Josh Thomas had his big breakthrough with American TV audiences by essentially playing a version of himself on Please Like Me. Now, three years after that series finale, and after some self-imposed time away from TV, he's back with Everything's Gonna Be Okay. The new Freeform comedy will, like Please Like Me, pull at certain heartstrings—and make you laugh.
"I'm really into character, that's what I watch TV shows for because I like the people. I think that's what TV is cool for, and obviously, kind of the point of TV over film. This show is just three characters, I wanted a character with autism, I wanted a teenage girl—I always think teenage girls are really interesting, and then I'm in it...because it's my job...If they let you be in your own TV show, of course you're there, yeah," Thomas laughed.
Thomas created and starred in the Australian series Please Like Me, the one-time crown jewel of the now-defunct Pivot channel. The four-season semi-autobiographical show topped "best of" lists for years, launching Thomas to new heights. In the first episode, the main character, Josh, came out as gay in the first episode, and then dealt with his mother's suicide attempt (unrelated to his coming out). As evidenced by the action packed first episode, Please Like Me tackled mental health and homosexuality in a candid manner rarely seen on TV. His first show was very much from a millennial point of view, like Friends before it, it told the story of a specific point in the characters' lives. With Everything's Gonna Be Okay, Thomas turns his attention to a different age group.
"Because Please Like Me was really personal, and I didn't really have that much more to say about my late 20s. [Laughs.] They were fun, but that's all I really have to say about them. So, that's why I wanted to look younger and look to high school. Even though the show's not personal, it's definitely my experience of what it's like to be a teenager from those two girls. Those two girls are like versions of me when I was a teenage girl, I guess," Thomas laughed.
Everything's Gonna Be Okay follows Nicholas (Thomas), an Australian entomologist visiting his family in the United States who then becomes the guardian of his two American half-sisters, teenagers Matilda (Kayla Cromer) and Genevieve (Maeve Press), following the sudden death of their father. Along for the bumpy, and at most times heartwarming, ride is Nicholas' boyfriend Alex (Adam Faison).
With this teenage perspective, Thomas wades into new territory, territory he said he wouldn't have felt confident tackling had he not cut his teeth telling such personal stories with Please Like Me. Early episodes of Everything's Gonna Be Okay tackle grief, partying, sexual consent and plain old growing up—for both Nicholas and the young women. It's a learning experience for everyone. Including Thomas off screen.
To find his younger TV sisters, Thomas said casting director Deanna Brigidi had to search wider than usual—and introduce Thomas to Hollywood practices.
"If you're not from LA and then all of a sudden you're casting teenage girls from Los Angeles, it was like—I would say culture shock would be the appropriate phrase," he laughed. Brigidi asked if he wanted to look at young girls who were emancipated from their parents so they could work longer hours in production. "I was like, 'Deanna I'm almost exclusively looking for girls that haven't been emancipated form their parents.' [Laughs.] ‘I don't think they're going to be a match for this show,'" he said.
Thomas and Co. were looking for "specific creative, funny, interesting, quirky people," especially one to play the older sister Matilda, who has autism, and girls who were, you know, real teenagers. "I really wanted the proper teenager to be someone who understands comedy," he said. "Finding someone that has chemistry with me is not the easiest. [Laughs.]"
The last piece of the Everything's Gonna Be Okay pie is Faison's Alex. The start of the relationship between Nicholas and Alex is casual. After Nicholas decides to stay in America to raise his sisters, things quickly blossom between the two. And just as he did in Please Like Me, Thomas doesn't shy away from showing viewers gay characters in all their glory (and sometimes mess).
"Freeform, you know, they're open to stuff. I mean, they hired me because I was gay. That was a big plus to them. They love diversity and they love all that stuff," he said.
Everything's Gonna Be Okay has a sex scene some might not expect to see on Freeform, but it's one Thomas said he pushed to have included. It's not graphic, it's not scandalous, it's real.
"Yeah, there's a moment where Alex pushes my legs up and it's clear that he's doing it to put his dick in my butt. [Laughs.] …They queried it very gently. They said, 'Do you think in that scene when the legs go up...' and I said, 'We absolutely need that. That's what identifies it as anal sex. Gay sex is anal sex and if you don't let me have that you're telling me I can't put gay sex on television.' And then they never brought it up again," Thomas laughed.
"I think they agreed. The thing is, that's the pushback I get with the gay sex scenes always. It's never the boys are kissing or whatever, it's always like the moments where it's clear they're doing anal. I'm like, 'If you don't let me do that, then you're not going to get a gay sex scene. You're going to get a straight sex scene acted out by two gays.' You're going to get some heavy petting, but that's not actually what we do. We do anal sex and that's the story I'm here to tell," he continued.
At the end of the day, Thomas just wants to tell stories, whether it's Nicholas', Matilda's, Alex's or Genevieve's.
"I'm excited about meeting new characters. I really love Genevieve, I really love Matilda and I really love the two actresses who play them. I'm excited for the people to get to know them. Obviously, Matilda with her autism is a pretty specific unique thing to show and it's completely underrepresented, especially girls with autism...so to get to do that is kind of special. And I don't know, I just feel like it'll be a fun TV show to watch," he said.
See how fun it is for yourself: Everything's Gonna Be Okay airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Freeform. New episodes are available on Hulu and demand the following day.