Monday, January 7, 2019

TV REVIEW: Freeform's 'Good Trouble'

Freeform will debut its new original drama series Good Trouble on Tuesday, January 8 at 8/7c. The drama stars Maia Mitchell, Cierra Ramirez, Tommy Martinez, Zuri Adele, Sherry Cola and Roger Bart.

Read on for my thoughts on The Fosters spinoff after screening its first five episodes.

Freeform is very much hoping to have a transformational year in 2019 by relying on the strength of two shows from the ABC Family era. This year will see the cable network launch spinoffs of The Fosters and Pretty Little Liars. Those two shows were some of the biggest hits for ABC Family. And now, the channel has changed its direction a little bit. It's no longer focused on family dramas and comedies. Instead, it is exploring life for 20-somethings and all of the challenges that come from the early stages of adulthood. That's the direction the network executives outlined in defining the brand of Freeform. The channel has had some modest hits since making the transition over the past few years. And now, it's transforming some familiar properties into vehicles that better suit the new direction. As such, The Fosters spinoff Good Trouble is coming out of the gate early on in 2019. The channel has even made the premiere available to watch early ahead of its linear debut on Tuesday night. The creative team of Peter Paige, Bradley Bredeweg and Joanna Johnson were already plotting out this new series upon the conclusion of The Fosters. The conclusion of the original series saw the narrative jump ahead five years in time so that the young characters were all out of high school. And now, Good Trouble picks up with Callie (Maia Mitchell) and Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) moving to Los Angeles to start their professional lives. As young adults, they are striving to make a difference in the world. But the series covers the ground of it being incredibly difficult to do so. Of course, that doesn't mean that they should stop trying. It's important for them to stick to their ideals. As such, this show carries the batten that was first established in The Fosters. It has the same convictions to tell important and socially relevant stories that are currently being felt by this young generation. But it also sets out to tell things in a slightly different way to ensure that both shows have their own distinct styles and perspectives.

The careers that Callie and Mariana have chosen to pursue allow for all of these storytelling decisions to occur very naturally as well. Callie has graduated from law school and is now clerking for a conservative-leaning judge (Roger Bart). Of course, Judge Wilson is quick to note that political ideologies don't belong in the courtroom. And yet, the political divide is starkly felt in this narrative - especially once a case of police brutality against a young black man comes into the office. Now, it could absolutely feel wrong to have Callie be the focal character of that particular story because she can't relate to it as a person of color constantly fighting against the injustices of the system. She has devoted her life to the law now though. And so, she believes that she can actually produce meaningful change now that she is operating within the corrupt system. That's the impression that she gives to everyone in her new orbit. The fellow clerks come from Ivy League schools and align themselves with more conservative values. That means they are constantly getting into Callie's head that she is simply the token liberal opinion in the office to give word to that argument even though no one will ever take it very seriously. Of course, that's not the way that this office works at all. That proves that this is a space that is constantly in competition for what these relationships are. Is Callie friends with her fellow clerks? Or are they simply competing against each other for the best cases? Can Judge Wilson serve as an effective mentor? Or does he provoke competition until his clerks break?

Moreover, Callie faces pressure in her communal living space, the Coterie, where fellow foster kid Malika (Zuri Adele) is a strong community activist fighting for racial change in the country. She is a strong focal point who gives Callie a reason to care about this police brutality case. Sure, it quickly becomes very complicated because of their personal relationship and Callie working in the judge's office. But that's what makes the show very dramatic in the early going. This is something that everyone involved feels passionately about while also delving further into the legal complications of ensuring that justice is found. But again, that's just one aspect of the new drama. It ensures that Callie is kept very busy even though Mariana and the fellow people living in the Coterie want her to just have fun with them every once in awhile. The personalities of the new characters in the show take a little while longer to actually come out. Sherry Cola stars as Alice, the manager of the Coterie who is hopeless in love with her ex-girlfriend who has gotten engaged to someone else. And Tommy Martinez stars as Gael, a graphic designer who works with Mariana but has a growing crush on Mariana. Those characters stand out right away. But there are plenty more to give this environment a crowded feeling that makes everyone worried about what Callie and Mariana have gotten themselves into in this new city. That's the chief concern right away when the various other cast members from The Fosters appear. Of course, those are just episodic guest appearances - with Hayden Byerly appearing in the second episode as Jude while Teri Polo & Sherri Saum pop up as the mommas in the fifth episode (which is the strongest of the season so far).

Things are hardly going well for Mariana either. Sure, she would like to pretend that things are working perfectly for her so far and that she is sticking to her creative guns no matter what. She too also enters a very relevant workplace. The Fosters did a strong job in introducing her passion and skills for computer engineering. And now, those dreams have been fulfilled with her working at a tech start-up that is mostly working on non-important apps. Mariana has a product that she would like to pitch to the CEO of the company right away. And yet, she isn't given the opportunity to do so. In fact, she is appalled by how sexist and racist this work environment can actually be. She is dealing with those struggles while trying to constantly wear a smile and just do the work. No matter what she does though seems to get her into trouble. As such, she doesn't truly have full awareness of how her actions can come across to others. At times, that can make her an annoying character. And yet, the bond between the sisters remains just as strong as ever before. They support each other and call each other out when they do something wrong. They are young adults learning how to function in the world without having the support of their parents. The Fosters grew somewhat monotonous with all of the melodrama it forced onto its characters. Good Trouble opens with some truly grounded elements that ensure that audiences both old and new can connect with the circumstances. It should be fascinating to see if the viewers can grow attached to the new characters as much as the old ones. The Adams-Foster family remain the most empathetic in the early going. But that could very well change over time as well.