at Josh’s comedic guard (similar to the effect Aunt Peg’s death had on Josh), leaving him feeling vulnerable and unable to write off his feelings with jokes and sarcasm. That night, Josh tries to remedy his feelings by sleeping in Tom’s room, but inevitably remarks, “This…this right here, what we’re doing here is the loneliest thing I’ve ever done. Sleeping with you is lonelier than being alone.”
Since the premiere episode focuses on the evolution of Arnold and Josh’s relationship, it updates the state of its supporting characters by showing them interacting with/giving advice to Josh on his love life (this is how we learn about Tom fingering his married boss, Rose’s brutally honest assessment of love and friendships, Claire’s Skype updates on her own sex life, Hannah’s deadpan humor, and Alan’s fascination with a recent documentary he saw). The narrative is a back and forth between these social interactions and the rom-com beats of the Josh-Arnold relationship, yet the episode deviates from some expectations by subverting, overanalyzing, and sometimes mocking the generic traits they are purporting (the meet-cute, the dissolution, the reconciliation, etc).
The Arnold-Josh relationship blossoms during a group hangout at a Vietnamese restaurant. The bickering between Tom, Josh, and Arnold leads to awkward moments regarding racism and a lack of friends, but it segues to a later moment when Josh and Arnold return home and fumble while making out in Josh’s yard.
At a later date, Josh and Arnold walk through a hedge maze (a thinly-veiled metaphor for Arnold and Josh’s relationship). Josh forces Arnold to confront what they are to one another and how they feel about each other. Arnold gets frustrated about being lost in the maze (METAPHOR) and argues that he isn’t ready to feel vulnerable, especially because he doesn’t consider himself a good person. Once they get to the center of the maze (METAPHOR), Arnold finally relents and says that he will plan their next date.
The next date takes place in an abandoned building, which is adorned with strings of lights (Josh pauses to ask how Arnold is powering all of the lights), paper lanterns, and a comforter. Josh describes the atmosphere as “exactly how sixteen-year-old girls imagine they’re gonna lose their virginity,” which foreshadows Josh and Arnold’s first sexual encounter in the abandoned building (it must be noted that the scene is scored by Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me”). The sex scene is a very tender moment that is rarely afforded to queer characters in films or TV series. It’s refreshing and normalizing, turning sexuality into less of a spectacle and more of a means by which two people explore one another.
The episode later shows another intimate moment between Josh and Arnold, one that is so brilliantly written and executed: Arnold admits all of his anxieties, lies, and ticks (he writes down topics on his phone in order to avoid lulls in conversations, he has never seen Love Actually, and he scouts restaurants ahead of time to know where the bathrooms and exits are), while Josh climbs over and under Arnold, desperately trying to kiss him and contort him into various positions. The range of their emotional vulnerability speaks volumes and shows two people approaching their modes of affection in different ways.
Unfortunately, this moment is followed by a lack of communication on Arnold’s part. Josh consults each of his parents for advice, but ultimately falls into self-deprecation and desperation. The silence is broken when a drunken Arnold stumbles into Josh’s room and tells him, “I love you” three times. Josh pretends to sleep through the event, but later recounts the details to Mae (Renee Lim), who tells him that he “won.” Josh is torn about returning the sentiment, but he seems more concerned about how he will say it than about actually saying it. The moment finally arrives and – for one reason or another – Josh places a chicken on Arnold’s head before saying “I love you.” The chicken flaps its wings and falls off, leaving Arnold stumbling for an excuse not to say it back. Josh tries to coax Arnold into saying it, but Arnold is apprehensive and says that he’s not so sure. There is a clear rift between the two, and Josh resolves to send Arnold home (potentially ending the relationship) because the emotional baggage is becoming too taxing. Josh understands Arnold’s issues, but Josh cannot continue things as they are now.
The final scene is syrupy, subversive perfection. Harkening back to the conversation regarding Love Actually, Arnold appears at Josh’s door. When Josh opens, Arnold turns on “Silent Night” and reveals a bunch of cue cards. They read as follows:
“SAY IT’S CAROL SINGERS”
“SO I WATCHED ‘LOVE ACTUALLY’”
“I CAN’T SAY I LIKED IT”
“THIS SCENE IS PARTICULARLY TROUBLING”
“HE IS A STALKER”
“IT OVER SIMPLIFIES LOVE”
“AND OBJECTIFIES WOMEN”
“IT DID GIVE ME AN IDEA OF”
“HOW I COULD SAY SORRY”
“WITHOUT HAVING TO SAY IT OUT LOUD”
“TO ME, YOU ARE PERFECT”
“LIKE, OBVIOUSLY YOU’RE NOT PERFECT”
“I WANT TO STRESS THE CAVEAT ‘TO ME’”
“I LOVE YOU.”
The two kiss on the porch, and my heart melted into a puddle of sunshine and rainbows.
What I enjoy about the episode is that even though it gives into a “happy ending,” the stakes for that relationship are more realistic than conventional rom coms will allow. Mental illness and self-esteem have a large influence on how the characters show (or in Josh’s case, attempt to disavow) their emotions. They all need a moment of happiness, even if they themselves feel they don’t deserve it.
TOM: Well, it is going to be a depressing dinner for me knowing you’re sitting there wishing you could gay kiss him, but you’re not allowed.
JOSH: I never meet any new people I like. When was the last time you met a new person and thought, “Oh gosh, that’s an interesting thing you just said”?
HANNAH: I bet you’ve got a lovely penis too, you know? Well-proportioned, sturdy, jaunty little hats.
TOM: He’s not a bad choice. I know bad choices. I’ve made bad choices. I’ve been a bad choice.
CLAIRE: Yeah, Tom, why did you finger your boss?
TOM: I didn’t mean to.
JOSH: What, did you fall in?
JOSH: Why would he say it like that? That’s how he wants to say “I love you” for the first time? Drunk and with the words “Poof Doof” stamped on his arm?
MAE: What is “Poof Doof”?
JOSH: It’s a gay club.
TOM: You’ll find someone else though.
JOSH: You don’t mean that!
TOM: No, it’s you and me against the world, baby!