Stage & Screen

Sherry Cola Shines in the Lunar New Year Episode of Good Trouble

The newest episode of Freeform’s Good Trouble pulls off a beautiful depiction of the Lunar New Year holiday. We sit down with one of the stars of the show - Sherry Cola - to talk about Asian representation, queer Asians in TV and all the cultural nuances you can find in the episode.
Photo courtesy of Sherry Cola.
Now Reading:  
Sherry Cola Shines in the Lunar New Year Episode of Good Trouble

Hey Sherry, thanks so much for chatting with us today! To kick things off: can you describe your career in five words or less!

Radio...stand-up (that's a two word hyphen!)... viral...television and movies. That’s just a list of five things but that's really the order of what happened. The journey has been truly a dream thus far and you know, just realising what you're capable of and realising that your dreams are limitless.

Good Trouble depicts the chosen families of young adults, some of whom may have flown not-so-perfect-nests to find each other. How much of Alice’s experiences here mirror your own story, or the stories of those you are close to?

So Alice and I definitely have a lot of parallels, being queer, Asian, an immigrant and a woman. We have all those identities and to be honest, society never rooted for those things. But now we're using them as superpowers and I think it's really beautiful to be able to tell this story that's so close to home. Especially with the Lunar New Year episode, because we started shooting this episode at the end of March, beginning of April in 2021, in the midst of the anti-Asian hate crimes.

So it was extremely emotional for me, especially because right after the lion dance that Alice does in the episode, she gives this speech and Joanna Johnson, our showrunner/producer/creator, gave me the liberty to kind of make it my own. I'm very vocal as Sherry, I'm posting this and that on social media.

I'm trying to amplify AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) voices because that ripple effect can go a long way, especially now that we're finally owning it (and) not being defined by others as people who sweep things under the rug, and people who don't want to rock the boat.

Like, there really is a fight within the community right now and I'm so vocal about that. I know Joanna sees my fire and passion as Sherry and really honours and respects that in Good Trouble. So I feel really lucky to be able to share this piece of my culture and just a piece of our humanity.

Lunar New Year is something I celebrated my entire life: I hit the temple, the Buddhist temple, at midnight every year with my mom. This is something that is part of my identity and to be able to be confident enough, to be proud enough to share that even as Alice - someone who's bottled her emotions and is very much just always about other people. The fact that she's taking this moment to throw a party for something that is important to her. It really means a lot.

There's so much to talk about with the stereotypes that we are trying to break in the comedy world. Being diverse but to what extent? Sacrificing who you are to get where you want to be? That really is Hollywood sometimes, you know what I mean?

People in the past who really trailblazed: the Lucy Lius of it all, the Margaret Chos, the Sandra Ohs, the Jackie Chans. They probably went through even more problematic stuff in order for me to have a voice now and for me to have these opportunities now. So it's very much that kind of arc in the comedy world of, you know, standing up for what you believe in and not being forced into a box.

Photo courtesy of Sherry Cola
Photo courtesy of Sherry Cola

How have your own experiences as an Asian woman and comedian added to your thoughts on diversity in the industry?

There can always be more. We definitely have a lot more work to do in terms of representation on camera and especially behind the camera. It's so essential to have writers who look like the cast and have the authentic experience. Whenever there's some type of Asian joke in the scripts, I feel comfortable because I know we have Asian people in the room, you know what I mean?

Like Thomas Wong - he wrote the episode before the Lunar New Year one. It deals a lot with how Asian women are treated in public and, you know, it just makes me feel safe to know that he wrote it. So behind the camera representation absolutely matters as well, to have queer people and to have people of colour. It really goes a long way to make sure everyone feels safe.

Honestly Good Trouble has just taught me so much in terms of also being an ally to other communities. With Good Trouble talking about Black Lives Matter, trans rights, equal pay, the queer Asian experience... we don't do it in a way that forces it down your throat. We do it in a way that's genuine – we're imperfect, we're messy and we're fighting for something. We're finding purpose in our life.

Can you tell us a bit about the writing process for the scenes that so perfectly depict the relationships between Asian parents and their children? How much of your own experience went into this?

They're really nailing the family stuff. In the comedy world, I play around a lot and I improv and stuff. But with the family stuff, that's pretty much scripted and the brilliant writers we have, they really get it. It helps that Thomas Wong is in the room and we also had [writers] Ashly Perez and Lauren Moon in the past, and they're also just good at what they do and understanding the experience.

I love the conversation between Alice and her parents in the Lunar New Year episode because it's so complex, the queer Asian female experience. I mean, I'm still unpacking it. Growing up dating wasn't talked about, let alone sexuality. We have these expectations that we want to meet with our Asian parents, we don't want to shatter their vision of us.

You know, even though we're not even close to being perfect; they see us a certain way. We never want to change that so then we end up hiding who we are. Or, on top of just being a kid who doesn't want their parents in their business, you're being compared to a sibling. That is so relatable.

So when they finally have that conversation and Alice's mom says, “You know, I want you to have tough skin, because life can be hard for someone like you” – I'm paraphrasing – but those are conversations that we never really had growing up. Being queer, being Asian, being someone with a good heart... those things can essentially be disadvantages because you’re easy to hurt, but we're really flipping that narrative. Like I said, using these identities as superpowers and just embracing and celebrating it.

Even with Alice's coming out scene, these are conversations that are not on TV. These Asian yet universal conversations about family and purpose in life and finding yourself and being comfortable in your own skin. Even the topic of mental health isn't really a consistent thing in the AAPI community, we're barely starting to open up that door.

Now it's about using our voice. Having these conversations on the screen goes a long way because Asian kids will see it, Asian parents will see it and be open to having a queer kid, be open to having these conversations with their kids. That's why representation really matters.

