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“I wanted to make autism sexy”: Josh Thomas on his groundbreaking new show Everything's Gonna Be Okay.

Josh Thomas didn’t set out to make history with his new TV series, but that’s exactly what happened.

His new dark comedic series Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, premiering on Stan, takes a humorous and sometimes heartbreaking look at everything from family obligation to death, grief, sex and mental health.

It is also the first TV series to feature an autistic actress in a lead role, playing a character who also has autism.

Everything’s Gonna Be Okay sets up the story by introducing Nicholas (played by Thomas) who, in his late twenties, is visiting his semi-estranged father Darren (Christopher May) in Los Angeles.

But on the day Nicholas is due to fly home to Australia his father hits him with the gravest of news, he’s been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and does not have long to live.

Up until this moment in his life Nicholas has never undertaken any real sort of responsibility, he makes a split-second decision that he should be named as guardian for the two teenage half-sisters he barely knows, 14-year-old Genevieve (Maeve Press) and 17-year-old Matilda (Kayla Cromer), since their mother has also passed away and, as Nicholas innocently reminds them, he really is their only choice.

Much like his first critically-acclaimed and fan-favoured series Please Like Me, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay is a melting pot of diverse social issues and intense human experiences, all wrapped up in a bow with a dose of wry and witty humour.

Take a look at the trailer for Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, streaming only on Stan.

Finding the humour in life’s darkest moments was just one of the story threads on Josh’s mind when he created and wrote Everything’s Gonna Be Okay.

“It’s just a hodge-podge of things I wanted to talk about,” Josh told Mamamia. “For me, I care about the characters, especially the two girls, because that’s all I really care about when I’m watching a show.”

It’s with these carefully crafted characters where audiences will see a particular character that has never been given a leading role on a series before, even though that’s not exactly what he had planned to do when he first started to develop the idea.

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The character of Matilda, the audience quickly learns in the first episode, is on the autism spectrum. She’s high-functioning but has trouble reading social cues, and is left in a particularly vulnerable place following the loss of her father coupled together with the ordinary stresses of navigating the treacherous waters of high school.

Actress Kayla Cromer, who portrays Matilda, is also on the autism spectrum and along with infusing the series with her particular brand of humour and warmth, is the first actress to speak openly about her autism while starring in a leading TV role.

“I wanted to make a show with autism as part of it because I actually knew so little about it,” Josh told Mamamia.  “It sounds a bit backward, but there are so many people with autism in the world yet I know so little. I have ADHD, which isn’t autism but it is autism adjacent. From the beginning, we hoped to be able to cast someone who actually has autism, cause that is just ethical.

“At first we were not sure if that would be possible so we started doing auditions and the girls on the spectrum who came in were so good. We also auditioned around seven neurotypical actors and they were good but I just hated watching them pretending to be on the spectrum. It was really unsettling and they all did this really flat and lifeless version of the character, which did not fit with the character I had researched and written.

“We auditioned around 200 girls who are on the spectrum and Kayla is a really talented actor. It started out as me just wanting to be woke and ethical and then turned out to be the best choice for the show, casting her.

“She’s the first lead in a show ever who has autism, playing someone who has autism. I’m sure there have been other actors who have autism that either did not know about it or were not open about it. But she is the first lead character, in any show that I know of, to be a lead girl character with autism. Girls with autism are really underrepresented on TV.”

Kayla Cromer, Maeve Press and Josh Thoams in Everything's Gonna Be Okay. Source: Stan.
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From Josh's point of view, he also used Everything’s Gonna Be Okay to explore different ideas of relationships, love and sex, from Genevieve and Matilda's teenage experiences to Nicholas' story as a young gay man dating in LA.

"It’s a really sex-positive show, which was important to me," Josh told Mamamia.  "It’s funny, I often get notes on girls in my scripts making crass jokes, and I push back really heavily on it. I say ‘hey, I don't think you would be noticing this if it was a boy. Are you telling me that their talking about their buttholes on-screen is somehow bad feminism?”.  So I am trying to make sure sex is present in the characters' lives like it would be in real life.

"With Matilda, I really wanted her to be sex-positive because people with disabilities are often desexualised and I wanted to avoid that. I wanted to make autism sexy.

"I got a little bit of pushback on one sex scene. There’s a gay sex scene where [Nicholas' love interest] Alex (Adam Faison) puts my legs behind my head so we can do anal sex. I did get some pushback on that where they said ‘Do we really need this scene, with the legs behind your head?' And I said 'Yes, that signals that we’re doing anal sex and gays do anal sex. This is what gay sex looks like. And then they agreed.”

Ultimately, what makes the story of these polar opposite siblings who are thrust together and dealing with grief so endlessly entertaining to watch is the heart and humour woven throughout every scene.

From Nicholas and Matilda dancing together after their father's death, because he needs some sort of comfort and she cannot bear to be touched, to Genevieve shading her brother for not being able to drive while also ordering him an Uber to hospital and the three of them sleeping in their father's room after his funeral, there's no shortage of scenes to tug at your heart.

Everything’s Gonna Be Okay is a historical masterpiece and, going off what Josh Thomas believes makes a good show, is filled with characters that feel like family.

The brand new series Everything’s Gonna Be Okay premieres January 17, with new episodes same day as the US - only on Stan.

Feature image: Supplied.

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