At a glance, the premise of Freeform’s new original drama-comedy Everything’s Gonna Be Okay hits some familiar beats of older orphan tales: The parents die (or are forced to leave, in the case of the Party Of Five reboot), leaving the oldest sibling—likely a person who is not terribly accustomed to thinking outside of their own interests for too long—to step in as the sole caretaker while learning to navigate the world as a person who must rapidly mature out of necessity. Lessons are learned, hardships are fought, and everyone (hopefully) grows into themselves in between tearful heart-to-hearts and impromptu living room dance parties. If it sounds formulaic, it’s likely because there is a need for stories about triumph over adversity and redefining just what a family is. The latest series from Australian comedian Josh Thomas (Please Like Me) folds some of those tried-and-true aspects into a story that centers on the growing pains of two teenage girls, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. This updated execution results in a deeply funny comedy teeming with heart, wit, and a refreshing level of humanity.
Thomas stars as Nicholas, a twentysomething entomologist who visits his father, Darren (Christopher May), and two half-sisters, Matilda (Kayla Cromer) and Genevieve (Maeve Press) in Los Angeles. Just before Nicholas gets a chance to head back to Australia, Darren reveals that he has late-stage cancer and does not have long to live. Things for Nicholas shift almost instantaneously from processing the news to estate planning and before long, he and his dad are discussing budgets and proper guardianship for the girls. As a lead, Thomas is an interesting pivot from what we normally witness from shows that are imbued in looming tragedy. Though EGBO is not autobiographical, Thomas has mentioned that his character’s mannerisms and responses to most tense situations mirror his own—which is to say, both Thomas and his fictional counterpart have a tendency to steer tense situations in a lighter, more jocular direction where they are more comfortable. So while it may seem a little jarring to watch Nicholas joke and awkwardly laugh his way through his father’s death or mental health at times, it sets an authentic tone that can be all at once disarming, frustrating, and endearing. It works for now, but it begs the question: How will he respond when humor isn’t enough?
In stark contrast, those around Nicholas exhibit enough of an emotional range to add necessary texture to those more pressing moments. Adam Faison brings both levity and warmth as Nicholas’ boyfriend Alex, as well as a brand of personable humor that balances Thomas’ more frank delivery. Nick and Alex (Nalex? Alick?) strike an easy rhythm made inexplicable only by the show’s heightened pacing, which opts for jump cuts and strung-together glimpses that contribute to its “slice of life” feel, but sacrifice some key moments that would likely inform the state of their relationship. The two make an engaging pair of functioning opposites, so it would have been great—helpful, even—to see more of the instances that led to them wanting to make this relationship work, especially when Alex struggles to get Nicholas to take things seriously or understand his side of things.
EGBO’s greatest strength lies with the two young sisters, Matilda and Genevieve. As the sharp, but oftentimes awkward youngest sibling, Press absolutely shines with a brilliance beyond her years. Even as she is visibly weighed down by the loss of her father and the fairly toxic nature of her friendships, 14-year-old Genevieve is unmistakably the glue that holds the small family together, whether she’s a source of support for her older sister or exposing her brother’s shortcomings as a guardian. Matilda is a winning example of the potentiality of neuroatypical representation when you employ an actor armed with those experiences. Cromer, who is on the spectrum like Matilda, elevates her character with a lived-in performance that defies tropes and preconceived notions regarding what autism “looks” like. Matilda’s inherent struggles with social cues do not preclude her from having a social life, preparing for college, pursuing crushes, or a general curiosity about life outside of her known bubble. She’s also the entrypoint for a larger, deeply webbed conversation about how aspects of her disorder complicate certain circumstances, such as sex and consent. EGBO doesn’t aim to provide definitive answers—and responsibly speaking, it shouldn’t. But the show does emphasize how difficult these matters are. Thankfully, Matilda is granted ample space to voice her perspective and by god, the other characters actually respect and abide by her insight. It’s remarkable in a really unfortunate way, simply because we do not get to witness that as often as we should.
What’s more, while Matilda is often the vehicle for the show’s gutsier material, her disorder is not the punchline, but a tool that she uses to inform and control her own narrative. Though it must be said: There’s a moment where Matilda mentions a specific attraction to Black men in the face of her crush Luke, which feels like an unnecessary illustration of her lack of a social filter. Considering that there are no billed Black writers for the first six episodes of the season, that odd moment is uncomfortable for reasons beyond its intent, ringing like an opportunity to use race for shock without having the cultural competency to do so. It’s an awkward blip in a series of favorable moments, but it’s significant.
Still, Thomas has done something necessary with EGBO: While its tone doesn’t allow too much room for sadness, it does examine how families can collectively grow, evolve, and strengthen through tragedy. Messy and enchanting, the series ultimately follows three wayward souls figuring out life together, and it’s hard not to want to grow alongside them.