For five years and a little over 100 episodes, “The Fosters” told emotional and oftentimes topical stories stemming from a blended family in Southern California. Now, seven months after “The Fosters” came to an end, its spinoff series “Good Trouble” sets out to further explore such themes, but in a new setting and with a new ensemble.
“When you leave home, you go out in the world and you create your chosen family of friends and people that you work with, and that’s what this show is about,” executive producer Joanna Johnson tells Variety. “It’s still a family show, but it’s the family you choose to surround you and support you.”
Inspired by the real-life places popping up around L.A., Johnson says research showed millennials and Gen-Zers care significantly about a sense of community, sharing resources and needing the support and creative inspiration from each other. But from a creative standpoint, it also provided an easy “in” to the sense of family that they had known and loved on “The Fosters.”
“In ‘The Fosters,’ the kitchen table was so important,” Johnson recalls. “They would sit around the table and be all together, and we wanted that again.”
Communal dinners will be a big part of “Good Trouble,” Johnson shares, with characters cooking and eating together and talking about everything from relationships to politics, allowing the show to grow into an ensemble in a way Johnson admits she hadn’t originally anticipated.
“I was sort of resisting it becoming an ensemble show, I think because I felt so attached to ‘The Fosters’ and that ensemble, and I thought, ‘How am I ever going to love another ensemble the way that I love “The Fosters”‘?” she says. “But it’s been really fun to have fresh character points of view to have them play off of. It’s a new toy chest.”
Recently graduated from MIT, Mariana has a job at a tech startup, which adds additional members to the ensemble cast through her co-workers, while Callie has graduated from law school and taken a job working for a conservative judge (Roger Bart).
“In ‘The Fosters,’ Callie struggled with who she was and wanted to be, but when we see her in ‘Good Trouble,’ she’s built this confidence, and you see her self-assured and coming in guns-blazing,” Mitchell says. “She’s going to have to figure out how much influence she can have on him and deal with a guilt of being involved with a conservative judge.”
There is more at stake for both young women on-screen, and in many ways off, as well. Mitchell and Ramirez are not only leading the cast in “Good Trouble” but also serving as executive producers.
“It’s been a lot more pressure, but it’s also been equally rewarding, and we’ve learned so much,” Mitchell says of working behind-the-scenes to shape the show. “It kind of feels like our baby for me and Cierra.”
Both Callie and Mariana are in places in their lives where they are intending to put careers above relationships. Mitchell says Callie hasn’t been in a relationship in a while, but says someone catches her eye pretty quickly in “Good Trouble.” Mariana, too, is focused on “trying to change the culture as best as she can without ruining her career” at the startup, but adds that as Mariana feels “unfulfilled at work, she’s going to get a little bit more wrapped up” in “playing” in this “new, exciting city, with all of these new friends.”
Johnson admits that writing stories for this version of Callie and Mariana is “freeing” — because “the girls have matured, so the storylines can be more mature.” Additionally, the storytelling on “Good Trouble” is not told in a completely linear fashion, instead using certain lines of dialogue to trigger flashback moments for the characters, offering more insight into certain relationships for the audience.
The inspiration for this style came from not wanting “to write another show in the same style of ‘The Fosters,’” says Johnson. With the desire of making the show feel “fresh and modern” in both the writing and visual style, she came up with the idea of “creating suspense over surprise” with the non-linear structure.
“Instead of always having to come up with twists in the story, which can often force you into making too many soapy turns, how about starting at the end of a story or in the middle, at an intriguing plot point, and making the audience wonder, ‘Wow. How did we get here?’” she explains.
Johnson feels the target audience for the show — Gen Z’ers and millennials — are used to watching narratives in pieces and are also “cinematically sophisticated enough” to follow a story that isn’t told in chronological order.
“I also wanted to find a way to hopefully get them to put their phones down while watching, in order to follow the story and not miss out on any clues,” she shares. “Even though we live tweet with the fans every episode and it’s really fun to get their reactions in real time, I always sort of wish they were just watching the episode and having a pure viewing experience, the way we did in the ‘olden days.’”
While Johnson has had fun experimenting with the style and tone of the show, also bringing in more humor onto “Good Trouble” than she did with “The Fosters,” notably in a storyline that sees the characters “pick dates for each other on a Tinder type of app,” she says the emotional touchstones of the show will be similar to those in “The Fosters.”
“Some episodes are far lighter, but there’s still a lot of heart, a lot of emotion, and a lot of social consciousness involved in it,” she says. “These girls are trying to go out there and be a positive force in the world.”
A key area “Good Trouble” explores right from the premiere is racial injustice. Callie begins working on a cast dealing with a police shooting of a young black man and a federal lawsuit about excessive use of force.
While Callie can’t talk in much detail about what she does at work when she’s home with Mariana or the other members of the coterie, conflicting opinions get shared, specifically because Malika (Zuri Adele) is an activist working on the Black Lives Matter movement.
Stories of misogyny in the workplace, including the pay gap, will also be tackled, as Mariana struggles to be taken seriously “as a woman and as a Latina in tech,” Ramirez says.
“Right away her dreams are a little crushed when she finds out [the job] is not exactly what she wants it to be,” she says. “She’s going to struggle with the idea of making herself known in a workplace while also knowing her place.”
Callie and Mariana may also struggle with their own relationship from time to time, though Mitchell says “wherever Mariana is is home for Callie.”
“You’ll see them question why they live together a couple of times,” Mitchell admits, “but at the end of the day, they know they need each other, and that’s the center of the show.”
“Good Trouble” premieres Jan. 8 on Freeform but is streaming now.