This post contains spoilers
2017 is well underway and I decided to share what series I have been watching so far this month. I’m always looking for new series to watch, and almost constantly receive recommendations from friends. However, I cannot pretend that there is any real method to my series-picking madness. Often times I will log onto Netlix and select something randomly, depending on my mood. I’ve been told to check out things like Black Mirror so often – and have since watched the first episode! – but I often reach for something I know instead. Testing out new series can be kind of hit and miss, and sometimes, after a long day, you just want to stick to something you know, which in my case mostly comes down to binge-watching Parks and Recreation – which is the cure to any bad mood. However, sometimes I am feeling a bit more adventurous, which can lead to amazing discoveries on the series front.
I guess I was lucky this month, as I started watching the Australian series Please Like Me, and completely fell in love with it. I cannot recall why I selected this one, but it seems reasonable to assume that I was attracted by the thumbnail containing a clueless looking 20-something- looked familiar, perhaps? Narrating the life of main character Josh, Please Like Me provides a quirky but honest portrait of a young student trying to figure it all out, and it does a great job too.
When I first started watching the series it reminded me of the Netflix series Love, whose main characters fit the same age category as the friend group at the heart of Please Like Me. Where Love focuses its attention on romance, Please Like Me is all about the road of self-discovery that is our twenties. Dealing with issues like mental illness, sexuality, and the start-up troubles that many young adults face today- for example when it comes to starting a career- Please Like Me is much more serious than it might look on first glances. The main characters are all kind of outsiders, quirky and lovable. Even though I have to admit that I never met anyone like the main character Josh, his mother Rose, or best friend Tom, they do have a certain familiarity to them. For all their eccentricities they still feel real, as Josh’s social awkwardness and Tom’s extreme passiveness prove that above all, they are human. It’s always a breath of fresh air to see characters who are realistically fleshed out and go beyond neat, boxed off characterisations. After all, real life is messy, and I think Please Like Me does a good job at showing that.
Providing a good mix of comedy and drama, Please Like Me stands out because it does not give any clear answers. We are made to guess at what the characters are feeling, have to read it of their faces, instead of it all being laid out in front of us. There is more going on than just having it all served up on a platter; we need to do a bit more work. If we do not, we might miss the whole point of the show. As with our own friends, families, everyone we know and love, we have to try and understand the characters in the show, as we are merely outsiders to their inner struggles and emotions. Furthermore, the series does a pretty good job at imitating the push and pull of life, where things just happen without reason or remedy, and where you just have to get on with it.
Please Like Me provided me with a kind of homey feeling, and it did not take me long to get invested in the lives of Josh and his friends. I have yet to watch the latest season, number four, and am pretty sure it will be just as good as the rest.
Sherlock – Season 4
Where Please Like Me had me laughing and crying for all the right reasons, Sherlock had the reverse effect. In fact, there were often times where I was confused whether to laugh or cry, or both. I have been a fan of the series since it first came out, and enjoyed the first two seasons thoroughly. The third season was a bit of a letdown in my opinion, so naturally, I had high hopes for the fourth installment to win back my affections.
I like(d) Sherlock because of its cleverness, its awareness of being clever – gotta love that arrogant touch – and the snazzy references to the original stories (of which I am a big fan). In season 4 though, the showrunners seem to have taken a turn for the worst. Where I felt like the balance between clever and crazy was quite right in season 1 and 2, and perhaps even in 3, season 4 involves a lot of crazy, and only the bare minimum of cleverness. And God, even the charm of the smugness has worn off. I felt like the showrunners decided to pick out the things that worked before and create something new with it, but went about it in the wrong way. It was kind of like the second album of your favourite band for which you have been anxiously waiting, only to be disappointed by the fact that they kept all the mediocre bits from the first one and totally changed the rest. The jokes have become repetitive, the plot has become chaotic, confusing and boring, and the self-obsession has become too obvious.
This is not to say that I hated all three episodes. The first one seems to repeat a trend from the previous season which I wished it had not, namely a shaky approach to character development. Hiding behind the pretence of being all about Mary, The Six Thatchers actually functions as an elaborate set-up for killing her off, turning her into an important plot point, but nothing more. I was not surprised by this, as I never felt like Mary’s character was explored to any significant degree. Instead, she seemed merely to function as yet another enigma for Sherlock to crack. In the end, her death seemed to have only minor impact, both on the characters – which is remarkable to say the least – and on me as a spectator.
The reason for this can easily be linked to the fact that there is just so much stuff going on in Sherlock, there is hardly any time to reflect on any of it before being taken on another ride on the rollercoaster. For me, the second episode is the strongest, as it functions as a calm center to the two episodes that surrounded it. There is finally some time for reflection, more attention is paid to the characters, the plot seems more reasonable, and I started to get the feeling I was watching Sherlock again like I remembered it. But of course, then The Final Problem happened.
Besides the fact that the Final Problem is miles away from presenting an engaging detective story with an incredible yet believable plot, its designated antagonist feels like a hollow shell made to function as an elaborate metaphor for the shows (anti-)hero. Eurus could have been great, awesome even. She could have come close to Moriarty – although I admit, that’s hard to do – had she been given the appropriate time and attention as a character. Sadly, the fate that befell her was not much different from that of most (or all?) other female characters in Sherlock.
Throughout the course of the series, Sherlock has mainly been presented as rather cold and unfeeling, with a shift only occurring in the last two seasons. The Final Problem reveals the real Sherlock to us, who, underneath his facade, cares much more deeply than anyone could have ever imagined – or could we? Eurus then, functions as a metaphor for her brother. Acting like a coldblooded killer in most of the episode, she has a sudden change of attitude in the closing minutes, when, supposedly, the true reasons behind her killing spree are revealed. This metaphor could have been clever and impressing, but it is not. While the show bombards its viewers with cheap thrills and showy plot twists throughout the episode, the underlying meaning just gets snowed under, or rather covered in an avalanche. If only Eurus had been given what Moriarty had been given some seasons earlier, and if only there had been any impressing detective work going on; it could just have done the trick.
What are we left with then? A series which insufficiently tries to make a deep point but loses out by trading clever tricks and interesting viewing for the mundane and cliché. We are made to believe that Sherlock is an enigma, and with it the show as a whole, but in the end it sells itself short. The saddest thing is perhaps that even Moriarty couldn’t save the Final Problem, as his short appearance feels like the ever returning Daleks on Doctor Who: unimpressive, regardless of their destructive power. And come on, it’s hard to make Moriarty boring, as his presence was still the best aspect of the episode.
If Sherlock is to end, perhaps this season was the only suitable ending imaginable. It showed that even the best series can lose its way, and become less impressive than it once was. I will miss the old Sherlock, but if the latest season is a promise for what is to come, I think I am okay with there not being a future for the texting detective and his blogger sidekick.