A Q&A on AAPI Heritage Month with good problem‘s Sherry Cola — For three and a half seasons Freeform’s good problem offered a soapy but surprisingly authentic take on life in Los Angeles, tackling burning cultural issues and serving up millennial drama to a loyal fan base. Produced by Benny Medina and Jennifer Lopez among others, it’s a spin-off of their blended family drama for ABC called The Fosterswhich ended in 2018.
Focusing on the move of two Fosters sisters to downtown LA, Difficulty came out in 2019, taking the same inclusive approach to storytelling, with gay, straight, and fluid romance and a multicultural cast grappling with real-world issues. When the show started, the Fosters sisters reunite in a co-op-style loft called The Coterie, run by a funny young lady named Alice Kwan (Sherry Cola). Kwan is an aspiring comedian whose onstage and offstage humor evolves as the show progresses. She also faces some heavy challenges in life – from breaking the news to her parents to chasing her comedic dreams on stage (fulfilled with a little help from none other than Margaret Cho).
His Asian background is certainly part of his story, but never excessively so. Alice is a little clumsy, but she’s also witty and strong. She’s one of the show’s many complex female characters — who sucked us in during the pandemic and have held our attention ever since thanks to her engaging cast, artistic editing, and wonderful use of LA settings and locations.
Season 4, which debuted last March, is split into two parts. Part 1 just wrapped up a few weeks ago with an important and timely story in which Alice is heckled on stage and verbally abused because of her race, causing her (possibly) to stop standing. With May being AAPI Heritage Month, the show’s exploration of Asian hatred and its consequences was clearly intentional. As has been the case in previous seasons – which not only covered the Black Lives Matter movement, but actually had cameos from Patrisse Cullors and Melina Abdullah – it was handled with sensitivity and heart.
Waiting to see what the rest of the season has in store for Alice and everyone else good problem characters when it resumes in July – and as Asian Heritage Month draws to a close – we catch up with Cola (real name Sherrina Colada) to discuss her character, the portrayal of Asian and queer people on television, and her life as a born-and-raised Angeleno.
THE WEEKLY: I love you on Good problem! How did you come to be cast on the show and how much do you love Alice?
COLA SHERRY: It was the classic audition process. I knew Alice was special right away, mostly because I rarely saw her on TV. A queer Asian woman navigating the mess of her 20s, juggling relationships, finding her voice comical and trying to please her immigrant parents? I feel so seen and truly touched to be able to portray such a multi-dimensional character. There’s such an evolution in Alice’s story, and I felt like I was growing with her. I’ve never felt so free in all of my identities as Sherry, and that’s the result of Good problem.
Alice has dealt with Asian hatred on the show in recent episodes. Why did the writers decide to explore these themes? Did you experience similar situations and did you contribute?
I’ve certainly been discriminated against for just being Asian – from kids calling me “Chino” on the playground to strangers rolling their eyes to mock me. As an immigrant there has always been a feeling of not belonging and feeling like an outsider, so it means the world that we showed a piece of #StopAsianHate on Good problem. Joanna Johnson, our creator/EP/showrunner, provided such a safe space. She appreciates my two cents, and I don’t take that for granted. I think she sees me speaking for my community in real life too, so she honors that in the scripts. We saw it in the Lunar New Year episode, and we saw it again when Alice is mugged by a rowdy after opening for Margaret Cho. The impact on the community and the positive feedback from fans has been very rewarding. good problem does it well. All we want is for our experiences to be validated and illustrated with authenticity. I still pinch myself because I get to express and release emotional trauma through the work I do.
Alice represents not only the Asian perspective but also that of a queer woman. The combination of the two presents many challenges for her, such as when she came out to her parents. Have you heard a lot of fans talking about his struggles and what does that mean to you?
Alice’s queer journey is so relevant and so necessary. I even felt inspired to date my own mother when I booked the role of Alice, because I knew that character had the potential to be a role model, so I had to live my truth. Being a queer Asian woman is so complex – I mean, I’m still trying to unpack everything at 32! It’s beautiful to see the ripple effect, when fans recognize me on the street and when they reach out to me on Instagram. I know Alice touched a lot of people and allowed them to embrace their homosexuality. It’s bigger than me.
Why is it so important to include and see characters like Alice on TV?
good problem really set the tone for the rest of my career. How can I settle for stories that have no intention, purpose, and deliver an authentic message? From the coming out scene in Season 1 to finding her courage as a stand-up comedian in Season 4 – Alice taught me patience, resilience and vulnerability. Because I had the opportunity to play this character, I now use my platform to speak out and motivate others to do the same. Representation is everything, and we still have a long way to go.
The show portrays LA life in a very real way. But we weren’t aware of a co-op style living space like the Coterie. Do they really exist?
Coterie style houses totally exist! Our creators wanted a sense of family, just like The Fosters had, so community life was such an organic transition. good problem is such a love letter to Los Angeles. Our TV was literally designed like the best lofts in the historic Palace Theatre. We had our red carpet premiere there, which was super cool. We also shoot in the actual theater from time to time. I grew up in Los Angeles, so the Coterie is dear to my heart!
Being from Los Angeles yourself, what do you love most about our city and what did you enjoy sharing about it on the show?
Food is my favorite thing about living in Los Angeles. Even on our show, Coterie family dinners ranged from Indian to Ethiopian cuisine. There is so much culture in LA and I grew up embracing it. I’m from the San Gabriel Valley, 15 miles from downtown Los Angeles, where we have a bit of every cuisine. I’ve always had a varied palate which is reflected in my open-mindedness, in general! For me, it’s important to welcome all points of view and all walks of life – and that’s what LA is all about.
In addition to good problemworking on other projects? Please share.
Before jumping into season 4 of good problem, I’ve completed an R-rated Lionsgate/Point Gray comedy, directed by the one and only Adele Lim. Shamelessly savage and tugs at your heart strings, with all Asian prospects! The first of its kind, and I can’t wait for the world to see it. We wrap up Season 4 next month and I’m jumping on another movie shooting in the East Coast/Bay Area. good problem helped me grow as an actor, and I’m very grateful for that. I’m also in the next Paramount animation The Tiger’s Apprentice, with Sandra Oh, Henry Golding, Bowen Yang and other iconic Asians. I’m living this fucking dream!
Since it’s AAPI Heritage Month, what kind of changes would you like to see in terms of equality and acceptance for Asian Americans?
We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. The AAPI community has grown stronger over the past two years, mostly through traumatic connections and finally realizing that we are allowed to take our place – in this country and in this industry. We were expected to be satisfied with the bare minimum for years and years. Not anymore. I see a difference when we fight for what we deserve. Of course, there is no overnight solution to the racism and abuse we face, but coming together and supporting each other goes a long way. I see big changes within the community. We went from competition to party, and that makes me proud.
In addition to good problemCola can also be seen on The new Asian American Foundation (TAAF) film titled AAPI Heritage Heroes on Hulu. More here.