Tuesday, January 14, 2020

TV REVIEW: Freeform's 'Everything's Gonna Be Okay'

Freeform will launch its new original comedy series Everything's Gonna Be Okay on Thursday, January 16 at 8:30/7:30c. with back-to-back episodes. The comedy stars Josh Thomas, Kayla Cromer, Maeve Press and Adam Faison.

Read on for my thoughts on the new comedy after screening its first six episodes.

In the span of just a few weeks, Freeform will have debuted two new series centering on siblings having to rally together to help raise one another after the sudden departures of their parents. Earlier this month, the cable network launched a new take on Party of Five in which five siblings were dealing with the deportation of their parents back to Mexico. It offers the more dramatic take on the material. Meanwhile, Everything's Gonna Be Okay - which debuts this Thursday with two episodes - provides the more sentimentally comedic version of this story. Both are absolutely valid takes on the concept. It also helps Freeform forge some sense of brand identity. That comes through the appeal of strong family relationships and the need to take on significant challenges together. Australian comedian Josh Thomas created and stars in the comedy. His character, Nicholas, unexpectedly becomes the guardian to his two teenage half-sisters, Matilda (Kayla Cromer) and Genevieve (Maeve Press), when their father dies from cancer. At times, these siblings come across as strangers because Nicholas was raised in Australia with his mother while Matilda and Genevieve grew up in Los Angeles with their wealthy father. The parental figure being lost doesn't destroy this family though. In fact, most episodes don't want the audience to think too much about the finances involved and just how Nicholas plans on caring for his siblings. Yes, the point of the show is that he isn't well-equipped to handle this responsibility. However, he is willing to step up and fulfill this role nevertheless because he needs to provide a sense of family that these two girls need now more than ever. It just comes with him starting a whole lot of drama and getting called out for it repeatedly as well.

In some sense, this show could be seen as a generic family comedy in which the various situations the characters experience are incredibly familiar. And yet, the execution is so natural and effective. It makes it seem revolutionary even though Matilda simply has a crush on a boy and Genevieve is being bullied by her classmates. Both Cromer and Press are incredible discoveries here. Thomas first broke out in his Australian comedy Please Like Me - which U.S. audiences can see in its entirety on Hulu. He brings that same comedic sensibility here as well. However, it's the young actresses who oftentimes make the narrative come alive with possibilities. Matilda has autism. The show offers a sense of authenticity because Cromer is on the spectrum as well. Both actress and character are high functioning. However, it's also abundantly clear that this has defined this family in a significant way. She has to learn about the world in a very clear and concise way. That doesn't always match up with her expectations though. It's traumatic when her father dies and she's left with Nicholas. Genevieve isn't too happen about it either. She could easily fall into a sullen teenage stereotype. And yet, it's magical how Press avoids making eye contact as a way to better inform her lack of confidence despite her also being so talented as a creative person. Nicholas often tries and fails to be the best influence he can be. He wants his siblings to come to him for support or advice. His actions may benefit one and hurt the other though. That is a tricky balance to pull off especially when the show wants the audience to be rooting for this family to stick together no matter what. There also comes the roller coaster that is Nicholas' love life. A date with Alex (Adam Faison) is literally the first thing seen in the series. At times, it is abundantly clear that Nicholas is the large presence in this relationship and often projects what he wants things to be true onto the people around him. But it's also genuinely charming when his siblings and his boyfriend are willing to indulge him and call him out when he takes things way too far. It's a unique sentimental blend that works just right especially as the season gets going.

The series premiere is actually an elongated episode. It takes 42 minutes to tell the complete story of the father telling his children about his illness and then the siblings enduring the funeral with all its sullen emotions. The rest of the season is much more carefully balanced as true half hours of a comedic format. In fact, it grows quite confident with some of the experiments it is willing to make with its storytelling in these first few episodes. It has a strong handle on these characters. They all feel like they belong in the same family. Nicholas stands out because he is very bold and upfront about exactly what he wants in his life. That can be annoying to some people. This show will probably be an acquired taste for some. However, it's also impressive to see how generous Thomas is with the rest of the ensemble. He provides all of the performers with amble time to fill in these characters and their lives. Most of the action is confined to the expansive home that the family lives in. That limited space is full of wonderful opportunities though. Plenty of action happens outside of it as well. The girls go to school and have friends. Their interests are peaked in numerous ways. Sometimes, that exploration leads to significant celebrations. Other times, things quickly go awry. That is the ups and downs of parenthood. Nicholas is the guardian now. The confidence he has in that role doesn't naturally extend to the dynamic he is trying to have with Alex either or vice versa. In one moment, things will be going well with Matilda and Genevieve when he creates yet another disastrous situation with Alex. In the next moment, he is pitting the girls against each other and not quite sure what should be done about any of it. Again, it's such a delightful use of the space and these characters in a comedic setting. Plus, it succeeds in going for a wide array of emotions as it grows confident on this journey. It starts with the hard emotions of losing a father but plenty happens in six episodes that will keep the audience engaged beyond that core tragedy in the hopes that they can continue to lift one another up. That makes for a rewarding journey and solid television show.