posted by Benedict Townsend

Here’s what we thought…

Pls Like, the new BBC Three show that parodies YouTuber culture, was already making waves before a single episode even aired. YouTubers and fans alike looked at the show’s posters, which perfectly imitated YouTube’s ‘Made For You‘ campaign, saw comedians posing as what were clearly meant to be head-on parodies of real life YouTubers, and immediately everyone felt the dread kick in.

It seemed very possible that the BBC had made a cringeworthy, on-the-nose parody of the internet community. In fact, it didn’t even seem possible, it seemed almost certain; TV companies have a terrible history with accurately representing YouTubers – even when the YouTubers themselves are involved in the project. So what the hell was about to hit the web?!

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Despite these worries and against all odds, Pls Like has turned out to not only be a good show, but in many ways, a great one. There’s no getting away from the fact that yes, the show mercilessly parodies YouTubers and yes, most of the YouTubers on the show are quite clearly direct parodies of real-life people. But despite this, the show manages to walk the tightrope between accurate parody and just being mean with almost perfect balance.

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The show follows Liam, a guy in serious need of money, who decides to enter a YouTubing competition when he sees it has a large cash prize. This central plot line is pretty unbelievable, but it’s really only there to serve the real function of the show; to have Liam going around and meeting tons of fake and OTT YouTube personalities. In his travels, Liam meets beauty gurus, vloggers, gamers, pranksters – and all of them are note-perfect parodies of the most famous creators in each of those genres.

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Liam and ‘Millipede’

The shows premiere episode features YouTuber couple ‘SouthMouth’ and ‘Millipede’ (their YouTube usernames) who are quite clearly meant to be Alfie Deyes and Zoe Sugg, right down to the look of the actors who play them. This could have easily been pretty painful to watch, as well as basically bullying, but the show handles them well, because it’s not really about Zoe and Alfie, or indeed anyone in particular.

The show is best understood not as a slam on individual creators, but a slam on individual behaviours. The ‘Zoe’ and ‘Alfie’ characters don’t represent Zoe and Alfie so much as they represent the zaniest parts of vlogging culture. They are vessels for everything that is crazy and stereotypical about the YouTube world.

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YouTube challenges, as fun as they seem, are dumb – and the show rightfully parodies them as such. Where the show succeeds is in the fact that these acts of parody are never truly cynical or nasty. Millipede doing the ‘Smartie Challenge’ is played purely for knowing laughs, not for sneering mockery.

YouTubers know these kinds of challenges are silly, and if they have any sense of humour at all, they must be able to recognise that there’s truth in the parody. Similarly, Liam’s conversation about whether or not there is such thing as a ‘YouTuber voice’ followed by a pitch perfect “Hey guys!” is surely a standout moment for anyone who knows anything about YouTube.

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The show gleefully pokes fun at the weirdest parts of YouTube culture, but it doesn’t do it from a place of snobbery or superiority. The lead character, as much as he mocks the YouTubers he meets, is not cool himself – and is in fact frequently the butt of the joke. There’s even a last-minute change of heart at the end of episode 1 where Liam quietly admits that hey, maybe he actually kind of likes YouTubers.

In a more mean-spirited show, this would be brushed off by the viewer as a cynical attempt to save face, but in a show this ultimately light-hearted, it acts a not-so-subtle nod from the writer to the viewer that says “look, I’m just having fun here, I know that YouTubers are basically harmless and that watching them makes a lot of people happy”.

“I realised that YouTubers provide solace and connection for lonely young people in a way that traditional TV no longer can.” – Direct quote from the end of Episode one.

Pls Like was clearly made by someone who knows an awful lot about YouTube. Heck, the crew even went to the trouble of sneakily filming at last year’s Summer In The City and then cleverly editing their fake YouTubers into it, just to give the show an air of authenticity. This isn’t a bunch of TV people jabbing blindly at YouTube with their noses turned up; this is a shameless YouTube nerd poking fun at the silliest parts of a world he knows back-to-front.

You can watch episode one of Pls Like on YouTube (where else?) right here: