Spoilers ahead for Please Like Me’s fourth season.
Talking to Josh Thomas, the creator of Australian dramedy Please Like Me, feels a lot like talking to his character on the show, who also happens to be named Josh. He’s whip-smart and always ready with a quip, though, luckily, a whole lot more self-aware. Just like Josh in the fourth season of the series, which is streaming on Hulu, Thomas is reaching the end of his 20s. Though he insists he didn’t come into the season with any set intention, he admits that it does incorporate some of his own anxieties — or at least a few of his own awkward dating experiences. After the show lost its American home when Pivot shut down last August, Thomas also decided to give the fourth season a clear ending, just in case it never got the chance to live on. Over the phone, Vulture caught up with Thomas to talk about everything from why people shouldn’t sing Rihanna covers at birthday parties to the time he got stood up at a train station.
First of all, congratulations on getting picked up by Hulu.
Have you found that there’s a sizeable American audience for the show? There always seems to be a small, enthusiastic crowd of people watching it.
Yeah, I mean, I have no idea. Pivot never did ratings; Hulu will never tell me how many people watched it. Every time I go to The Abbey [a famous West Hollywood gay bar], every year I come back, there’s always, like, 20 percent more homosexuals saying hi to me.
In this fourth season, the episodes feel like a collection of disparate short stories, rather than one big arc. Was that your intention?
Well that’s interesting. I mean, you don’t really know what the intention is. I don’t know if we have an intention. Ever. But yeah, I guess the episodes stand separately a bit more in this season.
Geoffrey comes back, Josh goes out to dinner with his parents … It felt like you returned to loose threads to see if there was anything left to tell.
Yes, I guess, yeah. That’s a usable quote, isn’t it? “Yes, I guess, yeah.”
It makes me sound good.
I just don’t know if we did it on purpose. Whenever I hear people talk about their shows as if they did anything on purpose, I never quite believe them. There’s never a grand plan. It’s just the things that interested me on the weeks we were writing those shows.
At the beginning of the season, Josh and Arnold are trying to have an open relationship and there’s an attempt at a threesome that becomes a twosome. That’s something you don’t see on TV often. Was it at hard to convince the network to run it?
You know the Americans, you guys are so frigid. So it always takes so much convincing, but I think they liked it. They thought it was funny, so they decided it was okay. I was worried about the believably of me being left out. [Laughs.] “Me? That guy?”
It’s an interesting way that a relationship can fall apart.
I don’t think that’s why they broke up, though. I think that Arnold was just not in love with Josh anymore, then they had a threesome and the boy wasn’t that interested in Josh and it didn’t go well. It showed that things aren’t perfect between them. Last season, Arnold would have looked after Josh in that threesome, but now I feel like he was trying to find excuses to push Josh away. I don’t think they broke up because Josh was left out of a threesome. That’s not that big a deal, to be honest.
So Arnold inadvertently put a wedge between them?
He couldn’t find the energy to be nice to Josh, because he’s a bit sick of him. The internet got so mad that Josh was breaking up with Arnold, and I just don’t think it’s his fault.
Do you think it’s Arnold’s fault, or just two people growing apart?
I just think they weren’t in love anymore. It happens, kids. Love fades.
I guess people on the internet are very into their “ships.”
And they’re all children. [Laughs.] They think Geoffrey is the perfect man, which I just find insane.
After the breakup, we see Josh trying out single life, trying out different apps, hooking up with different guys. Did you pull those stories from experience?
That episode I’d been wanting to do for so long. I have so many of those stories, but I don’t think any of the ones on the show are real. Oh! Getting stood up by a school kid. Him pretending to meet me and then me getting to the train station and him telling me he’s a school kid and not turning up? That happened. I went to a train station to pick up a guy who didn’t exist. What else happened in that episode that was real? Nothing else. I mean, I’ve had a condom break.
That leads to Josh getting an HIV test, which is another thing you don’t see onscreen a lot that’s pretty specific to being a gay man.
Yeah, because we’re disgusting. [Laughs.] We are disgusting. It’s fine.
We do have to be very open about sex, in a way. Josh has to outline how much sex he’s had to the nurse, for instance.
I don’t know why they ask those questions! Why do you need to know this? Just put it in the lab. You don’t need a narrative backstory! It’s either in my blood or it isn’t my blood. It doesn’t need a story arc, my HIV test. What are they collecting that information for? Just put the blood in the thing that spins around.
This season, Josh seems like he’s driven by a fear of getting older. He says stuff like, “I don’t want to be another single, mid-30s homosexual on ketamine.”
