Leaping across continents, Josh Thomas has ignored TV’s assumptions.
American networks try to be relatable and universal and such. Instead, he’s turned his offbeat Australian teen years into sometimes-great TV.
“Teenage girls are like so funny to me, right?” Thomas said. “And I just really wanted to write a teenage girl.”
He’s written a lot of them– led by Kaylan Cromer, shown here — for “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay.” And in the next episode (Feb. 20), they converge in wonderfully odd ways.
The series – 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Thursdays on Disney-owned Freeform – started with Nicholas (Thomas) flying to the U.S, to see his ailing father … who promptly died. “It felt important to me that if you’re working for Disney, you kill a parent in the first act,” Thomas joked. “That’s the tradition.”
That left Nicholas – who has few adult instincts – in charge of two half-sisters. Genevieve is 14 and short on social skills; Matilda is 17 and somewhere on the autism spectrum.
In the Feb.20 episode, that peaks: Matilda, nervously awaiting something, has brings a friend for emotional support. Another friend brings an emotional-support dog … which soon spends its time supporting Nicholas. Then there’s a girl hiding from her mother – and another with a drastic solution … all while Nicholas’ mother provides semi-helpful comments via Skype from an Aussie hospital.
Some of this partly reflects Thomas’ own hectic youth. “Much of it was so wrapped up in my queerness and my ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder),” he said.
He didn’t come out as gay until he was 19. “All my friends in high school were female,” he said. That means the characters are sort of “different phases of me when I was a teenage girl” … or, at least, part of a teen-girl crew.
Thomas won a Melbourne comedy competition as a teen-ager, then was cast in a youth-oriented show. “I was on this really dumb TV show,” he said. “Like, once we poured a bucket of sour cream on my grandma’s head. (But) it was like the highest-rated show in Australia.”
That gave him a chance to create his own semi-autobiographical comedy-drama. “Please Like Me” had four seasons in Australia, reaching America via the now-defunct Pivot and then by Hulu.
For his new show, he switched much of the emphasis away from himself and toward the girls … casting people with little acting experience.
Maeve Press (who plays Genevieve) is 16 and has twice been the youngest stand-up act at the Boston Women in Comedy Festival. Kayla Cromer is 21 and, like Matilda, really is on the autism spectrum.
That creates some complications at work. “The hardest thing, on set, is trying to understand Josh’s sarcasm,” she said. “It’s constant.”
But she also comes across as focused and task-oriented. That was clear the day of her audition.
“I was at the beach at like 6 a.m., so I could have privacy going over my lines, because I don’t wanna wake up my roommates,” Cromer said. Then she stepped on glass, nicking an artery on her ankle.
It was a good time to panic. Instead, she fashioned a tourniquet and drove to an urgent-care place.
There, she says, they told her: “You didn’t need a tourniquet. But you’re the only person that’s come in that actually knows how to do it right.”
Thomas says he was sold instantly. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, you’re gonna bring something to the role.’”
She does, as evidenced in the final minutes Thursday. It’s quite a show.