In the sixth episode of Freeform’s excellent new dramedy, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, protagonist Nicholas (Josh Thomas, also the show’s creator) dumps ceviche on his boyfriend Alex (Adam Faison). He does it while they’re on vacation in Mexico, at an all-inclusive resort where neither of them quite fits in — Nicholas because of his quirkiness, and Alex because of his income level. We don’t actually see the ceviche poured, just the aftermath: Alex screaming about being dunked in raw fish, and Nicholas giggling manically, unrepentant.
Throughout, both Alex and Nicholas drink heavily. The alcohol only makes the situation worse, with the two spitting venomous insults at each other. Both threaten to pack up and leave at different points. Alex just wants Nicholas to apologize. Nicholas just wants Alex to calm down. On the surface, these are not big asks, yet in the moment their fight is so titanic that they sem bound to break up.
This is just one bit of the genius of Everything’s Gonna Be Okay. The show, which is largely about Nicholas’ guardianship of step-sisters Matilda (Kayla Cromer) and Genevieve (Maeve Press) after their father’s death, makes lots of time to show the messiness and toxicity of this relationship. That doesn’t mean it’s shown solely in a negative light, quite the contrary, the two have great chemistry, and Faison continues Thomas’ trend from his previous series, Please Like Me, of casting the cutest guys to play his character’s boyfriends. But instead of presenting us with an ideal gay relationship, or one that’s not ideal but is presented as an endgame (looking at you, Kurt and Blaine from Glee), Nicholas and Alex are depicted as two guys going through a lot, taking it out on each other, and living through the consequences.
From the very first episode, something is obviously off about Nicholas and Alex’s connection. Our introduction to this world, and these characters, is watching Nicholas flirt with Alex at a bar. Their banter is stilted and full of make-out sessions, but we barely hear from Alex. “I’ve barely spoken,” Alex responds when Nicholas says he likes him. “I think any feelings you think you have for me are actually feelings you have for your own anecdotes.”
Their bond has not deepened much from there. In fact, as we’re shown in that first episode (“Seven-Spotted Ladybug”), their connection seems largely based on Alex coming into Nicholas’ life just as he was taking on a lot more: grief over his father dying, parental responsibilities for Genevieve and Matilda (who is on the autism spectrum), and his father’s estate. Alex is a warm body and a kind smile at a time when Nicholas needs it most. Relationships have been formed on less, of course, but it gives us insight into why these two men are together: they have a need for each other.
That need doesn’t always translate to want, however, as their wants are much more chaotic. Alex wants Nicholas to tell him he loves him; Nicholas wants Alex to know that he loves him without needing him to say it. Alex wants Nicholas to apologize; Nicholas wants Alex to move on. Their relationship is defined by this push-and-pull, which exists simply because they are human. Nicholas and Alex’s relationship is flawed because they themselves are flawed.
A friend who is also watching the show texted me the other day to express his discomfort watching Nicholas and Alex scenes, not because they were unrealistic, but because they were too realistic. I share that discomfort. Nicholas and Alex remind me of bad points in my own relationships, but they also just plainly remind me of me. A stubbornness in admitting I’m wrong. A need for my partner to affirm me with apologies and affection. A bad habit of exacerbating an already tense situation with alcohol. I can honestly say I haven’t seen that on another TV show, perhaps because the gay relationships we get on TV are already few and far between. Those we do get are often painted in the most positive possible light, with any obstacles coming from outside the relationship.
On Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, Nicholas and Alex are each other’s obstacle, and they’re also their own. Their flaws make them two of the most honest queer characters on TV, to a painful fault. And even though their love seems doomed and unhealthy, I can’t help but root for them to figure their shit out and be better for each other. Because if they got through the worst of it and came out the other side, you can only hope their relationship would be stronger than ever.
Everything's Gonna Be Okay airs its season finale tonight at 8:30 PM on Freeform.
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Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles.