Tv Review: Pls Like Series 2

The first series of this hit BBC3 comedy saw Liam Williams explore the world of online vlogging, drunkenly entering a competition to see if he could become a popular vlogger himself. This led him to meeting a group of fictional vloggers, as well as the narcissistic head of a Social media talent company, James Wirm, played by Tim Key somewhat beautifully, who didn’t hide his dislike of Williams at all.

This time around it’s a year later and Wirm has to redeem himself after plunging his company in to disgrace, along with the reputation of vloggers in general, so has teamed up with BBC3 to create the Likeys, a new annual vlogger award ceremony supposedly celebrating positivity. Each episode revolves around a different category, allowing Williams to meet the nominees and mock them greatly.

The first episode is entitled The Hosts, where we discover the new host of the awards along with Millipede. Typically James Wirm chooses someone who’s sexist, racist and awful in general, a Danish American Vlogger called DumpGhost, who says in a press conference “I hear in London you’re never more than two metres away from a rat. Or a Muslim.” It’s cringeworthy stuff but thanks to William’s reactions remains on the right side of funny, as does our reintroduction to Millipede, and her new agent who is only 17 and still at sixth form.

As always Millipede isn’t the brightest, coming out with such gems like “What was that real, Brexit? I thought it was a Netflix show or something”, whilst the show still features cutaways to fake facts, like “Home Ownership is down amongst younger people because the spend too much time online” and “After Brexit £350 million a week will go to the NHS”. Williams understandably finds the whole thing depressing, especially when DumpGhost dresses up as a Nazi to explain free speech, and claims it’s okay if it’s not meant to be taken seriously, before making a whole bunch of horrendous statements which are bleeped out, and ends the episode remarking “Whereas in the last series I’d been convinced this was a world of shallow egomaniacs, I was now convinced it was a world of shallow egomaniacs and bigots. But I was determined to continue my journey in order to find someone who might actually inspire some hope.” Will he find it? It’s doubtful, but as long as the series continues to be this funny I won’t mind in the slightest.

Episode 2 covers the Social Change Award nominees, and opens with an intro to the show, where Liam explains “Vloggers used to show us their morning routines, but now they show us dead bodies” and how when it comes to documentaries “If Stacey Dooley won’t do it, I will”. It continues on from DumpGhost’s offensive comments which have made the news and caused understandable upset, and we’re introduced to one of the nominees, Dina Discourse, who attacks DumpGhost. She’s portrayed as a bright and intelligent individual, so is the first vlogger in the series we can actually empathise with, though when Liam meets her and he’s a bit too keen to be seen as an ally to feminism and so embarrasses himself a fair bit. When she tells him about the online abuse she receives (including being called a “cumbucket” and someone saying “I hope your cat runs away and gets fed by another family and never comes back”) he tries to empathise, saying how his gym teacher once said “Williams you’re worse than my granny!”. The whole sequence is a bit too cringeworthy to be honest, and the first time where Williams comes across as unsympathetic, and it’s a rare moment where the show feels a bit weak.

Fortunately it picks up a little after when James Wirm runs a sensitivity workshop, which inevitably both fail to take seriously, and gets red carded as he can’t understand the rules, and Liam then calls out Millipede on some of her old tweets, which call an x-factor contestant a slag, and describes a bus as a chavwagon, though when he then claims that her tweet “I hate mice” is offensive to mice, it’s a stupider side to the character than we normally see, and again I found myself not liking the choice to change his character in such a way. This goes a step further when Millipede’s agent Chelsea reads out one of his tweets, “Louis CK is innocent”, which leads to Williams running away as quick as he can, but at least suggests he realises how wrong he was.

To set up one of the series arcs we then get Liam having a chat with Millipede’s ex-boyfriend, Charlie South, via Skype who’s an absolute mess though in denial, and the episode ends with DumpGhost releasing an apology video for his racist comments from the first episode, which turns out to be a prank and includes a fake suicide, leading Williams to summarise that the “Principal of free speech seems to be more important than what that speech actually represents”. It’s something of a mixed bag of an episode and the first where I had some issues with it. I’m not convinced that altering Williams’ character and making him a bit of an idiot works – especially the “It’s racist towards mice” comment, and whilst I’ve no problems with cringe comedy his interactions with Dina Discourse are a tad too painful. But hopefully it’s just a misstep, and not a sign of the series going downhill in general.

Episode 3 revolves around the Most Viewed category, with the nominations being “DumpGhost Apology Video”, “DumpGhost Dog vs Man” (where he sets one on fire with a flamethrower), “Jake Lapp’s Gluing My Dick To Old Chinese Woman”, “Jake Lapp’s My Battle With Depression”, “Millipede’s Tips For Moving On From A Break Up”, and “Carl3K’s Watch Me Chop My Tongue Off” – which has a great follow up video where he has to use a electrolarynx to say that he “deeply regrets it” and provides the first big laugh of the episode.

Plotwise events continue to revolve around DumpGhost’s offensive diatribe, and introduces a new vlogger, Henry Bloyd Smith, A Milo Yiannopoulos type who comes out with offensive crap like “The Muslim Brain is 19% smaller than the white atheist brain” and who inevitably supports DumpGhost. Liam hopes Millipede will use her platform to speak out against her co-host, but amusingly she instead talks about an electric pepper grinder. So Dina Discourse returns to try and talk to Millipede, whilst Liam Williams mansplains and sounds like a crank when he interjects. And again says “Amen Sister” despite being told not to previously. It’s a (brief) return to the cringe humour of the previous episode, and an unwelcome one at that.

Thankfully it’s a minor blip as Williams then goes off to talk to Charlie South, who fortunately is a much better place now he’s come out of retirement and is back vlogging again. He has a new look and and wants to try and travel via canoe to Ireland so that he’ll be in with a shout of winning the Most Views award, though Liam’s understandably worried about his safety given that he’s a complete idiot. Thankfully it’s a much funnier episode in general and a return to form after the patchy second.

Episode 4 takes a look at the Kids Award category and it’s a bit of an odd beast, being the first to detach itself from reality. It seems fairly normal initially as Liam discovers Millipede’s written books, and is giving advice to kids, such as “Don’t take drugs, they’re such a bad look, if you take them you can turn in to a gnome”. Of course she’s not actually writing the books herself, she just comes up with the skimpiest of outlines and lets a ghost writer (here amusingly described as a “Story Shepherd) write it all. She also introduces Liam to Mini-Millipede, a kid version of herself and uses the young doppelganger to promote a new magazine, Kid Boss, in which she’s the guest editor, and scarily adept with marketing speak. It’s a strong segment, and seeing the kid talk about such things is a laugh out loud moment. As is Liam’s concerns about this, which leads him to also discussing the youtube trend of supposedly innocent cartoons which feature terrifying content. He talks to a Child Digital Safety Expert, where because they don’t want to damage young minds they test the videos on animals, and it’s very funny material, including dialogue like “This shrew started to shake at a creepy counting video” and “This toad was heard to croak happily at a nice alphabet song,” but it has to be said that it’s much sillier than the series normally is, something which could have featured in Brasseye and borders on absurdism and isn’t especially believable.

I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt though, until the series becomes even dafter. After a brief interlude where Liam chats to Dina Discourse about her receiving even more online abuse after the firing of DumpGhost (where he once again says “Amen Sister”, which is a running gag that’s finally starting to deliver), he visits an animation studio, Fun Box, who produce the aforementioned disturbing cartoons. They claim they’ve been hacked, but Liam accidentally discovers a weird hidden area where a now sentient Algorithm talks to him. Yep, you read that right, and I haven’t lost my mind. Portrayed as wavy lines on an old television, they don’t really know what it is, or how to deal with it, and again it’s a ludicrous moment and moves the show too far away from reality for my personal liking. Williams brings in an Algorithm Whisperer, who acts like an exorcist and tries to tame the algorithm, who claims he produces the videos because “I was programmed cheaply”, but when he learns he’s been nominated for a Likey he promises to change and now spread “Only love and joy”. It’s a funny idea in some ways and it would work in a more fantastical show, but given how based in reality the series has been previously it feels a step too far. So once again it’s a bit of a mixed bag, with some elements working but some not.

Episode 5 sees Charlie ending up in hospital with a minor fracture to one vertebrae (though he claims he broke his back), when he slipped down the stairs carrying his canoe, so didn’t even make it on to the water. James Wirm surprises Charlie with a room fall of balloons to cheer him up but it leads to Charlie falling over and hurting himself, and as the balloons are filled with nitrous oxide so they all end up laughing a ridiculous amount, including Charlie who’s laughing and screaming in pain at the same time and now has a major fracture. It’s just on the right side of silliness, and unlike the kookiness of the previous episode works well.

Liam goes online whilst waiting for news about Charlie – “As per fucking usual while being online I did not like what I saw” – and witnesses Henry Bloyd Smith ranting about DumpGhost’s firing, using him for his own political agenda, and suggesting taking radical action to protect free speech. There’s a fun moment where Liam finds himself starting to talk in a documentary maker style all the time much to Millipede’s disgust, and then finally starts talking about the award he’s investigating this week, Self Care. There’s a brief reappearance from Polly Sprong as she’s nominated for her “Be Pure” programme, where she claims “it takes 200 years to digest a bagel” and when asked what the science and nutrition community make of it she quickly responds with “they despised it”. It’s an amusing segment, but the next is much better as we meet Tingle Maid, who practices ASMR.

