Written by and starring comedian Liam Williams, BBC Three’s underrated, brilliantly observed mockumentary Pls Like is now on its third series of lampooning the sort of online culture that’s baffling to anyone older than Gen Z.
At the centre of the show, Williams plays a version of himself – a sardonic comedian and self-described “greying millennial” – on a reluctant journey to learn what it takes to become internet famous. In each episode, online talent manager James Wirm (the always hilarious Tim Key) sets Liam a different challenge to complete and introduces him to a host of social media personalities along the way, all played by some of the UK’s best young character comedians.
Back in 2017, series 1 served as an introduction to the world of YouTubers, and Liam was tasked with creating viral videos in areas like fashion & beauty, health & fitness, music and humour. Acting as his guides were Millipede (Emma Sidi) and Charlie South (Jon Pointing), an amiable but pretty vapid vlogging couple so successful that they’re contractually obligated to stay together.
But the rise of YouTubers brought with it a litany of YouTuber-related controversies, so series 2 took a look at the darker side of the industry. Revolving around a YouTube awards ceremony, organised to create some much-needed positive PR for the platform, the series introduced new characters like DumpGhost (Tom Stourton), a prankster with a penchant for making offensive ‘jokes’, banging on about free speech, and encouraging his millions of followers to relentlessly troll anyone who calls him out.
To reflect the rapidly changing online world, Pls Like’s third series (released January 2021) is about not just YouTubers but social media influencers in general. Millipede is now over the hill in influencer terms, being in her late 20s, and has befriended a sullen teenage TikTok star in a bid to stay relevant. Charlie South has also pivoted to TikTok, while James Wirm is manufacturing ‘beef’ between two of his clients which culminates in a live-streamed boxing match. Liam is even more baffled than before, and understandably so. There’s one moment where Millipede calls him a boomer (he’s actually just a few years older than her), demonstrating what a big difference a small age gap can make when it comes to online culture…
Filmed and set during the pandemic, series 3 takes these exceptional circumstances into account and satirises the way that real-life influencers have been paid by the government to promote Covid-19 testing. In the Pls Like universe, there’s now a Minister for Influencers, Mungo Slate (Graham Dickson), and he’s tasked “influencer tsar” James Wirm with boosting the UK economy. His efforts range from improving the reputation of a run-down Northern town by sending five “brave” influencers to live there for a year, to putting on an influencer-centric West End musical and charging an exorbitant amount for each socially distanced ticket.
This time around, Liam’s challenges include creating a fake luxury holiday experience for travel restricted times, connecting with influencers who have highly specific areas of expertise (John Kearns manages to steal the show as a YouTuber specialising in horse brasses), and making a struggling café more appealing to young people. This latter challenge makes for one of the funniest episodes and involves Liam visiting a trendy restaurant where your bill is calculated based on your number of followers, as well as learning how to take Instagram-friendly pictures of food from an eccentric photographer played by Seb Cardinal.
A real strength of Pls Like is that it effectively satirises the world of online celebrity without adopting a sneering, superior tone. As a central character, Liam may enter situations thinking that he’s above it all, but he’s usually the one who ends up looking like a fool. He generally gets on well with both Millipede and Charlie South, although they’re frequently tickled by how out-of-touch he is with things that are completely normal to them. If there’s a villain of the piece, it’s James Wirm, pulling all of the strings behind the scenes and profiting from the young people he manages.
The series also provides a welcome platform to showcase character comedians on the rise, with a cast who will be familiar to fans of live alternative comedy, but aren’t yet big names on TV. The first two series featured Jamie Demetriou, Lolly Adefope, Natasia Demetriou and Ellie White, who have since become more widely known for sitcoms like Stath Lets Flats, Ghosts, What We Do in the Shadows and The Other One.
Maybe this is a reason why, despite running for three series to date, the show has gone largely under-the radar. There are no ‘stars’ attached (perhaps reflected by how much of the promotion for the latest series focused on Simon Bird, of The Inbetweeners fame, being the new director) and its premise can be a tough sell for some people. However, although it’s a comedy about YouTubers and social media influencers, you certainly don’t need to be au fait with that world to enjoy it. In fact, it might be better if you aren’t, so that you can share in Liam’s confusion as he navigates his way through modern life online, from ASMR and lip-synching to VSCO and Mukbang.
Contributed by Sophie Davies
Pls Like is available now on BBC iPlayer.