Uh, you guys, I totally forgot to take notes. And screenshots. (Don’t worry, I went back and took some of those.) I meant to. But, when I started the first episode of Good Trouble I didn’t know anything about it, not even that it’s a spin-off of the long-running series The Fosters—a show I heard good things about but, because it wasn’t streaming on the platforms I had, I forgot about it entirely—and I was wholly unprepared for how quickly I got sucked into its vortex.
Before we dig into this juicy show, let’s start with a little backstory from the The Fosters. That show (as per Wikipedia) follows the lives of a lesbian couple, Stef, a cop, and Lena, a vice principal, and their five children. One son, Brandon, is Stef’s biological child from her previous marriage to a man, and the other four are two sets of biological siblings—Jesus and Mariana and Callie and Jude, who were adopted through the foster care system. So that’s all easy peasy to follow so far, right?
Anyway, Good Trouble jumps ahead several years to when Callie (Maia Mitchell) and Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) move to Los Angeles to start their young-adult lives. Callie, fresh out of law school at UCSD and seemingly as straight-laced as her parted down the middle bob, has accepted a clerkship with a federal judge. Mariana, fresh out of MIT and seemingly more free-wheeling, has accepted a well-paid job as a software engineer at a tech startup called Speckulate. Upon arriving in LA, they move into a place called the Coterie, which bills itself as an “intentional community”—a Gen Z commune, basically.
It’s a warren of large rooms, which they generously call lofts, carved out of the crumbling space above the once grand Palace Theater in Downtown LA. The kitchen, bathroom, living room, and rooftop pool are all communal. On the one hand, this is a great premise for a show about young people, and I like the possible metaphor about rising up in a space that the previous generation let rot (though you could also argue that it’s dancing dangerously close to gentrification) but, on the other hand, I have so very many practical questions. Like, how do x number of tenants (it’s never entirely clear how many people live there, but more than ten) share one dingy brown fridge? Is it borrowed from Hogwarts? Because that is the only way it could house enough food and beer to sustain everyone. And, who cleans the rooftop pool? It is always sparkling clean, but it is also the site of some sexy times and wild parties, and I just wonder who is skimming out the detritus and making sure the chemical balance stays optimal to prevent large bacterial blooms from the regular influx of bodily fluids and alcohol. I mean, it’s pointed out that most people who live in the Coterie can’t be bothered to change a roll of toilet paper or unclog a toilet. The pool gives me heart palpitations. None of this is really relevant, though it is extremely relevant to me. But back to the plot!
On their first day in LA, Callie and Mariana’s U-Haul gets towed, their stuff gets stolen, they argue about whose fault it is, Mariana insists that Callie needs to loosen up and get laid, they get drunk, Callie (unknowingly) sleeps with a guy that Mariana was hoping to hook up with, and I become very unsure if I can watch a show about twenty-somethings constantly on the brink of fucking everything up. (Spoiler: Reader, she definitely can.) And they don’t fuck everything up all the time, but it’s also really important that they are given the space to make mistakes, to own up to their mistakes, to learn from their mistakes, and to make more mistakes. But, damn, that’s a lot to pack into a first day. I would have needed a week to recover, but being that they are young, they wake up and go to work the next day, where things don’t get much better. Mariana confronts sexism and misogyny from the tech “bro-holes” on her team at work who don’t respect her or believe that she, as a Latina woman, is up to the challenge of writing code. (That’s with the exception of Raj, who is adorable and kind, if entirely too complacent.) The man-children make sexist and racist comments couched as jokes and fault her when she gets upset or works too hard because it makes them look bad. It’s a really spot on depiction of the tech culture. (Either it will fill you with absolute rage or we can’t be friends.) Mariana quickly has to choose between complacency in the white-male dominated system or fighting for equity. Callie, whose politics are strictly progressive and whose ultimate goal is to work for social justice, ends up working for the very conservative Curtis Wilson (Roger Bart), whose other two clerks are conservative and pretentious about their education. Wilson, who has a history of siding with the police, will be judging the contentious trial of Jamal Thompson, a young black man killed by a white police officer, so you know that’s also going to get a little complicated and contentious as well.
Meanwhile, inside the Coterie they find a diverse community of people who quickly become a source of support and frustration. So, you know, kind of a family. Malika Williams (Zuri Adele) is a bartender, student, and activist in the Black Lives Matter movement who is spearheading protests of the Jamal Thompson killing.