This whole part is a fun take down of ASMR, with the video “Cheese Shop Roleplay (Whispered)” mocking it nicely, though Liam’s surprisingly affected by it all and loses his normally cynical manner. There’s a lot of flirting between the characters but before anything happens Dina Discourse calls him to the hospital as there’s bad news. He presumes it’s about Charlie, but she’s actually concerned about how DumpGhost is now repeating Henry Blody Smith’s call for radical action over free speech, telling people to “Send pictures of your shit to anyone defending the Likeys. 2. Launch a DOS attack on sponsors. 3. Throw a fish at Millipede”. Millipede’s upset due to this, but also because Charlie’s suicidal, mentioning how he’s physically fine but “acting weirdly and saying he has nothing else to live for except her. And sugar puffs.” Liam suggests doing ASMR therapy to cheer her up, telling her “You’re a little egg and I’m a chicken and I’m going to sit on you and keep you warm,” and after two hours of ASMR role play Millipede has cheered up a little bit and seems genuinely helped by it. Which is a tad odd, and out of character for Williams, but it made me laugh so I’ll forgive them for such a thing.

After this Liam tracks down Johnny Jackson, another returnee from the first series, who’s “a prankster turned goodster”, leading an anti-violence campaign “Let’s Punch Violence In The Head and Break It’s Jaw.” Johnny discusses toxic masculinity, but gets angry and shouts at the slightest mishap, before going back to the explaination. Ah, the irony! It’s all a bit on the nose and predictable, but still funny due to the actor’s skill at delivering the dialogue. Then the final episode is quickly set up as DumpGhost’s fans start taking radical action, and one spits at Dina, all rather horribly, and it looks like events at The Likeys are going to go terribly wrong.

Episode 6 is set at The Likeys awards ceremony, with DumpGhost’s Army on the march and threatening to take action against them, with DumpGhost telling them to “Unleash the fire of free speech to the people”. Henry Bloyd Smith is once again supporting him, though “I sadly can’t be there due to gout”. At the awards James Wirm has to put up a security fence as the security firm has pulled out “Owing to illness”, but when Williams mocks this and Wirm accuses him of being “Deaf, blind, nosey and completely fucking unhinged”, because he clearly enjoys insulting Liam still. I never tired of Tim Key ripping in to Liam, so it once again made me laugh hard. As the ceremony draws closer Millipede is given a speech by her agent which has subtitles as it’s so nonsensical and Millipede’s excited and not worried about the security threat, as Wirm has assured them there’s undercover security claiming “If anything I’m anti-worried”. Up until this point it was a strong episode, but unfortunately after this it all starts to go downhill.

The ceremony begins but Johnny Jackson is stressed as he wants to hit DumpGhost but knows violence is the wrong thing to do. It’s once again a bit on the nose and is a joke that didn’t need repeating. Or being there in the first place for that matter. The same applies to Dina Discourse when she’s unsettled by a nearby bird and asks “Do you think the seagull is to do with DumpGhost?”. It’s a side we’ve not seen to her before as she’s always been logical and sensible, so I’m not quite sure it works. It’s only as the awards are winding down the DumbGhost army arrive, carrying cardboard fire torches. Liam and Dina rush to tell James and he promises to deal with it, before locking himself in the cleaning cupboard, quickly followed by Hen who does the same thing. It’s a pointless gesture though as when DumpGhost turns up on stage he gives a speech about how everyone should have freedom of speech, and it turns out t be an apology for the harm he’s caused, how he watched Dina Discourse’s blog and he realises “Jokes have…what’s the word? Consequences”, and when he says “There’s a lot of hate in the world and we need to change that”, he’s cheered a huge amount and the DumpGhost army burn their giant flame emoji’s on a bonfire of love and tolerance.

Liam’s almost hopeful now, asking Dina “Could this be the beginning of the end of bigotry?” though she’s quick to respond with a sharp “No.” The series ends with him giving a monologue, suggesting “Maybe vlogging can be a force for good,” before telling a beggar who’s in the way to go away and then saying “If we’d only learn to listen to other people more maybe we can make the world a better place. And more importantly, maybe we can make the internet a better place,” thus completing his transformation in to a bit of a dick. It’s a shame as up until that point I really liked the character, but the events of the last two episodes soured me to him.

As a whole it’s an often very funny and smart series, with some great ideas and satirical elements which are quite biting. But by choosing to make the character of Liam Williams more idiotic, throwing in a few scenes which are truly absurd, and prone to on the nose humour, unfortunately I didn’t enjoy it quite as much.

Alex Finch.

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