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Good Trouble is TV’s first good Gen Z drama

Freeform’s new spinoff of The Fosters is full of progressive politics and sexy soap opera tropes. It’s a lot of fun.

Good Trouble
Cierra Ramirez (left) and Maia Mitchell reprise their characters from The Fosters in Good Trouble.
Beth Dubber/Freeform
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Good Trouble is Freeform’s new spinoff of The Fosters, a family drama you might not have realized existed, despite it running for more than 100 episodes (many of which pulled over 1 million viewers). And the new show makes some rookie mistakes in its first five episodes.

Its liberal use of flashbacks to fill in storytelling gaps clashes with its just-as-liberal use of quick cuts to what a character wishes they could say in an awkward social situation, before viewers are presented with the more polite response they actually gave in order to save face. It’s the kind of situation where the show should have opted for one or the other but probably not both, because the constant flashbacks and quick cuts to alternate responses keep yanking the proceedings away from the main storyline in a way that hurts it.

But really, that’s my only complaint with this show so far, because across those first five episodes, Good Trouble is my favorite kind of young TV show, one that overcomes any missteps with kindness and empathy toward its characters. They might be young and stupid, but we were all young and stupid once. Good Trouble cuts them a little slack.

Good Trouble is set in a downtown Los Angeles full of social justice discussions and sexy complications

Good Trouble
DTLA, that venerable old smoldering wreck!

The series picks up from the finale of The Fosters, which aired in 2018 and leaped five years into the future, to a point where two of its foster kids — Callie (Maia Mitchell) and Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) — have embarked on their careers and are headed off into the sunset. (The five-year time jump adds an amusing inconsistency to Good Trouble, with one character specifically saying the events are happening in 2018, despite The Fosters’ events wrapping in 2015 or 2016, which would make Good Trouble set in 2020 at the earliest.)

“The sunset” turns out to be downtown Los Angeles, where Callie and Mariana move into a former movie palace downtown that has been converted into living space, but a living space where people share bathrooms and kitchens and communal areas. This arrangement, as you might expect, leads to some sexy complications and farcical misunderstandings (also what feels like the 15 zillionth iteration of the “somebody accidentally consumes edibles” plot on television), as the sisters are surrounded by a large group of diverse, attractive young people.

Meanwhile, both are faced with career troubles as they spend their first few weeks in the workforce. Callie, a new clerk for a federal judge, finds herself attempting to make progressive arguments about police brutality against a much more conservative judge (a very good Roger Bart) while also occasionally having to realize that both she and the judge aren’t black and are debating a very emotional issue in a much more intellectual fashion than others might like. Mariana, meanwhile, navigates the bro-centric sphere of a tech company, trying to find space as one of the company’s two female engineers.

All of that might make the show sound very feel good-y, but I like how Good Trouble isn’t afraid to let both girls screw up in ways both big and small. They each commit very believable workplace faux pas that reminded me of how dumb I was at my first job. [Insert editorial note about how nothing has changed here.] And I like how the show balances a bunch of tones, from earnest, progressive do-gooderism to outright sexy soap operatics.

Plus, Good Trouble’s visuals, established in the premiere by Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu, define downtown Los Angeles as undergoing a kind of eternal reclamation, a once-grand space reduced to something shabby, now in the process of being rebuilt. (The show, disappointingly, doesn’t yet have too many thoughts on gentrification, though I assume they’re coming.) It’s an effective visual metaphor for Callie and Mariana, who both come from troubled backgrounds but are doing their level best to create something amid the ruins.

As envisioned by series creators (and The Fosters masterminds) Joanna Johnson, Bradley Bredeweg, and Peter Paige, Good Trouble strikes me almost as TV’s first good Gen Z drama. It’s forthright and earnest, and it wears its politics on its sleeve. It understands that the world is filled with junk, but sometimes you can make something beautiful out of that junk. And it knows that even if the end is near, it’s not quite here yet. There’s still time.

Good Trouble premieres Tuesday at 8 pm Eastern on Freeform, though you can already watch the first episode here.