Alice Kwan (Sherry Cola) is the overly accomodating manager of the Coterie and an aspiring lesbian comic who refuses to come out to her immigrant Chinese parents.
Davia Boheme (Emma Hunton) works for Teach For America by day and is a plus-size, body positive instagram influencer by night with a complicated relationship to her past.
Dennis Cooper (Josh Pence), having reached the crusty age of thirty-something, is the old man of the group who aspires to play his music, bed much younger women, and hide his painful past. What? Yes, fine. I do find myself mildly attracted to him due to the way he pushes his hair out of his not-hard-to-look-at face and the way he sometimes looks so brooding yet caring.
Gael Martinez (Tommy Martinez) is a bisexual graphic designer at Speckulate, an aspiring artist who also helps support his transgender sister (played by transgender actress, Hailie Sahar), the guy Callie accidentally has very steamy sex with on her first night in LA, and the owner of a pencil thin mustache I would be extremely gratified to remove by any means necessary. So basically everyone is super chill and without potential drama.
Also, this is just a lot of characters, right? And it’s not even all of them. Callie and Mariana’s mothers and siblings pop in for some episodes and there are characters from their work lives as well. And, as the series progresses, we delve more deeply into the stories of all the people mentioned above who live in the Coterie and the people adjacent to their lives. It might sound confusing on paper, but in reality it adds realism, nuance, and depth to the show. People have backstories and lives and faults and strengths, and we’re allowed to see them.
Progressive politics and social justice are always at the forefront of the show, and while I wish less of it were filtered through Callie—the Jamal Thompson case and her helping Gael’s sister get the right gender on her paperwork being two examples—my hope is that will shift as the show evolves. (And that’s not because I don’t like Callie, but just because I don’t think it’s necessary to plot the show that way.) The diversity of the show—and it is racially, ethnically, sexually, and socio-economically diverse in its cast of characters—doesn’t feel overly contrived. If anything, it feels messy and natural. People’s ideals and expectations are constantly bumping up against reality, they’re having to consider how to find a balance, and they don’t always get it right on the first (or second) try. It shows, too, the work needed to make even a small amount of change. With the range of issues the show addresses—police violence, homelessness, the race and gender pay gaps, sexuality, academic tracking in schools, drug abuse, eating disorders, trans rights, gender pronouns, suicide, and housing inequality, to name a few—you might worry that it could come across as preachy or pandering, but it doesn’t. Or at least not to me. Instead it sounds like people having conversations and arguments, making mistakes, and learning from each other. And if it sounds all too melodramatic, it’s not really. Or, it only is some of the time, and never so much of the time that it feels like too much. There’s just enough humor and froth mixed in to lighten the heavy weight of the social issues and the drama. There are soapy romances, steamy affairs, and simmering desires. There are the day-to-day foibles of communal living and absurd misunderstandings. There are uncomfortable improv nights and bad dates. At one point, when Mariana comes face to shaft with her first uncircumcised penis, she crowd sources advice from other women living in the Coterie on how to best, erm, handle the situation.
My main gripe with the show—aside from Gael’s mustache and one eye-roll-worthy scene where someone accidentally eats an edible (Can we all agree to put a moratorium on using that particular trope?)—are the overlapping and confusing flashbacks. An episode often begins with some dramatic moment in the present and then immediately flashes back to the near past. Sometimes there are flashbacks within flashbacks. Sometimes we see what someone wants to have happen play out before immediately cutting to what actually happened. Sometimes, and this is a particular peeve of mine, we hear people talking while we are shown their unmoving face. I assume it’s meant to build intrigue and suspense, to make us feel like we’re in the moment or inside someone’s head, but it just ends up feeling nauseatingly choppy. But I’m willing to shoulder the burden of this non-linear format in order to enjoy the rest of the show.
As I said, I forgot to take notes, and I watched a lot of episodes back to back to back, and it’s entirely possible that I’m misremembering things, or that the sheen of a joyous binge-watch has not fully cleared from my eyes. But, look, the world out there is a garbage fire right now, and Good Trouble offers a temporary escape via the lives of a diverse community of young people (yes, even ancient old Dennis is young) dealing with real-life issues (both weighty and more humorous) with grit, warmth, love, and earnestness. Maybe it’s worth dipping a toe in and seeing if it’s to your liking.