When Alice finally gets that real conversation with her parents by the end of the episode, those words felt not only for Alice, but for all Asian viewers of the program who may not be lucky enough to hear them in real life. What did it mean for you to perform this scene and hear Alice’s parents’ response?

This is deep stuff. Truly, you're right, because we never saw this on the screen growing up. This is symbolism for our community. There's so much that's unspoken, when it comes to traditional Asian families, right? Asian parents sometimes don't know how to express how they feel – they give you food, instead of saying, “I love you.”

There's so many different ways of expression in the Asian community. So to actually hear those words “We're proud of you”... I mean, listen, a lot of kids, Asian kids these days have never said “I love you” to their parents. They never hugged. It's such a weird dynamic and on top of that, there's a language barrier, a generational gap, you know what I mean?

Me even telling my mom about the protests, me telling my mom about this queer panel that I just did… these are the conversations that are now necessary and so overdue. I wish I had these conversations when I was eighteen, but I'm still learning as I go as well.

So I think it just means a lot. This whole entire episode... this whole entire show... it means so much to me and I'm not the same person I was before it. Like the importance of using my voice – me realising that is really thanks to the show. That's why you’ve got to put more Asian people on TV shows, so they feel like they're worthy of speaking out.

The relationship between Alice and her brother is also fascinating - especially how sometimes one sibling might take on a lot of burdens so the other can chase their dreams. What influenced the inclusion of this into Alice’s story on Good Trouble?

I think it's so dope, that Chau [Long] was in this episode as my brother David because I don't have a brother. That dynamic that they have is very love/hate – it's unconditional, but it's very love/hate.

Siblings, and family in general, we take for granted sometimes the way we talk to families. Sometimes I'm like, wow, we're disrespectful [laugh]. But it's just so real, you know? And when she ends up coming out to her brother at the end, she just blurts it out. I love how her parents call her out about it, too, like, “it's not our responsibility to tell David, it's yours.” And it's like, “Oh, you're right. I've been afraid this whole time.” It goes back to what we think our family sees us as, and we're so nervous to shatter that image. So it was such a beautiful moment.

We have so much chemistry, we can actually be brother and sister, and we're just so cute. But it's kind of just letting those people in sometimes, the people in your life; you already have them in your life, and you haven't fully let them in. And that is really a thing when it comes to AAPI families, because you're so nervous that you won't be accepted. You're so nervous they'll see you in a different light. But I think just being candid and being yourself is the lesson here, you know?

It was such a cute scene. We’re so in our heads – Alice is like, you know, spiralling because she thinks she's not as good as David, not as perfect as David. And David has his own anxieties.

There’s a beautiful balance in the show between educating people who might not be familiar with Lunar New Year and also letting the cast enjoy the moments. Can you tell us how important that balance was and how it was decided?

It's so touching to be able to share this with the audience. And with my cast members, you know, everyone was learning something left and right. I've been talking to Joanna about a Lunar New Year episode for a while, and I'm just so happy that she gave it to me. Kara Wang who plays Sumi, she and I had a meeting with the writers to make sure we had all the specifics correct.

You know, we threw in little personal experiences, the superstitions, the details. I know the community will see the whole fish with the ginger, you know, and actually feel like home. You can taste it, you can smell it.

We have the right envelopes. We have superstitions of not cutting hair on the first day of Lunar New Year, because then you're taking away all the good luck. So I really wanted to have those things in it to make it as real as possible with everyone drinking baijiu, the Chinese rice wine. It's so cool to be able to show those traditions– also the burning of the money, and the lion dance… we really packed a lot into the episode, it was so loaded.

At the same time, we still had everyone else's storylines and the drama and the comedy... I don't know how they do it. Good Trouble – brilliant. It is the perfect TV show. Truly, I cannot be any happier with that episode and Kara Wang definitely helped a lot in terms of consulting and giving her two cents on the accuracy of everything, because she technically is more well-versed than I am. She’s my lifeline! [laugh]

Speaking of that, let's talk about the kiss at the end of the episode with Sumi and Alice, who've had this emotional roller coaster of this push-pull, on-off for three seasons. We kind of see it come full circle when they connect through Lunar New Year and kind of realise what they mean to each other. You know, Sumi has changed, she's winning the audience back, and I've just been reflecting on the fact that there's no other TV show that portrays love between two Asian women in this way, with this history. There's so much nuance and layers and depth, and I feel so seen and I'm the one doing it.

It's kind of mind blowing... then we add Ruby in the mix! The other girl that Alice is seeing, she's also Asian, it's a damn Asian women love triangle! Like, what is going on? How has this been missing for so long, this real human universal love story? This is something all Americans can relate to, even though we're Asian.

Speaking of complex romantic relationships, have you heard from fans that feel represented or understood by the show’s depiction? Can you tell people unfamiliar with the show how Good Trouble strives to be inclusive?

I get a lot of love in my DMs and on the streets, with people saying, “Thanks for representing us, thanks for making me feel seen. I love your character. She's so me.” That's what it's about. This is what TV is about, to see yourself on the screen.

For so long we didn't get those opportunities. So now I'm just like, hitting the ground running. I'm so loud. I'm so proud. And I'm not backing down until we get what we deserve. Because there's a lot of catching up to do.

I think with Good Trouble, no one feels left out in the audience. The queer stories, the people of colour, just everything – the human-ness of it all. It's so raw, it's so real, it's imperfect, it's messy, it's sexy, it's funny and educational.

Like, what else do you need in a TV show? So I'm just so proud, and I can't wait to keep telling these stories and continue making an impact just using my voice on and off screen.

Sherry is in the ’Lunar New Year’ episode of Good Trouble, out now. Sherry Cola can be found on Instagram and Twitter.