Hey there, readers! I hope you are well!
These days, I have a beautiful problem — a champagne problem I never thought I would have. What’s the problem? So much bi+ representation in media to write about! I’ve gathered a list to do for this column that now has dozens of shows/films I want to cover. I wouldn’t even say it was half that length five years ago. And the list keeps growing! Not only does it grow, but the quality of the programming is improving as we merrily roll along.
Which brings me to this article’s subject. Yes, bi rep. But bi rep by a person of color? Holy Mary mother of Rosa Diaz, I’m in. But wait — are we about to talk about a male bi person of color getting represented? Oh yes, we are! Let’s talk about Freeform’s spin-off of The Fosters. Let’s talk about Good Trouble.
Now before I get any further in this discussion, here come those tasty disclaimers — with a fun little change. Yes, I am going to tell you that SPOILERS are ahoy. But! But. This time around even I am getting tired of spoiling everything for my reviews. So for this review, I have only seen and reviewed the first season of Good Trouble. There is a second season, and I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone out there as it unfolds. (It was tough to stop binging, let me tell you!)
But I should also give a TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of suicide. Oh, and if you need a reminder on what the Unicorn’s metric is all about, you can head on over here.
Good Trouble focuses on Callie and Mariana Adams-Foster (Maia Mitchell and Cierra Ramirez), sisters moving to Los Angeles and starting new jobs in law and tech start-ups, respectively. The two young women move into the Coterie, a chic downtown commune full of other colorful characters, where the siblings live and try to navigate the complications of this new chapter of their lives. One of the denizens of the Coterie is Gael (Tommy Martinez), a bi sculptor who gets romantically involved with Callie.
What I Liked:
What don’t I like about Gael?
First and foremost, Gael is a male, bi person of color played by a person of color with same-sex experiences. That’s right — Martinez took on the role because he could relate to Gael’s experiences and struggles. Despite my aforementioned to-do list, there are still not many bi characters in modern media. Even fewer who are also people of color. And male bisexuality has an even less positive, non-fetishized representation. So seeing this kind of confluence gets into the rarefied air of bi representation that we as a community have wanted for a very, very long time.
But the good stuff doesn’t just stop there. Gael is a fully fleshed-out character — not just a romantic interest for the lead. He has ambitions, fears, and dreams that are relatable. But even more than that, we get to see those qualities in action and developed. He has family members whom we get to see and see their struggles. He has his own career arc throughout the season. He struggles with whether he wants his sexuality to be part of his artistic brand (something I have also wrestled with in my past). But even beyond his queerness, Gael struggles with the golden handcuffs dilemma — something most artists can identify with. And when he thinks he is getting used as a “Latin lover” fantasy by the lead, he calls it out — good thing, because I was starting to wonder if that stereotype was going to get addressed.
Not only that, but Gael’s queerness is never a subject of conflict — not with himself and not with Callie (this issue gets introduced and dismissed within the first two episodes). To point, the words “bi” and “bisexual” are used with ease by Gael and everyone else in the Coterie. That’s something even other modern shows with bi characters can struggle to achieve (if I have to hear “I’m not into labels” one more time...)
On a lighter note, there’s a good amount of... I’ll say polished reality in Good Trouble. The characters’ problems are intersectional and relatable. While the Coterie is a bohemian dream of a setting, the show is not afraid to show it is set and filmed in downtown Los Angeles — everything from the realistic price tag of $1800/month for a room in a commune to spotting tents of homeless people on the sidewalks, to celebrating the street muralists of Los Angeles in the title sequence.
The aesthetic is authentic — even down to one of my favorite cantinas getting featured on an episode with a birthday pub crawl. This is a show that is clearly and lovingly made in the City of Angels, with characters and issues that can be universally felt.
What I Didn't Like:
Honestly, this show has the fewest failings I can think of in recent memory as far as representing bisexuality. Gael feels like a guy I would have met (and crushed on) at a bi social gathering. I will say that I thought Mariana’s threesome could have been addressed a bit more — it seems like it was just bi-curious sexual exploration for her, but it’s never brought up again. That feels lazy to me.
But as far as the show itself, Good Trouble has a little too much fun with non-linear storytelling. This means a lot of splinter cut editing in scenes. But what is more jarring is an overuse of “woulda-shoulda-coulda” mini-scenes. What I mean by that is there are a lot of false scenes within scenes, where a character imagines how a conversation would go, or how they would have liked to have responded in a situation but didn’t. It‘s unusual to see this technique utilized in a drama — it’s usually used more in single-camera comedies often for comedic effect (think Ally McBeal flights of fancy). I’m not saying it isn’t effective. But when these scenes occur three times in an episode along with an en medias res beginning to the narrative, it can become difficult to follow. This may have been more discombobulating because I was binging the show, but it felt excessive.
Another important point (not to do with bisexuality, but crucial) is I need to address a storyline about another supporting character, Dennis, attempting to die by suicide. While I applaud Good Trouble for bringing up this important subject and putting up a suicide hotline at the top of the show, it's the handling of how Dennis expresses why he didn’t go through with hurting himself that needs addressing. Especially since this show is likely to be seen by many seeking bi representation, and bis are more likely to experience depression and these suicidal thoughts.
Dennis talks about themes of feeling like he would be “selfish” if he had killed himself. This is a dangerous trope shows often harp on, when either the people who care for the character or the show itself should work on reframing this line of logic. This is a myth that perpetuates and shifts blame onto the person who has tried to kill themselves when instead it should be dispelled and met with empathy. Dennis’ friend, Daika, may not have had the words to address Dennis’ depression, but I feel like the writing staff could have found a way to address this self-blaming tactic better.
Suicidal people need help, not blame — either blaming themselves or letting the cultural myth of “suicide is selfish” permeate their way of thinking. They are needed in this world, and trying to die by suicide is a way of saying they need help. That should be met with unconditional love and clinical assistance.
Let’s review: Gael is a:
- bi character of color,
- played by a man of color with bi experiences,
- who has love interests of multiple genders,
- who uses the term “bi” with abandon (and so does everyone around him),
- who has his own emotional life
- and his own arcs separate from his bisexuality
- but still has arcs regarding his queerness …
- without making queerness a conflict
- who openly and easily dismisses falling into fetishization.
... Can I give this five unicorns, a la WeRateDogs?
This is Milton. He took a break from playing with his pals because you looked like you could use a hug. 13/10 thank you Milton pic.twitter.com/zzzscNtEYt— WeRateDogs™ (@dog_rates) July 24, 2019
Yeah, when it comes to Gael’s well sketched-out bi character…