'Good Trouble': TV Review


Freeform's slick coming-of-age spinoff is as jagged and raunchy as parent show 'The Fosters' was heartening and sunshiney.

Everyone knows Claire's, that bubblegum-hued mall staple for tween girls and their accessory needs. The twirling stands full of glittery nickel earrings, the rainbow walls covered in patterned headbands, the bursting shelves stuffed with furry neon pillows and glistening plasticine backpacks. It's basically a rite of passage for any femme to get her ears pierced there. But Icing? That's where you go for the edgy stuff: lacy black chokers; chrome-tinted press-on nails; sparkly bachelorette tiaras. Icing is there when Claire's girls grow up.

Good Trouble is Icing for fans of The Fosters, Freeform's uplifting series about an interracial lesbian couple who adopt a house full of troubled teenagers. The Fosters, which ended this past June after five seasons, was a popular family show for a new era, exploring race, LGBTQ issues and the criminal justice system without much afterschool-special-flavored moralizing. Exec producer Joanna Johnson's slick spinoff Good Trouble further scrubs the sheen of sanctimony from this franchise, a show about leaving the nest itself a metaphor for breaking from parental constraints. Where The Fosters was heartening and sunshiney, Good Trouble is jagged and raunchy.

The series begins five years after the final events of its parent series. Adoptive sisters Callie (Maia Mitchell) and Mariana Adams Foster (Cierra Ramirez) have graduated from law school and MIT, respectively, and are now moving from their hometown of San Diego to downtown Los Angeles, where they've signed up to live in a boho-hip communal loft and start their first adult jobs. Tense Callie, a former juvie inmate, has been hired to clerk for a conservative judge (Roger Bart), while bubbly tinkerer Mariana is joining a tech startup as a programmer. Both women fizz excitedly about beginning their adult lives: Making bank, smashing hotties and changing the world are all on their to-do lists. But much of Good Trouble, like the title suggests, exists in that liminal space between ballooning hope and crushing reality. #adultingishard, y'all.

The show pairs well with Freeform's other glo-up programming, such as college sitcom Grown-ish and media world dramedy The Bold Type, glazing a new television genre that might be called "Emerging Adult." Not quite YA, not quite Masterpiece Theatre, but rather a zeitgeisty, tragicomic window into the "young, dumb, and full of fun" lives of woke Gen Z-ers. They're in debt. They're attuned to social justice. They've got Insta drama. (Imagine if Lip Smackers launched a workwear brand.) Here, it's the Adams Foster sisters responding to the theft of all their belongings by sharing a giggly danctronica montage where they try on every item at their local thrift store. It's a bangin' Saturday night L.A. loft party interrupted by a boss calling about emergency injunctions.

Everything you need to know about Callie is in her stick-straight lob haircut and flat, clenched countenance. The girl is a worrier, with all the poise and vexation of a Pearl Girl. (You know, those girls from college in the North Face jackets and single-pearl stud earrings.) Thus, it's a complete shock when she immediately and fervidly beds a near-stranger who lives in her "intentional community." Mariana, the effervescent banana man to her sister's laconic straight man, is all flash in opaque lipsticks and bright, fitted ensembles. Their sisterly chemistry anchors the show, Mitchell's icy vulnerability nestling snugly into Ramirez's chipper frothiness, and the sisters are (mostly) supportive during each other's workplace hardships. While progressive Callie and conservative Judge Wilson find themselves in a constant state of mutually assured destruction, Mariana battles insidious brogrammer misogyny at work, nerding herself down in the worst screen makeover since Ally Sheedy de-gothed in The Breakfast Club.  

Good Trouble is what happens when a teen drama transmogrifies into a workplace dramedy — moments of youthful levity between friends become bogged down by triggeringly realistic scenes of professional peril. I appreciate that this show depicts a clerkship for once, instead of another litigious white-shoe firm. But when Callie becomes embroiled in a ripped-from-the-headlines Black Lives Matter case, I bristled at the surface-deep social justice angle, which comes across more as pandering fan service to a left-leaning audience than as an nuanced exploration of a real-life human rights issue. Mariana's storyline fares better, the details of her workplace harassment feeling akin to a blistering Silicon Valley exposé, but I found myself dreading any scenes set at their respective offices, unwilling to accept from my entertainment what I could skim on my Newsfeed. I just wanted them to get back to their fun little commune and hang out with all their new alternative friends.  

The women's shabby-chic art deco home setting, the Coterie, is where this show really thrives. The Adams Fosters sisters fit right in with a diverse array of twenty-something artists, hipsters and influencers, including, among others: Alice (Sherry Cola), a down-to-earth Asian-American lesbian still in love with her demanding ex; Gael (Tommy Martinez), a brooding bisexual graphic artist and sculptor; and Davya (Emma Hunton), a brash plus-size social media guru unhappy at her Teach for America gig. When the show allows these young folks to just live in their uncertainty without artificially dangling them into sociopolitical relevancy, it shines. The episode where Alice struggles with her commitment as the commune's house manager (while generously buying toilet paper for everyone out of her own pocket) rings far truer than an idealistic former teenage convict trying to fight the good fight through lawyerly benevolence. The best episode of the five I watched sees Callie and Mariana's earnest moms (The Fosters' Sherri Saum and Teri Polo) visit the Coterie and experience all its weirdness within, including accidentally ingesting potent edibles and taking part in a wacky improv performance. It's a lot more fun to sit through than a schmaltzy, half-baked legal plotline.

Keep that in mind, for as girl-power zippy as this show is, it's a bit of a cognitive exercise to get through. (Given pilot director John M. Chiu's dizzying camera and jumpy editing, I wouldn't recommend this is a background show.) The scripts consistently play with time, a jarring effect that makes your brain work harder than it should have to for something this glossy. In fact, the show's frequent flashbacks, cut-tos and in media res framing devices more than once gave me a Family Guy vibe. Bless this stress.

Cast: Maia Mitchell, Cierra Ramirez, Zuri Adele, Sherry Cola, Emma Hunton, Tommy Martinez, Roger Bart
Executive producers: Joanna Johnson, Peter Paige, Bradley Bredeweg, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Greg Gugliotta, Christine A. Sacani, Cierra Ramirez, Maia Mitchell, Jennifer Lopez, Benny Medina
Premieres: Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET/PT (Freeform)