'Good Trouble' Co-Creator on Why Gael's Bisexuality Is a Big Deal (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
Good Trouble is off and running! The Fosters spinoff, which picks up five years after the events of the series finale, with Callie (Maia Mitchell) and Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) navigating the ups and downs of being 20-something professionals in Los Angeles, made a splash when it debuted earlier this month. The 13-episode freshman season has been well-received by critics and audiences alike — it was one of ET's top new shows of 2019 — which is a good sign of things to come.
"It's terrible," co-creator and executive producer Joanna Johnson told ET with a chuckle when asked about the show's warm reception. "We were very worried about our Foster fans. We wanted to make sure that they felt that we were being respectful of the legacy of The Fosters and that we were carrying on with a show that would deliver the show that they'd loved and more so. Not only have we been received critically, but the fans on Twitter have been really supportive."
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Though Callie and Mariana are older and dealing with more mature issues, e.g., misogyny in the workplace, a Black Lives Matter case and an unconventional love triangle, elements of The Fosters DNA remain the beating heart of Good Trouble.
"We still wanted to tell socially conscious stories and we still wanted to tell a family show in the sense that you choose your family once you're out on your own as an adult, of friends and colleagues at work," Johnson said. "The dinner table in The Fosters was so iconic. It felt like how do we keep that going, so the communal dining table just seemed like a great evolution."
On Tuesday's episode, the residents of The Coterie throw an epic party that serves as the backdrop for the latest in Callie and Mariana's misadventures. Along the way, Callie's younger brother, Jude (Hayden Byerly), pays a visit, the first of many major Fosters cameos to come from the Adams Foster family. It's also the first time viewers will meet Sumi (Kara Wang), the ex-girlfriend of Coterie manager Alice (Sherry Cola). And, as one can imagine, things get messy fast. ET spoke with Johnson, who wrote Tuesday's episode, to discuss what's been working so far, putting prime focus on Gael (Tommy Martinez) and previewing what's to come.
ET: The biggest difference between The Fosters and Good Trouble is the way in which the story is told. What value did you see in establishing a set timeline and pivoting off of that, through time jumps to moments in the near past, in unveiling the drama on Good Trouble?
Joanna Johnson: For a few reasons. One is that when you're writing a serialized show with soap elements to it, you always weigh surprise over suspense. And, sometimes, when you are trying to have big soapy moves, the show becomes a little too broad too soon. I felt that pressure on The Fosters. There's always that pressure to have something that will make people wait through the commercial, so you end up sometimes manipulating things to happen to try to [create an] "Oh, my gosh! What a surprise! I've gotta stay tuned to see what happens next!" Suspense can be a wonderful storytelling tool, where you give somebody something and you say, How did they get here? But, also, it's a fun way to tell a story, and I love a mystery. I love trying to figure out what happened, how it happened and why are they showing this, maybe trying a little bit to be ahead of the audience if we can. I wanted to find an interesting way to play with structure to differentiate it from The Fosters and to do something a little fresher that isn't being done in television. Our audience is very sophisticated. They don't need to be led in a linear direction to understand what's happening.
It seems like having a mystery element is a hook now for people to tune in, even with reality TV, with shows like The Masked Singer...
It seems so. I feel like we owe it to the audience to grow our ways of storytelling and try to interact with them in a different way. We're not a show about murder — we don't have those kinds of stakes — but it is interesting to start an episode in the middle or the end and wonder how they got in that situation and unfold it as you go.
Let's dive into the show. The first episode ended on quite a shocking note as Callie and Mariana witnessed Gael making out with another guy right after Callie and Gael hooked up twice. Tonight's episode really dives into Gael's bisexuality. What are you looking to explore with that character and his sexual identity?