Yeah, that’s how I feel. I don’t know. Ketamine’s fun, isn’t it?
I don’t know.
Well, me neither. I turned 29, and everybody’s like, “Ooh, you’re about to turn 30.” And I’m like, “Why are we having this conversation now? I’m turning 29!” I feel like everybody wants me to be scared of getting older, but I’m not that worried about it. I guess there is a thing in Josh’s life, and in this season as well, with so many people pulling away from him. It’s like, what does he have? They get a bit more stability, you know? Just to have those babies. I guess Josh can have a baby. Whatever.
But he doesn’t seem like he wants to.
He doesn’t want to get married. He doesn’t have a baby. His friends move. What does he have? John’s not gonna live much longer.
A big turn that surprised me was Josh’s mom’s death.
What!? What happened?
I’m so sorry to tell you this out of the blue.
I loved her!
So did I. I was shocked. Why have it come to that?
I thought it would be a good story to tell. You have this four season discussion on her mental health and trying to show different bits, and that was the only thing left to discuss. That’s the only reality of mental illness that hadn’t been explored from her character. Also, I had ideas for how I wanted to tell the story that I thought would be good. I was worried about it because I didn’t want to make it look like, if you have a mental illness, you’re going to kill yourself. But sometimes that happens, and I feel like that’s an important story to tell.
When something like that happens, there’s a terrifying question of how much the decision came from the person and how much was the illness.
Yeah, which is a thing we explored in the show a lot, because you get those feelings out of attempts, too. What I thought was interesting was the shock of it happening in the middle of the day and nobody being prepared for it. In the middle of a burrito bowl and all that stuff.
No one knows what to do in that moment. No one knows whether to call an ambulance or who to tell. It puts extreme pressure on everyone.
It’s a nice way to explore everyone’s characters. You learn a bit more about each person by their reactions. It’s a very weird feeling, killing a character like that, because you do get so attached to them. I feel a bit guilty. It’s not my fault!
The end of the season feels pretty final. Is it supposed to be the series finale?
Pivot shut down, so in a sense, we thought maybe this will be the last season. I believe we could keep going. We wrote it as a finale if it needed to be.
On to happier things. How did you come up with the idea of Arnold singing a Rihanna cover?
That’s actually a controversial scene, because so many people think it’s so beautiful. They don’t know why me and Tom and Hannah and Ella hated it. To me, it’s such an annoying thing to do, especially for Hannah’s birthday. But then a lot of people watched it and thought it was so beautiful of him. Especially for Americans, because they are a lot more comfortable with getting a guitar out at a party. Australians aren’t. They just think it’s disgusting to do that.
I had to watch the character’s expressions to know how to react. It can be cringe-inducing and terrible, but he is a good singer.
He’s a good singer, but it’s Hannah’s birthday. Anyway, it’s definitely one of the least well-functioning scenes we’ve done. It’s meant to be a callback for when he does Sia. That’s such a happy moment and everybody loved it, but now Josh and him have drifted apart and now he’s singing again, but Josh doesn’t like it anymore because he’s sick of this boy. Also, the group is a bit sick of him. All anybody took away from it was that it was a nice cover. It made everyone love him so much and then Josh dumped him. That’s not good for my likability.
They do have a nice reunion, singing along to Justin Bieber. That’s sort of a sweet moment.
It is! It is a sweet moment.
The other thing I want to know is, what do you have against cat people?
Cat people are psychopaths. Psychopaths not the word — I’m allergic to cats, so we need that to preface. I just don’t know why somebody would buy a pet that hates them. If I was on a date with a boy and he said he was a cat person, I would think he would like to be choked during sex. That’s how I feel about cat people. They’re filled with self-loathing. Why would you buy a pet that hates you?
So is Geoffrey a cat person?
Yes, probably. And they shit in the house. I love animals, but cats just aren’t cute. Are you a cat person?
No, I’m a dog person. But I’m fascinated by why people like cats.
I don’t know why they won the internet. You know? Why are they winning the internet? What about the puppies?
Maybe puppies are too hard to photograph. They have too much energy.
I don’t know about that.
One last question: What other TV projects would you like to do? Whether or not this is the final season, are you interested in telling a story that is not semi-autobiographical?
I probably should come up with something. I’m trying. It’s hard to find ideas that are actually good. Everything just feels so mediocre, so trying to find something that is actually great … I’m still doing the press tour! Give me a week!
Sorry, no pressure.
I just called you dad because this is how conversations with my dad go.
This interview has been edited and condensed.