News Column

Sitcom introduces irresistibly awkward guy

August 2, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 02--BEVERLY HILLS -- Please Like Me: sitcom, available on Pivot TV, go to http://pivot.tv for channel information or to watch directly.

The Awesomes: animated comedy, Hulu, www.hulu.com

Quickdraw: live action comedy, starting Monday, www.hulu.com

Let's leave the beaten path for a moment and explore some worthy TV you won't necessarily find on your actual television.

"Please Like Me" is not only the title of a terrific new sitcom on Pivot TV, but also the fervent request by the brand-new channel itself. Pivot launched Thursday as an arm of Participant Media, the company behind the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" and Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," among others.

The new channel aims at a demographic known far too preciously as "millennials," possibly one of the most loathsome words in popular culture other than "literally." And yes, dammit, I mean that literally. It's a word the boyish but not-that-young network President Evan Shapiro tosses around like the verbal equivalent of the Holy Grail.

The new channel targets viewers 18 to 34, and has a strong social component as part of its mission. Members of the Pivot panel at the Television Critics Association crowed that members of the m-word generation are the most politically aware of all time.

But if the rest of Pivot's offerings are as good as its original sitcom, "Please Like Me," I'll literally start using "millennials" with a smile on my face, which, I must add, is older than 34. Way older.

"Please Like Me" is the brainchild of Australian comic Josh Thomas, based on his own social awkwardness. Not a terribly new idea, but when it's treated intelligently and enacted by a lovable sad sack named Josh Thomas, it can be irresistible.

Now that we've used the m-word, we have to use the l-word. No, I don't mean love, although I do love the two episodes of "Please Like Me" made available to critics. I mean L as in Lena. Because, yes, this show might just be what Lena Dunham would come up with if she were a gangly Australian comedian writing a series about emotional stasis among boys and "Girls."

The show opens with Josh's girlfriend, Claire (Caitlin Stasey), breaking up with him over dessert at an outdoor cafe. He never realized their relationship had been drifting, he says. "The nature of drifting, it happens over time and one day you order a 19-dollar sundae and you're finished," he says.

She says Josh is gay. News to him, he answers, unconvincingly.

At the office, he chats up his friend Tom (Thomas Ward), who says once again he plans on breaking up with his girlfriend, which he never does. A new employee named Geoffrey (Wade Briggs) walks in and promptly breaks down crying. He invites himself to dinner that night with Tom and Josh and then invites himself to sleep over.

In Josh's room.

He puts the moves on Josh, who doesn't exactly respond. Rather, here, as in all situations, it seems, he acquiesces. Until the mole on his lip starts bleeding. Conveniently.

Geoffrey is absurdly attractive, which is one of the reasons Josh is reluctant to pursue anything with him. "I never really trust when someone that good looking is into me," he says.

He more or less accepts that he may be gay because that's how he approaches his entire life: more or less.

"I just really think I'm going to miss vaginas," he says. "They make so much sense, you know? They're nifty."

The humor is subtle, almost deadpan, but brilliant at every turn. Some moments become excruciating to watch, only because we've formed an immediate affection for Josh and hate seeing him screw things up for himself.

Pivot has six episodes available now and has ordered up a 10-episode second season.

So, you know, please like it. I do.

Animation from Hulu

As if Seth Meyers didn't have enough to do, what with getting married this summer and doing the preliminary work before he takes over as NBC's "Late Night" host early next year.

The Weekend Update anchor and writer has teamed up with Michael Shoemaker, of the currently titled "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," to create a new, animated show that just hit Hulu this week.

"The Awesomes" is a fanboy's dream come true, and Meyers and Shoemaker readily confess to being ultimate comic-book-loving fanboys. They were on hand at the Television Critics Association Wednesday to talk about their series, which XBox 360 users have been able to get an early look at since last weekend.

"The Awesomes" is charming, but your enjoyment of it may depend on how much you may already feel over-saturated with animation.

The Awesomes are a team of the world's greatest superheroes who have been led for years by Mr. Awesome (voiced by Steve Higgins). But at 92, Mr. Awesome is ready to retire. His nerdy son Prock -- Professor Doctor Jeremy Awesome (Meyers) -- has only one kinda super power, the ability to freeze time for a few seconds, although he's been told that if he uses this power, he'll die.

When no one else will take over the Awesomes, Jeremy steps in, and every other superhero promptly quits, forcing him to draft a bunch of rejected superhero candidates to keep the Awesomes going.

Other characters are voiced by Kenan Thomson, Bobby Lee, Rashida Jones, Bobby Moynihan, Taran Killam, Paula Pell, Emily Spivey and Josh Meyers.

I'm not sure who the target audience is for the show. It's shamelessly unsophisticated and almost gleeful, which doesn't really make it appealing for the Adult Swim set. It does have a few tentative adult references in the dialogue, although they are bleeped out.

There are 10 episodes in the first season and even if you are feeling smothered by all the animation out there, "The Awesomes" is worth a look. It may not be entirely awesome itself, but not every show needs to be.

Endangered Sheriff

On Aug. 5, Hulu will launch a half-hour, live-action sitcom called "Quickdraw," from writer-director Nancy Hower and John Lehr, who stars as Harvard graduate Sheriff John Henry Hoyle in a Kansas town in 1875 where the locals have a pool going on how long it'll take him to be killed.

The other characters include his dim-bulb deputy, Eli (Nicholas Brown); the seen-it-all saloon/brothel owner Honey Shaw (Allison Dunbar); undertaker Vernon Shank (Robert Clendenin); Hoyle's step-daughter, Pearl Starr (Alexia Dox); and outlaw Cole Younger (Brian O'Connor).

In the first episode, Hoyle and Eli chase after the Younger gang after they tied a local rancher to a tree and set the dogs on him.

Much of the show is improvised, which gives it both a refreshing edginess and a good deal of flat moments, when a joke is repeated too frequently or when we're waiting a few seconds too long for the next one-liner.

Doing live-action comedy online is different than doing it for television, in how the program is accessed by viewers. Whether it comes through a TV set or a computer, it still needs to be funny.

While the improv of "Quickdraw" gives it a good foundation for success, to keep viewers coming back through all eight episodes of the first season, the show needs to be more tightly focused and funnier more often.

David Wiegand is The San Francisco Chronicle's executive features editor and TV critic. E-mail: dwiegand@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @WaitWhat_TV

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