One of the hallmarks of Josh Thomas’ particularly spiky and sympathetic sense of humor is how he takes a situation we’ve seen unfold on TV before and makes the bold choice to let his characters react like actual human beings. On his semi-autobiographical comedy “Please Like Me,” people struggled through depression and their gnarled feelings with such candor that it felt both jarring and revelatory. The same holds true for his new Freeform comedy “Everything’s Going to Be Okay,” which follows a trio of siblings — played by Thomas, Maeve Press and Kayla Cromer — learning how to care for each other after their father (Christopher May) dies. They’re angry and sad in their grief, of course, but they’re also still themselves: messy and funny, wry and earnest. When, after their father’s funeral, they feel a need to express themselves with a wildly silly dance session in their kitchen, it makes perfect sense.
As established in the premiere while he’s on an unexpectedly revealing date, eldest brother Nicholas (played by Thomas) is still figuring out plenty on his own before suddenly gaining custody of his teenage sisters Matilda (Cromer) and Genevieve (Press). (That their father was wealthy and left them a gorgeous, giant house in which to live is an accepted fact of the show, and one that provides a pretty stark contrast to “Party of Five,” Freeform’s other new show about siblings caring for each other after their parents leave, in which deportation wrenches the family apart.) But when his dad sits Nicholas down to share his terminal diagnosis and asks him if he can step up to be their guardian, Nicholas immediately accepts with a gobsmacked, “of course.” Another show would have drawn out that moment in order to optimize the potential tension of it, but again, Thomas and this show is far more interested in the weirder, funnier, more real moments that can happen in between life’s seemingly biggest events than drawing out unnecessary drama. (And at just over 20 minutes long, each episode is careful not to overstay its welcome.)
Another fact that shapes their lives is that Matilda is autistic, and tends to cope with the world by breaking it down into manageable pieces as best she can through pointed questions. (Cromer, the relative newcomer playing her with such nuance and precision, is also on the autism spectrum herself, and therefore acts from lived experience.) This informs a big part of her personality, but to the show’s credit, “Everything’s Going to Be Okay” is careful to approach her character as a very specific teenage girl rather than some all-inclusive representation of What Autism Means. Matilda’s extremely confident, perceptive and protective of her family. She’s itching to experience life and frustrated when others preemptively decide, based on her being autistic, that she can’t or shouldn’t. A storyline deeper into the season, in which Matilda tries to lose her virginity on her own terms and gets caught in everyone else’s perceptions, shows off both Cromer and the show at their best.
That personal approach, too, gets at the bleeding heart of “Everything’s Going to Be Okay.” The premise fuels the show, but doesn’t overwhelm it. More than any one scenario, this is a series about three distinct people — intense Matilda, raw nerve Genevieve, blunt and kind Nicholas — exploring what it means to be a person and part of a family. Matilda and Genevieve are each navigating teen girlhood in vastly different ways; Genevieve is far more tentative than her sister, a trait that Press portrays with canny comedic timing. Meanwhile, Nicholas is shouldering the responsibilities of parenthood while also exploring a real relationship with Alex (Adam Faison), a sweet guy who’s just as confused by Nicholas’ neuroses as he is charmed. They might not have their father, but they do have each other, and watching them express their absolute loyalty to each other in ways that ring true and tender is a real joy.
“Everything’s Going to Be Okay” premieres Jan. 16 on Freeform; the first three episodes will be available Jan. 17 on Hulu.