Tonight’s premiere introduced us all to the Foster family, one of the most non-traditional families to ever appear on television, but they just may end up being one of your favorites.
When ABC Family debuted Switched at Birth, it became a groundbreaking hit, highlighting the realistic struggle of the deaf trying to exist in a world that so clearly favors the hearing. Earlier this spring, the network aired an entire episode without sound, only subtitles – the first episode of its kind on TV. Tonight, it yet again proved why it’s one of the best networks on TV with the premiere of The Fosters, which focuses on a multicultural family of biological and adopted children being raised by a biracial, lesbian couple. All of these things are a big deal to tackle in a single show, specifically having a family helmed by a biracial lesbian couple. Nothing like this has ever been on TV.
Some might find the topics addressed in the show heavy-handed. Difficult issues are addressed from the opening scene when Lena (Sherri Saum) meets Callie (Maia Mitchell), a teenager just released from a juvenile detention center. When Callie has nowhere else to go, Lena and Stef (Teri Polo) take her in with open arms. Callie has been abused in the juvenile detention center as well as had a rough time in her previous foster home. Lena brings her home, introduces her to the rest of the children, and Callie immediately puts two-and-two together. “So, you’re dykes?” she ask, pointing out the gigantic elephant that exists in this series. It shouldn’t be a gigantic elephant. It shouldn’t cause people to take a second glance, especially in horror, but this is the world we live in. The Fosters, should TV viewers choose to give them a chance, will prove what some in this world refuse to believe: gay families are just like straight ones. Who knew, right?!
It doesn’t matter what type of family you come from; traditional or non-traditional, gay or straight, adopted or fostered, there will be something or someone to identify with in this show. If you’re a parent, you’ll be able to see yourself in Lena and Stef, who openly face the struggle of raising their family. Stef has a son, Brandon (David Lambert), from a previous marriage. She’s a police officer and just happens to work with her husband, who recently requested her as a partner on the police force. This creates immediate tension between Stef and Lena. How many families have been broken up by divorce or parents not staying in a relationship? How many families face the struggle of co-parenting with new partners while involving their exes as well? This is a very prevalent dynamic in our society. (Sidenote: I am so anxious to know the history between the parents and how their present life came to be.)
Each of their three children has a specific personality. Throughout the pilot, they interact with Callie and reveal more about not only her character, but themselves as well. The couple has adopted twins, Mariana (Cierra Ramirex) and Jesus (Jake T. Austin). Callie catches Mariana stealing her brother’s medication, but promises not to tell. She seems worried about her and there’s something so trusting about her keeping her secret. Eventually, we learn that Jesus and Mariana have been discussing meeting their biological mother. Lena practically has the visit ready, but Mariana doesn’t want to meet her. Sadly, it’s not because she has cold feet. Mariana’s been in touch with her biological mother for a while now and giving her money that she made from stealing Jesus’ pills. The entire reason she stole the pills was to sell them for money for her birth mother, Anna. Toward the end of the episode, Mariana reunited with her to give her the money and it was anything except the welcoming reunion she’d clearly hoped for. Her mother still appears to have some demons, especially if she’s manipulating the daughter she gave up for adoption to give her money. When Jesus discovers this, he’s heartbroken, but doesn’t tell on his sister. This sibling bond that exists is so realistic. Even when your brother or sister does something you dislike or is wrong, you usually have their back.
Brandon is a very talented musician (not to mention adorable!) and seems so well-adjusted to his family. How incredible was his composition that tied in all the pieces of his family? It’d be interesting to know how he reached this point and how he struggled with not only his family breaking up, but his mother moving on with Lena. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself and the show will cover this? I sure hope so. Callie provides an interesting foil to Brandon. He’s been fortunate to grow up in a loving home and she peels back the reality of how hard life can be. He’s the first to know about her brother, who was in her foster home with her, and that he was abused by their foster father. When Callie wants to go see her brother and help him, Brandon is by her side without any hesitation – even though it means throwing away a chance at a $5,000 scholarship. Their interaction was my favorite. From the first time Brandon met her, he had no problem accepting her in his life, and he stood by her side when she needed him the most. This is the start of a beautiful relationship, the kind that Callie really needs.
Callie’s spent her entire life feeling abandoned and unwanted – disposable. She left the juvenile center with so little, basically the clothes on her back. She doesn’t even own a toothbrush (the delicate delivery of that line brought tears to my eyes – like I said in my preview, let Callie put your life in perspective). When Stef, Lena, and Mike track Brandon and Callie to her former foster home (resulting in a seriously dramatic confrontation with guns drawn – whoa!), the entire weight of Callie’s past is so heavy that it makes everything hurt. Callie yet again expects to be rejected and tossed aside, but in the most poignant moment in the episode, Stef tells her she’s coming home with them and states, “You’re not disposable, Callie. You’re not worthless.” Confession: I might have wept a little.
While Lena comes across as more nurturing and mothering, Stef is the one capable of cutting through the muck and hitting the nail on the head when it comes to issues with their kids. From her statement to Callie, how she tells the twins they are as much as their children as Brandon is, and asking Brandon if he’s condoms (it was such a realistic, awkward mom moment!), she has this uncanny connection that’s so different from the one Lena has with them. And when together, they complete their family. Lena brought Callie into their family and Stef is the one who is very firm on not only Callie staying, but her brother as well. It’s a stark change of opinion from how she feels about Callie at the beginning of the episode. The premiere ended with everyone arriving home and walking into the house together, a strong moment of solidarity.
In a single hour of TV, the show addressed the stigma of same-sex couples raising children, child abuse, drug addiction, how harsh foster life can be, and the struggle with having an adopted identity. Like I said, some may find the show heavy-handed, but it doesn’t force the issues upon the viewer. It spills them out slowly, threading them between the characters in a way that feels so realistic. It doesn’t dwell on the biracial, lesbians that are running this family. It doesn’t throw the downside of the foster care system in your face. And it doesn’t come off as a PSA. It’s simply following a family and showing how all of us struggle through difficult times and though the experiences are vastly different, they often come with similar emotions and understandings.
The potential for a strong family-oriented drama has been perfectly laid out. If the show can navigate through this family dynamic in a way that continues to be realistic and follow the path of Switched at Birth, ABC Family will have an eye-opening show to sit down and watch with your family or friends, spawning conversations that you may not have had otherwise.