Josh Thomas has come a long way in the past decade. With Season 1 of his latest TV venture “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” coming to a close, he’s now at the helm of his second show. He has a certain handle on filling the roles of creator, writer, and star simultaneously, but it wasn’t always that way.
“When we made ‘Please Like Me,’ I’d never been on set before. I’d never seen a set. I didn’t know I was the boss of the first season. I didn’t own Final Draft when we started making it. I had to download it and figure out the shortcuts. So to make a show where like I was technically proficient was a real thrill,” Thomas told IndieWire.
“Please Like Me,” which aired for four seasons, grew to find a cross-continental following both in Thomas’ native Australia and abroad. Its eventual pickup on the Pivot network in the U.S. gained the show additional critical support to go with the audiences watching on ABC in its home country. That initial success set a high bar for “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay,” a show where Thomas plays Nicholas, a young man who becomes the legal guardian for his teenage half-sisters after the death of their father.
“The second one is a real test of, ‘Did you make that first show good by mistake? When you did that casting, did you get really lucky?'” Thomas said.
By all indications, Thomas has succeeded by blending some of what fueled “Please Like Me” while adapting it for a new story set in an entirely different place and family dynamic. One thing that hasn’t changed is Thomas’ sense of pacing. From the staggeringly strong pilot to episodes that tackle everything from relationship etiquette to teenage heartbreak to drunken solidarity, “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” clips along with the momentum of a show that knows how to keep things moving.
“Pacing is something you do in the edit and you do it on set a bit. Probably the most common note I ever give is ‘Just a bit faster.’ I say to the actors, ‘The writing isn’t so good that you can say it this slowly. Just say it a bit faster and I’ll seem a bit more talented. So please, speed it up,'” Thomas said. “I come from a stand up comedy background. You waste time when you’re a stand up and it’s a deep, dark bad feeling. So now, I’ll cut two frames at a time if we need to. I have such a low tolerance for boredom, literally a pathological aversion to boredom.”
Knowing how much space to give each of the characters on the show is easier when they’re relatable. From the ambitious older sister Matilda (Kayla Cromer) to the more bottled-up Genevieve (Maeve Press) to Nicholas’ boyfriend Alex (Adam Faison), there’s a certain synergy of their personalities that comes from the fact that they all reflect certain corners of Thomas’ own personality.
“To me, everyone in the show is a bit me. And I don’t see that as being that bad. That’s a style choice of our characters, but I also feel that my friends are all like that. Even Adam, by the end of filming, started talking like me. When you hang out with someone, you start talking like them. To me, it makes them feel real,” Thomas said. “Sometimes you see shows where they’re all friends, but they’re on their own planet. My one major criticism of ‘Friends’ is that they’re all so distinct and just would actually never be friends. Whereas ‘Seinfeld,’ they’re all a bit the same. They’re all Larry David, with slight tweaks. That, to me, is pure joy.”
One of the strengths of “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” is how it can work those veins of pure joy into a story that originates with the death of a family member. While some TV shows have built sturdy foundations on stories where a sense of grief is ever-present, Thomas wanted “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” to approach things a little differently.
“My attitude towards grief is that people live their life, and then it hits you. Otherwise, you have to go out there and survive and live your life and maybe every so often it hits you. I wanted to reflect that,” Thomas said. “There’s a few moments where it comes up and I’m hoping that the audience will experience it in a way a real person would.”
Maybe one of the reasons that “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” can file away that sadness for stretches at a time is that the characters on the show are uncharacteristically open with their emotions. Few shows are able to make that level of character expressiveness feel natural and, for Thomas, it was one of the main differences between this new show and his last one.
“No one really ever talks about their feelings, ever. If we did a scene in ‘Please Like Me’ where somebody would talk about their feelings? I would walk up to that scene writing-wise for an episode and a half, to feel like we earned it. On this show people are just more open. I think that’s just a thing about being a parent. It kind of forces you into a place where you have to check in and force kids to tell you how they’re doing,” Thomas said.
Aside from that assured confidence on set, a different city as a home base and a new writing desk — “It’s got like a little electric switch that makes it raise up and down!” — Thomas is just in a better place to be open about his own emotions, on and off screen.
“As I’ve grown up, I’ve just got more comfortable with sharing my feelings. When I was 25, when I was writing ‘Please Like Me,’ I was so disgusted by people that spoke about their feelings,” Thomas said. “This pretty old-sitcom premise that I’ve leant into, the great thing about it is that it forces people to do that. It backs you into a corner where you just have to communicate, which is good. It’s better television if people are communicating and sharing.”
“Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” Season 1 is available to watch on Hulu.