One of the things that comes across in “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” is that there’s an abundance of acceptance. Not just in regards to who people are, but in how best to move forward from the unexpected. Created by and starring Josh Thomas, this portrait of a shifting family becomes all the more stronger by engaging with things how they are, by finding moments of brightness in overwhelming circumstances.
Thomas stars as Nicholas, a young Australian man living in America. When an unexpected cancer diagnosis leads to his father’s sudden passing, Nicholas is left as the legal guardian to his two younger stepsisters, Matilda (Kayla Cromer) and Genevieve (Maeve Press). The series’ hourlong pilot joins a family already very much in progress, right at a critical point of potential change. But rather than simply highlight the way that Nicholas, Matilda, and Genevieve are forced to adapt after the loss of a key figure in their lives, “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” draws its strength from showing the small triumphs in how they’re able to persist inside the new normal they fashion for themselves.
The opening installment does so much to set up their relationship that it frees the three of them to live their own lives and forge their own dynamic. Nicholas doesn’t have to be a replacement father. The three of them don’t have to glance over to a framed photo of their dad once an episode, just to be reminded of what brought them to that point. When Nicholas shows some protectiveness, there’s the understanding that even if it’s arriving in a new context, it’s an extension of the complex brotherly feelings that were always there.
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Part of what makes “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” comforting is that it utilizes a good chunk of the established frameworks for families-in-turmoil and coming-of-age series. Setting up awkward transitional experiences at school or looking at how children’s attitudes can help shape the romantic prospects of the adults raising them is still there. But it’s how those small chapters conclude, the grace notes they leave the audience with that feel both surprising and earned at the same time. It’s not that they feel more “real” — middle-school classmates comfort their friends as often as they alienate them — but these developments in Matilda, Genevieve, and Nicholas’ lives come from such an instantly established place that it’s hard to imagine them unfolding any other way.
Even with Thomas helping to guide the ship as he did with his crossover favorite “Please Like Me” — as someone who’s shown he could anchor a series by himself — “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” benefits so much from balancing Genevieve, Matilda, and Nicholas. Beyond finding ways to fit them in different combinations, each of them gets their own life. When the three of them are together, they work as a unit of realized individuals who each get to see the world in a special way.
As a result, “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” has an infectious, energetic momentum to it. It’s not quite the 1.5x speed patter dialogue that other family-centric shows might be built on. Many of the trio’s interactions capture the kind of impassioned conversation you can have when multiple family members are each trying to assert their own viewpoint without denying anyone else’s. They don’t necessarily talk over each other, but they talk around each other, trying to get to some common ground.
Matilda and Genevieve aren’t your typical precocious, upstart teenagers who get to prove they’re more equipped to handle adult life than the adults in their house. Still, “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” doesn’t deny the idea that the loss of their father and Nicholas’ shifting responsibilities force them to confront more of life’s realities than they otherwise might have. There’s a two-way flow of empathy between Nicholas and his sisters that let them share the burden every once in a while. Nicholas gets to retain his overall playful approach to life, while Matilda and Genevieve get to assert some autonomy of their own.
It’s not just the performances that give “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” a lived-in feel. There’s also a careful attention to small details that show how the series hasn’t forgotten what’s come before. When Matilda shows up to a party with a bottle of peach schnapps, the show trusts you to remember where that preference came from. When one character has an injury, the casual inclusion of a splint in the next episode draws just enough attention to show how much time has passed and that what’s happened before actually matters.
Though there are certain episodes that do well by uniting them — an early “anatomy of a lazy afternoon” episode is one of the season’s best so far — “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” doesn’t feel restricted by having to saddle Thomas, Cromer, and Press with having to play the same beat-by-beat emotions. They function as a whole and there are certainly scenes that reflect their individual response to heartbreak and bullying and spontaneous happiness. But the show can just as easily track one sister’s triumph while the other is wrestling with uncertainty. Nicholas can feel adrift while the two people who look to him for guidance can be making breakthroughs of their own.
So without doing it in a manufactured or disingenuous way, “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” has the freedom to follow any path it chooses. There’s enough of a sturdy foundation of what this family is to each other that seeing them take turns as the show’s driving force gives the series some well-deserved wonder. Playful in the face of gloom and inquisitive in the face of foregone conclusions, to have a trio so ready to handle anything makes this show’s future as exciting as its beginning.
“Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” airs Thursday nights at 8:30 p.m. on Freeform.