Every once in a while, a show comes along that is so unique and special, so original, that you know it isn’t long for this world. I’m thinking of one-season wonders and shows that struggle to find their audience like recent gems Great News and A.P. Bio (the latter of which was thankfully rescued from oblivion by NBC Universal at the last second due to its streaming numbers).
Everything’s Gonna Be Okay is one of those gems. Created by Australian comedian Josh Thomas, whose excellent series Please Like Me became a cult favorite in the U.S. after launching on Pivot, EGBO is a dark comedy that tells the story of a family in crisis. In the pilot, Thomas’ character Nicholas discovers that his absentee father is dying of cancer, and that he will become the legal guardian of his two half-sisters Genevieve (Maeve Press) and Matilda (Kayla Cromer), who is on the autism spectrum. As if that’s not enough, he has to deal with his new relationship with his boyfriend Alex (Adam Faison), which has been thrown into chaos as a result of this news. The summary for the show sounds as if this will be a melodrama with no room for laughs, especially coming from a network like Freeform that has aired deadly serious teen dramas for years. It also doesn’t help that Party of Five, another drama about family separation and grief, airs on the same network and is a much more serious take on the issue. But Thomas is a master of darkly comic scenes, and despite its subject matter the show is hilarious.
A lot of the comedy comes from Nicholas fumbling his way through being a new parental figure to his teen sisters, both of whom have their challenges and triumphs. Genevieve is an awkward teenager who will be instantly recognizable to anyone who felt alienated in their teen years. Maeve Press’ physicality is perfect as she slouches her way through the halls, afraid of being noticed but wanting to be seen. Her friend group, led by the dramatic and instantly memorable Tellulah (played by Ivy Wolk, who gives a breakout performance in the role), perfectly captures the nuances of teen friendships and how they can be both a lifeline and a source of insecurity. I found myself laughing out loud at a scene in front of Genevieve’s locker featuring Tellulah’s cry for attention by wondering aloud if she could be pregnant since her period is late (despite never having had sex). If you loved the film Eighth Grade and its unflinching portrayal of adolescence, you’ll find a lot to love in Genevieve.
My concern when first watching the series was how EGBO would portray Matilda and her autism diagnosis. I had high hopes, considering Thomas cast Kayla Cromer, an actress on the autism spectrum, to play the role. But I worried that Matilda would succumb to being “the character with autism” in the minds of the audience. Those worries turned out to be unfounded, and through Thomas’ writing and Cromer’s brilliant acting Matilda blossoms onscreen. Matilda deals with problems typical of teen girls like deciding whether or not to have sex or how to tell a crush you like them. Her autism is an aspect of her character in the same way Genevieve’s awkwardness is, but it doesn’t overwhelm her portrayal. She isn’t afraid to go after what she wants, and her optimistic insistence on living life to the fullest no matter what others think of her or her choices is admirable. I fell in love with her character by the end of the pilot, when Matilda delivers the eulogy at her father’s funeral. It is a pitch-perfect moment that shows off Cromer’s range as an actress and Matilda’s delightful personality.
It should also be noted that EGBO does not shy away from difficult questions. When Matilda has sex for the first time, the show devotes two episodes to an exploration of consent and autism that is carefully considered and well done while still delivering laughs. Grief and the many ways it can be expressed is a theme that recurs throughout the series, especially as it relates to Genevieve’s relationship with Nicholas. In an early highlight, Genevieve and Matilda redecorate Nicholas’ room in an effort to make him feel at home after Genevieve fears she has pushed him away with her actions. The scene is funny, with Matilda putting up pictures of shirtless men since she assumes that as a gay man that’s what Nicholas would want. But it also serves as an opportunity to delve into Genevieve’s feelings about her father’s death.
This scene blends comedy with heartfelt sincerity, much like the show itself. EGBO wears its heart on its sleeve and always laughs with its characters, not at them. From the first episode, you fall in love with and root for this strange little family, which quickly expands to include Alex despite initial tension. On my first viewing it reminded me a lot of Schitt’s Creek, another initially under-seen show given new life by its release on Netflix. Both shows mix laughs and emotional moments to create a special mix that gives the audience a warm and fuzzy feeling while watching. With Schitt’s Creek ending its run this spring, EGBO is the ideal replacement.
Everything’s Gonna Be Okay should not be allowed to join the illustrious list of critically acclaimed shows gone too soon as a result of low ratings. It’s just too good and too special to miss. Despite an aggressive marketing push by Freeform and many major media outlets like The New York Times praising the series, EGBO hasn’t been a big hit in the ratings (even by Freeform’s standards). Who knows? Maybe in a few years EGBO will follow Schitt’s Creek‘s blueprint and achieve mainstream success through streaming. With four episodes left in its first season and its availability on Hulu, it’s a great time to start watching and be a part of keeping this “little show that could” alive for another season.
Everything’s Gonna Be Okay airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on Freeform. The first six episodes are available to stream on Hulu.