In the age of peak TV when every other show is a reboot or a revival of something we watched less than a decade ago, spin-offs can often feel like another way for networks to hold on to prize shows after they've run out of story (HBO is developing FOUR Game of Thrones spin-offs, for crying out loud).
In that sense, of course Freeform would want its most lauded drama, The Fosters, to continue on in a form that better fits the network's "Becomers" brand aimed at college students and young professionals. However, Good Trouble is much more than an attempt to keep The Fosters' traction. While keeping the DNA of what made The Fosters groundbreaking, Good Trouble deftly moves beyond the mold from which it was created in order to emerge as something new, exciting, and capable of standing on its own.
The spin-off picks up mere hours after The Fosters series finale, with Callie (Maia Mitchell) and Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) driving to Los Angeles with all of their worldly possessions, ready to move in together and take on the world. The idealism lasts about as long as the time jump when moving in hits a major snag and Callie realizes her beloved adopted sister has signed them up to live in a communal apartment just so she can share the space with a hot guy. (To be fair to Mariana, he is really hot. Callie agrees.)
While that sounds like usual Mariana hi-jinx, Good Trouble actually starts separating itself from the flagship series as early as the opening credits. The Fosters'theme song and opening images were a borderline lullaby, designed specifically to be comforting and welcoming as the ethos of the show was about home and family. Good Trouble's opening is a burst of color with vibrant music, signaling that something exciting is about to begin and we don't really know what's going to happen next. That's the point.
Good Trouble exists not because Freeform and the producers wanted to eek more life out of The Fosters. They told that story and they told it well, but realized there was an entirely new well with Callie and Mariana reaching their twenties, with new themes to explore. With the girls officially over the legal drinking age, Good Trouble can put the pedal to the metal in a way The Fosters would have been out of character to do.
That's not to say that The Fosters didn't push boundaries or let the kids screw up — hello Callie's accidental foray into prostitution — but the training wheels are off now. The moms are not there to save the day. When they do show up, it's more to show off Teri Polo's criminally underused comedic talents, which we'll wait for you to enjoy in Episode 4. The kids got into a lot of trouble on The Fosters, but in the end you knew they were going to be alright. They might get shaken up but no real harm would come to them. That feeling doesn't exist in Good Trouble, as it doesn't exist in the real world when you venture out on your own for the first time.
The differences continue as the first episode progresses. It takes under 30 minutes for you to see more skin in Good Trouble than you'd seen in an entire season of The Fosters, signaling that Callie and Mariana will not be afraid to explore their sexuality more openly than they did on the family-friendly predecessor. Due to the aging up, the way they engage with their problems now feels more personal than educational. Mariana can't eradicate the sexism and racism that's infiltrated her workplace with a single protest rally outside of the office. Callie struggles to excel as a federal judge's clerk because she's unable to publicly express her political beliefs or the causes she believes in, which is something that goes to the core of her being. It will be a series-long battle rather than a season arc.
In the midst of their professional trials, Callie and Mariana will be allied and challenged by their new roommates, an eclectic group of young professionals ranging in race, sexual orientation and spiritual belief. Callie and Mariana will have to figure out how to co-habitate, pay rent and even remember to restock toilet paper. While that sounds like a trivial issue, it's the difference between a bad day and a disastrous one during your first year on your own.
My one small complaint, and it is small, is that the series continues to use flashbacks that build intrigue in the pilot but don't feel necessary in later episodes. It doesn't take long at all to become invested in the girls' plights — whether you were a Fosters fan or not — so the flash-forwards and backwards aren't necessary to get us hooked in the forthcoming drama. When you reach the mid-point of the season, it feels like more of a distraction than an enhancement of a story you already know you want more of.
Aside from that one stylistic note, Good Trouble is what all spin-offs should be. It's the continuation of a story we love, but from a new angle, and is entirely capable of standing on its own. The series will throw in some Fosters cameos for those nostalgia feels — Hayden Byerly, Polo and Sherri Saum, Noah Centineo and David Lambert are all slated to appear in Season 1 — and while you are so glad to see them in this new world, you don't need them to fill it out. The thrill of Good Trouble isn't for the occasional throwback to the original show. You will easily get attached to the new people in the girls' lives and fall in love with them as Callie and Mariana's chosen family as you did with their literal loved ones.
So roll up your sleeves, pour a glass of wine and get yourself into some Good Trouble.
Good Trouble premieres Tuesday, Jan. 8 at 8/7c on Freeform, but the first episode is now available on Hulu.