This Thursday, Aug. 1, we will get our first TV channel explicitly targeted at millennials—or “passionate millennials,” as one of the many slogans of Pivot puts it. The network wants to provide “entertainment that might make a little bit of a difference.” (Clearly, someone told the Pivot execs that millennials have an idealistic streak.)
Pivot’s programming will include reality shows, a talk show hosted by Meghan McCain, and reruns of Friday Night Lights and Little Mosque on the Prairie. But for its big opening night debut, the network has made what might seem like a surprising choice: It is hoping to make a splash by airing six back-to-back episodes of Please Like Me, a character-driven observational comedy that has the feel of a gay, Aussie version of Girls.
The Antipodean Lena Dunham is Josh Thomas, a 26-year-old who co-wrote the series and shares a first name and several biographical details with his main protagonist, whom he also plays. In the opening episode, Josh is dumped by his girlfriend, realizes that he’s probably gay, spends the night with a man for the first time, and discovers that his mother has attempted suicide—all in the course of 24 hours.
That might sound like drama of operatic proportions, but Josh takes these potentially life-altering events in his stride. After all, when change erupts, sometimes the best way to cope is to keep calm and carry on. Thomas told me that his own coming out “just wasn’t a big deal. Nobody was that surprised. I thought it would be fun for once to play it like that.”
He included the suicide plot line because his own mother tried to take her own life. “I think the chance of anyone getting through life without having someone that they love attempt suicide or achieve suicide is pretty slim,” he told me. “They’d be very lucky. It’s a thing that happens, but it’s a thing that you never really see on television in any kind of authentic way.”
In Please Like Me, Josh’s mum asks him to move in with her when she’s released from the hospital—as his own mother did. In the show, his mother’s situation is presented in an almost matter-of-fact manner. “She’s depressed, which I think is really common. People that age spend their whole life bringing up children and then they get divorced and their kids move out, and they just forgot to build a life. Then what are they going to do? It’s a really common thing,” he said.
These first six episodes of Please Like Me were produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corp., and Thomas credits the government network’s willingness to take chances on offbeat shows like his. “It's their job to make what they think are important Australian stories. So you just end up with riskier television.” Pivot has signed on as a co-producer for a second season of 10 episodes, which will appear in 2014. When it launches on Thursday, Pivot will available at launch in more than 40 million homes, but you can check out the pilot episode right away.
In his homeland, Thomas is probably most known as a standup comedian and as a team captain representing Generation Y on the panel game Talkin’ ’Bout My Generation. For a demonstration of how different Australian television is from its American counterpart, take a look at a scene from Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation that features Josh’s real-life grandmother, Mona. For its next act, perhaps Pivot could bring a show as radical as this to our shores.