TThe problem with making a modern-day satire is that it’s hard to figure out whether you’re laughing at those who haven’t caught up, or the ones who are taking it too far. Netflix‘s Why Are You Like This follows three twenty-somethings in Australia navigating friendships, hookups and workplaces with a painfully self-aware brand of comedy about political correctness and allyship that’s more abrasive than it is interesting.
Writer and star Naomi Higgins plays Penny, a peppy, hyper-aware young woman trying desperately to be a good ally and friend – in turn sweet and exhausting, opposite her best friend Mia (Olivia Junkeer) and their housemate Austin (Wil King). Mia tells her boss that he can’t fire her because she’s the only woman of colour in the business (when, crucially, she just hasn’t been doing her job), while we first meet Austin as he performs a drag set dressed up as murdered child beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey.
Those initially daring introductions give way to a fast-paced comedy filled with bizarre scenarios: Mia loses her menstrual cup in her vagina; Austin is dealing with a closeted older man he’s hooking up with who won’t come out of his bedroom; Penny is forced to take “sensitivity training” at work after screaming at a gay colleague.
The sketches can be individually amusing, but after the first 20-minute episode it’s hard to get a sense of where the overall narrative is going – and whether the frenetic pace is sustainable. The dialogue is very internet-friendly (“Breathe in, breathe out, I am an ally”) but can feel like part of one big, vague joke with no proper punchline.
Higgins’ premise is commendable, poking fun at antiquated gender roles in the office while also making her character, Penny, take a long hard look at her excessively enthusiastic and often performative politics. But it also grows tiresome – Penny, really, should break character and learn when to listen, rather than speak, and the series needs a structured story for the jokes to land.
Still, some lines earn huge laughs: “He sucked the first dick at Stonewall,” Austin says of his house guest, while Mia, committed to stopping having casual sex with mediocre white men defends her latest conquest by saying: “He’s Sicilian, they’re oppressed.” This, and spirited performances from Higgins, Junkeer and King, keep Why Are You Like This fun – if little more than that.