The first thing you notice about “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay,” the latest dramedy from Freeform, is that it has some serious “Party of Five” vibes, which is a bit perplexing considering that the network has also just launched a rebooted version of that show. For whatever the reason, it’s undeniable that there’s a rash of shows about inept older brothers being granted custody of their younger siblings.
In this iteration, Australian twenty-something Nicholas (Josh Thomas, who is also the creator of “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay”) is in the United States visiting his father when a bombshell is dropped squarely on his head. His father has terminal cancer, and Nicholas has been given guardianship of his two younger half-siblings, Matilda (Kayla Cromer) and Genevieve (Maeve Press). Suddenly this self-absorbed, neurotic man-child is the ersatz father figure of two: imagine the hijinks!
Actually, despite his neuroses and lack of confidence or experience, he slips fairly easily into the parental role. Although his neediness and sense of humor are largely endearing, it’s also easy to imagine some audiences finding him grating. Ultimately, however, Josh Thomas grounds his performance in a genuine desire to do right by his sisters that makes him likable.
The three of them have an easy chemistry that makes the scenes they share warm and believable. And the moments in the series when Thomas is given the opportunity to play protective older brother are delightful. But while the shaky family unit’s growing pains have a genuine sweetness, there’s a lack of balance to the show that makes it feel as though it fundamentally misunderstands its most compelling elements.
Altogether too much time is spent indulging in superfluous subplots with Genevieve and her gaggle of borderline sociopathic friends. Their behavior is infuriating and the fact that the show repeatedly attempts to justify it as typical “teen girl” antics is insulting to teen girls everywhere. Genevieve herself is fine: she gets carried away from time to time, but nothing outside the realm of reasonable expectations for an angry girl grieving the loss of her father. But every time her friends enter the picture, the energy of the show comes to a grinding halt.
“Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” is at its best when it focuses on the dynamics between the three siblings. Although the relationship between Nicholas and his charming boyfriend Alex (Adam Faison) is absolutely adorable, it’s occasionally overpowering. At times “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” feels as though it isn’t sure what the show is supposed to be about: the family or the romantic relationship between Nicholas and Alex. Both are perfectly fine, but with a 22 minute per episode run time, it’s simply too short to delve into either with much depth. It would likely benefit from a longer runtime, as too often plotlines are rushed without a satisfying conclusion.
The highlight of the show is Kayla Cromer as Matilda, Nicholas’s 17-year-old sister with autism. With limited screentime, she is able to put in a nuanced performance that shows her character grappling with crushes, social complexities, and grief in a way that feels organic and compelling. Matilda is a genuinely funny and engaging character, so eager to grow and learn and live, and Cromer plays her beautifully. As an actress who is on the autism spectrum herself, undoubtedly her personal experiences have allowed her insight into Matilda’s character, which benefits the show tremendously.
Overall, “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” is flawed but promising. The characters are all likable enough and work well together, so if the show is able to resolve its pacing issues, it stands a real chance of developing into one of the network’s better programs.
“Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” premieres on Freeform on Thursday, Jan. 16. The first six episodes were reviewed.