“What makes this so refreshing is to watch is its diversity and the way it explores a range of different identities onscreen”
BY HARRIET ARGENT
If you like painfully self-aware and self-deprecating comedy about political correctness, woke culture and allyship, look no further.
Netflix’s new show Why Are You Like This, created by Mark Samual Bonanno, Naomi Higgins – who also stars – and Humyara Mahbub, follows the lives of Penny, Mia and Austin as they navigate life and the minefield that is “woke culture”.
These twentysomethings stumble through each episode as they are presented with a new socio-political dilemma, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. From toxic masculinity in the workplace, lost menstrual cups and morally questionable drag performances, nothing seems to be off-limits.
The fear of getting cancelled
The show brilliantly reflects the genuine anxiety and fear our society has of tripping over our words, getting stuff wrong and being called out for it.
Take Penny, played by Naomi Higgins. She tries so fiercely to be a strong ally to her LGBTQI friends and drives herself crazy in attempts to be politically correct.
In the first episode, she tries to be the perfect ally and make her workplace more inclusive by throwing a party for LGBTQI awareness. But she ends up wrongfully accusing someone of being a homophobe simply because they do not participate in Pride or watch RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Speaking to DIVA, Naomi reveals she based Penny on herself as she was a few years ago when she was younger, angrier, and more anxious at the state of the world, and wanted to do everything to fix it. But she agrees woke culture and the fear of getting cancelled can actually get in the way of progress.
The last episode of the series explores cancel culture more deeply as Penny, Mia and Austin come across a controversial figure who couldn’t care less about what people were saying about him on social media, and it hits home that cancelling really only affects people who care about it.
“Just punishing people and getting angry at them doesn’t actually make the world better and doesn’t achieve anything,” Naomi says. “I don’t think cancel culture is very effective. But I also don’t know what the solution is. And I’m not wanting to give solutions in the show.”
Co-star Wil King, who plays Austin, adds: “I think what is important to note about the show is, yes, it’s poking fun at woke culture and taking things too far. But, at the end of the day, it’s still very inclusive.”
The need for diversity onscreen
Inclusivity is certainly something the show does well, and it’s especially interesting to watch how it deals with LGBTQI relationships and identities.
When we learn in episode three that Mia is bisexual, it’s not made to be a huge deal – it’s simply mentioned in passing as she searches for someone to sleep with on a rather messy night out with Penny. Likewise with Austin’s sexuality and occupation as a drag queen.
Naomi says this treatment of LGBTQI characters was not a conscious decision. “Most of the women I know are bi anyway, and it’s not that big of a deal,” she says. “This is me just writing about dating… It doesn’t have to be like ‘But it’s with a woman!?’ You know, who cares!?”
Well, someone quite close, actually. She laughs that one of her best friends, who was the inspiration for the character Austin, pleaded with her to make the show “gay” when he found out she was writing it.
But there’s something nice about the incidental nature of queerness in the show, and what makes Why Are You Like This so refreshing to watch is its diversity and the way it explores a range of different identities onscreen.
Mia, played by Olivia Junkeer, is a queer, Bengali woman with Muslim parents, and it’s great to see aspects of her identity intersect with one another onscreen.
Olivia tells us she thinks TV should show more diversity because it will then represent the world we live in more accurately. “I think it’s important that TV reflects the society we live in, and Why Are You Like This definitely does that in terms of Mia, Austin and Penny.
“There are elements to their characters in somebody else watching, and that’s what makes the show so relatable. As Naomi has said before, it wasn’t something she thought about when writing the show. It just happened because she was writing about her own life, and I think that’s important because diversity shouldn’t necessarily be something that you need. It should just happen, and I think that’s what makes the show quite special.”
Despite the loveable and relatable qualities of the characters, they are also inherently flawed people who do and say rather problematic things. The first thing that springs to mind is Austin’s drag show in episode one, where he dresses up as JonBenét Ramsey.
This style of self-deprecating comedy has been around for some time, with the likes of Seinfeld and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, which Naomi cites as inspiration for this show.
Mia’s character is a good example of a flawed but loveable character. She can be quite manipulative, using everything she can to get what she wants. “Her being a minority actually allows her to get what she wants, and she knows that, so tries to make people uncomfortable,” Olivia says. “I think that is also reflective of the world we live in, like, it’s so easy to call someone out and use it to your advantage.”
Wil agrees that the characters in the show are “bad people” but says he thinks they were almost entitled to using their identities to get what they wanted. “I genuinely think that it is fine to do. If people feel sensitive around you, it’s because you’ve been disadvantaged in some way,” he says.
When asked what message they want people to take from the show, Olivia laughs. “We keep saying, ‘the world is shit’, but also just ‘chill out’”.
For Naomi, there is no real solution or overarching lesson to be learned from the show, which is sort of a lesson in itself. “Situations aren’t black and white,” she says. “Multiple truths can exist, they can be good and bad, and I guess that’s reflected in the characters. They can be really mean, but they’re also right a lot of the time as well.
“And you know, you can hate someone and still make sure you’re using the right pronouns.”
Why Are You Like This is now available to stream on Netflix
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