One thing about sexuality for the younger millennials and the Gen Zers is they're far more fluid in their sexuality. They're far more open in being in different parts of the spectrum. It's not just gay or straight; they're exploring and they're open to their sexuality and who they're attracted to and acting on that in a way that older generations weren't. One thing about bisexuality is I still think a lot of people don't believe in bisexuality, that they can't be attracted to both sexes, especially if you're a man. With men, it's really hard. Most bisexual men are seen as afraid to come out of the closet, to admit they're just gay. We wanted to show that that's not true and that bisexual people are disrespected and disbelieved and to show a character who is truly bisexual. It makes an interesting love triangle that we haven't seen before.
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Mariana says to Callie at the end of the first episode, "I forgive you," as if Gael's bisexuality suddenly makes him unattractive to her or not viable. We address that right away [in episode two] with that attitude being biphobic and being not true to who Mariana is as a person and the family they grew up in. And Callie has to look at it and say, "Am I disturbed by this? Does this make me feel any different?" Callie had a boyfriend in Aaron, who was trans, so she's a very open-minded person and she realizes that, no, it's not an issue. It doesn't change anything. The question is, does she want to date Gael? And how does Mariana feel about that since she originally had a crush on him? Callie will meet this other guy Gael is involved with, and, even though Gael isn't exclusive with this guy, Callie has to decide, Do I want to date someone who's also dating someone else? That's something Jude helps her work through.
The timing with Jude's entrance onto Good Trouble comes at the perfect time. What can you tease about Callie and Jude's reunion?
They have their own history that they bring up, Jude wondering if Callie had had a problem with his sexuality over the years, so they get to talk about something they haven't had a chance to talk about before.
You mentioned before that Callie and Gael will be in a love triangle that we haven't seen before. What is exciting to you about presenting this new kind of romantic web?
For one thing, to normalize it and not make it seem like it's something exotic or incredible, because there are a lot of people who date bisexual people. Bisexual people are obviously in relationships with both men and women or trans or pansexual people. That there is a more open-mindedness among the younger generation and less stigmatizing and less emasculating a man who may identify as bi or queer. We have this stereotype of what a man who is attracted to men should be like or act like or present as. Many times, it's more feminine and less masculine, and that's not true. We all have male and female energies in us, everyone. Someone in my writers' room always says, "Everybody is a little gay." Everybody can probably relate to finding someone of the same sex attractive on level, but that doesn't mean you want to be sexual with them, but maybe you do. We just were excited about exploring that and the stigma of bisexuality on men in particular. But, in general, it's a normal love triangle. It's not like it's any different if he was dating another woman, and that was something we wanted to show.
We're also introduced to a new character, Sumi, who is Alex's ex-girlfriend in this episode. What can you preview about what Sumi's presence brings for Alice?
Alice identifies as a lesbian, but she is not out to her parents and she is not really out in the world. She is to the people in the Coterie and to her friends. Her only relationship she's ever had was with Sumi, so she wasn't really in the lesbian community a lot. Even though they've broken up, in spite of what Alice is saying, that she's over her, it's clear in the second episode that she's not over it and she's still deeply in love with her. In some ways, she's in a very dysfunctional relationship because they're supposedly best friends in the way in which Alice let herself be taken advantage of in that relationship. Alice doesn't know how to say no to Sumi and she's torn between her duties as a best friend and somebody who was quite hurt by Sumi. How do you balance that? Do you be the best friend and bury that hurt as the ex? How do you be both?
Lastly, Mariana is getting a real wake-up call at Speculate, where she's quickly discovering that being a woman, especially a woman of color, is one in a million at a tech company like this one. How will she handle the conflicts that arise in the workplace moving forward?
At school, it's a meritocracy. If you get straight A's, you win. I think she felt like it was a more level playing field there, and she felt she was able to separate herself from the crowd and be seen as exceptional. Now she goes into the workplace and thinks you're going to tear up the world and make great change and be a superstar; the reality of the workplace is, "You're new, get the coffee. You're new, you can do data entry." There's definitely a bro culture where the men, especially the white males, are given the good projects and given the credit. As we know, Mariana doesn't know how to bide her time and work her way up. She wants to jump to the top and she wants to be seen and she wants to be exceptional and separate herself from the pack. She's immediately crossing lines and getting herself in trouble. But Mariana, she's not one to give up.