They tell us we live in a new golden age of television, and the abundance of great shows streaming at our fingertips is, frankly, overwhelming. “I’ll never have enough time to get to all the good stuff,” we tell ourselves, and it’s true. Or it was. Suddenly we have time on our hands to take deep dives into the stream.
There is so much good stuff out there that is not high-profile, does not get enough critical attention and is just waiting to be discovered.
Josh Thomas, a 32-year-old Australian comedian/writer/actor, is one of those discoveries waiting to enter the mainstream in spite of the fact that he has created two superb series, both of which are now streaming in their entirety on Hulu.
“Please Like Me,” Thomas’ first series, debuted in his native Australia in 2013 and ran stateside on the tiny network Pivot. For four seasons (between six and 10 episodes each season), Thomas starred as Josh, a 20something gay man spending time with his friends (an ex-girlfriend and a dour roommate), looking for love and dealing with his divorced parents. His dad has remarried and started a new family, while his mom, perhaps the most interesting character on the show, wrestles with her demons and offers a very personal (often darkly funny) account of her mental illness and suicidal tendencies, often alongside her pal Hannah (played by the marvelous Hannah Gadsby).
Thomas’ humor is unique in that he can come off as a self-involved jerk, but he’s somehow always loveable. And sometimes he’s even remarkable. Look only to Season 2, Episode 7, “Scroggin,” when Josh takes his mom on a camping trip to distract her from the grief surrounding the death of a friend. This is one of the best episodes of any series in this streaming golden age. Thomas and Debra Lawrence execute a mother-son duet of conversation and emotion — funny and deeply serious — that is breathtaking.
For his follow-up to “Please Like Me,” Thomas headed to American shores and the Freeform network with the 10-episode “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” about a young Australian man who, after the death of his father, finds himself as the sole guardian of his younger American half-sisters.
Though the setting and circumstances are quite different this time around, Thomas’ character, Nicholas, is still very Josh-like — reluctance to grow up, annoyingly self-involved yet utterly relatable and likeable. The stretch here is the presence of the two remarkable young actors who play Nicholas’ sisters.
Maeve Press as Genevieve, the younger sister, is just figuring out how to navigate the rigors of the high school social scene. She’s like an insecure, deeply cranky old comedian in the body of a freshman. As older sister Matilda, Kayla Cromer plays a bright, brave young woman on the autism spectrum from the perspective of someone who is actually on the spectrum.
Like Thomas’ previous series, this one finds offbeat humor in most situations but never shies away from getting serious when necessary. If you’ve never thought about autism and sexual consent, this series well-written series will be an eye-opener (check out episodes 5 and 6).
Now that “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” has concluded its debut season (renewal for a second season has not yet been announced), it’s apparent that Thomas had an arc in mind for the characters, and the centerpiece turns out to be Genevieve. Amid all the heavier plot turns — Matilda’s quest to find sex and love, Josh repelling his sweet boyfriend — Genevieve is an observer, a reactor, and, as it turns out, a rather extraordinary person. It takes until the final episode, “Discoid Cockroaches” (every episode has an insect name), but the rise of Genevieve is completely worth it.
Thomas, whose comedy tour recently brought him to Oakland, is the kind of original voice who breathes new life into a format as tried and true as a sitcom. Whatever format he continues to work in, he’s going to keep surprising us simply by being his odd, insightful, wonderful self.