‘Everything’s Gonna Be Okay’ Star Josh Thomas on Tackling Tough Subjects — and Cheering People Up
During the pandemic, many of us have questioned whether we’re going to be alright. Josh Thomas, the comedian-auteur with a knack for spinning trauma into comedy gold, seems to think so. Or, at least, hope so.
On April 8, Thomas’ quirky, critically acclaimed comfort sitcom, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, turns to Freeform for its second season. The comedy, based on a tragedy — the death of the family’s father (Chris May) from cancer – sees the twentysomething Australian entomologist in lockdown, stuck at home with his two half-sisters — Genevieve (Maeve Press), a painfully awkward 16-year-old, and Matilda (Kayla Cromer), her bright, autistic older sister — now in his care. Also there: Nicholas’ boyfriend, Alex (Adam Faison).
Being stuck with each other, as we all know, is a challenge. But luckily, Nicholas seems to be an expert at making his way through earth-shattering events.
“I always like my shows to deal with pretty heavy stuff, but I really like our characters moving on,” Thomas tells TV Insider. “And I like them looking after each other. I try to treat the audience the same way I would treat my friend if they had something sad happen to them. I try to cheer them up.”
In Season 1, Thomas applied this strategy to everything from sex and drugs to death, never proselytizing nor claiming to have answers — rather, he offered empathy and laughs.
“I mean, it was never planned to have the whole audience in a worldwide state of trauma,” Thomas says wryly of the pandemic. But a global pandemic storyline, it turns out, suits some of Thomas’ creative preferences, such as situations being stripped of the everyday minutiae that Thomas finds boring.
“We don’t really have to worry about whether Genevieve’s going to get good grades,” he says.
This allows him to focus, he says, on the nuances of the characters’ emotional experiences without worrying too much about plot. “It boils everything down and just becomes about the people alone in this house,” he explains, which allows the people at the center of the show to shine. “We’re just left with the heart of these characters and how they interact with each other.”
It also leaves plenty of time for reflection. In the new season, each character struggles with their identities in new and unexpected ways. Matilda questions her queerness, and — curveball! — Nicholas begins to wonder whether he himself might be autistic. These are arcs that make Everything’s Gonna Be Okay the kind of show that people tend to call “brave.” But “brave” doesn’t apply here, but because Thomas isn’t afraid.
His first experience with television representation came in Please Like Me, a semi-autobiographical series based on his complicated relationship with his queerness and his bipolar mother. Like Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, Please Like Me had the kind of groundbreaking storylines that spawn think pieces and GLAAD awards. But Thomas seemed uncomfortable taking on the mantle of Good Representation.
“You never think about how your mom and yourself are gonna fit into the wider media landscape,” he says. “And because I wasn’t thinking about it, I was focused on them being specific characters instead of being gay and mentally ill.”
This is the lesson at the heart of Everything’s Gonna Be Okay: Letting Matilda and Genevieve and Alex and Nicholas and everyone else in their world have moral agency.
As for the laughs? Unexpected gems this season include flamboyant caterpillars, wayward drones, and plenty of six-feet-apart humor. And legends Maria Bamford and Richard Kind delight as the neurotic parents of Matilda’s girlfriend, Drea (Lillian Carrier). Thomas doesn’t want you to watch the show because it ticks the right boxes — he wants you to watch it because it’s good.
“You either want to watch the queer autistic show or you don’t,” Thomas says, laughing. “So like, that’s the pitch.”
Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, Season 2 Premiere, Thursday, April 8, 10/9c, Freeform