'Everything's Gonna Be Okay': TV Review

A winsome, witty new series from an Australian comedy wunderkind.

Comedian Josh Thomas continues exploring the lives of young caretakers, this time on Freeform.

Deaths, divorces, moves, adoptions, abandoned futures — sitcoms, for all their reputation for frivolity and escapism, tend to spring from trauma and upheaval. But few, with the exception of more recent prestige dramedies, lend the inciting turmoil the gravity and sensitivity it deserves.

Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay looks in many ways like a typical family sitcom, with a 20-something outsider (creator-star Josh Thomas) taking on the parenting responsibilities for his teenage half-sisters (Kayla Cromer and Maeve Press) after their dad (Christopher May) dies of cancer. The girls are hyper-articulate, their dog impossibly adorable and their house the kind of property many of us could only ever glimpse via Zillow. But there's Thomas' Nicholas, apologizing to a new lover (Adam Faison) for his inability to get an erection after the death of his father, and it's clear we're watching something different.

Thomas previously displayed his knack for tackling anguish with tenderness and disarming humor with his semiautobiographical comedy Please Like Me, about a young man coming to terms with his homosexuality while reeling from his mom's suicide attempt. (The Australian series also introduced many American viewers to Hannah Gadsby, who had a recurring role as a severely depressed woman institutionalized alongside the protagonist's mother.) Despite its more ersatz premise, Everything's Gonna Be Okay benefits both from Thomas' signature quirks and maturation as an artist, showcasing his dry, wise, singular voice.

In a sea of American men-children, Aussie Nicholas is a distinct specimen: an unmoored loafer with daddy issues and a fundamental aversion to seriousness, yes, but also an earnest stalwart who balks at not being considered the first one to be leaned on in a crisis. (Nicholas might also be an unemployed entomologist; scattered throughout his new home are clear boxes full of exotic bugs that he proudly shows off to whoever's around.)

His siblings, too, are slight but significant tweaks on sitcom tropes. Autistic Matilda (played by Cromer, herself on the spectrum) is the blunt truth-teller, but her high-functioning condition, girlhood and sexual curiosity render her worlds apart from her male and adult counterparts on television.

Similarly, perpetually overlooked younger sister Genevieve (Press) occupies the sullen, precocious teen role, but Thomas allows the character to truly mourn her father's death while endowing her with a painfully gawky self-consciousness. (Surely it's no coincidence that Matilda, with her confidence in her intelligence and resourcefulness, is the more outgoing, adventurous sister.) Each girl comes up with her own insights, but thankfully, the show lets its children sound like children instead of mini-adults.

But every character definitely sounds like Thomas, or at least Nicholas. Our chatty, self-deprecating lead to his love interest Alex: "I promise usually I don't have emotions, OK? I'm, like, a real boy." His dad, upon meeting Alex: "I already knew my son does anal sex, probably terribly." Genevieve to her mean-girl frenemy: "A teenage girl who says she hates her girl friend isn't new or interesting." A juice cleanse is called "an expensive eating disorder." And yet it's hard to mind when the dialogue is so sharply observant and mordantly witty.

Teen-targeted Freeform has achieved a crossover hit with The Bold Type, but the first six episodes allotted for review (of the debut season's 10 installments) aren't especially promising for adult viewership. The sex scenes between Nicholas and Alex seem to push the envelope for the network — and not just for the queerness of the relationship — but the storylines for the girls, which include first periods and experiments with pills, generally feel more rote. Perhaps the writers are just gearing up. A midseason plot involving a sexual encounter between Matilda and a boy makes clear it's not the imparting of tidy lessons that defines this family, but the necessary confessions by adults that sometimes life is too complicated for one-size-fits-all rules.

That embrace of life's messiness is most apparent in the romance between Nicholas and Alex, who turns out to be less Mr. Right than Mr. Right for Right Now. Since Please Like Me, Thomas has written for his protagonists the same kind of boyfriend: an initial charm bomb who's better adjusted and less interesting than his own characters. Alex is cut from the same cloth as those previous love interests, but the instability of their relationship — and its effect on Nicholas' grieving sisters — does amp the stakes considerably. I'm not sure whether the promise of the show's title applies to them, and that’s why I'll keep watching.

Network: Freeform

Cast: Josh Thomas, Kayla Cromer, Adam Faison, Maeve Press

Creator: Josh Thomas

Premieres Thursday, Jan. 16, at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT