The Fosters

The FostersThe Fosters is a new series on ABC Family. The show, which began airing earlier this month, is about the family pictured above which consists of two mothers (Stef and Lena), one biological son (Brandon), an adopted set of twins (Jesus and Mariana), and a new foster child (Callie). Absent from the photograph but also appearing in the series are Stef’s ex-husband/Brandon’s biological father (Mike) and Callie’s little brother (Jude).

Obviously there’s a hell of a lot going on in this show. How well is it being handled? Ah, well, that’s the question I intend to address, though perhaps not fully answer.

The reason I don’t feel I can fully answer the question is that the show is very young, only four episodes old, and I haven’t done a particularly good job keeping up with it despite wanting to. Still, I believe I have enough to go on to discuss a few of the show’s strengths and weaknesses.

Its strengths, I believe, are its diversity and especially its representation, while its main weakness is poor pacing. The diversity on the show is pretty apparent from the multi-racial family and homosexual relationship, but what I think is more impressive is how these things are handled. After all, it’s one thing to have minorities present on a show, merely filling spots on a diversity checklist; it’s quite another to actually make their characters unique and rounded and from what I’ve seen The Fosters is definitely putting in the extra effort to do so.

The twins, Mariana and Jesus (pronounced “hey-ZOOS”, by the way, in case you were reading his name the same as you would Mr. Christ’s), are Latino and their heritage is present in the story without being trumpeted every time they enter a room. For example, in a recent episode Mariana celebrated her quinceañera, the Latin American celebration of a girl’s entering womanhood on her fifteenth birthday, showing an important part of her culture, but she and Jesus don’t go around daily listening to salsa music and peppering their speech with simple Spanglish to accentuate their heritage without alienating the English-speaking audience.

Similarly, the relationship between the two mothers is portrayed as simple and natural, without ignoring the fact that homosexual relationships still face prejudice:

Callie: So, you're dykes? Jesus: They prefer the term "people", but yeah; they're gay

Callie: So, you’re dykes?
Jesus: They prefer the term “people”, but yeah; they’re gay.

The show is walking that fine line between sensationalism and erasure: these characters and their identities are nothing to gawk at, but neither are they anything to be ignored or glossed over: they are worthy of attention and will be portrayed on screen. I was also happy to see that the lesbian relationship doesn’t go too far into the heteronormative representation of homosexual relationships where one partner is “masculine” and the other “feminine”. Both women feel realistically rounded and fulfill their roles as parents and lovers without losing their individuality.

The problem I had with the show’s pacing came from how quickly plot points were thrown at the viewer in the pilot episode. To break it down, within the first hour of the series I was expected to:

  1. Get on board with the overall plot of the show
  2. Meet some eight or nine characters and understand their complex relationships with each other
  3. Invest emotionally in each of these characters’ lives
  4. Follow at least three independent stories which each had their own climax by the end of the episode

That was quite a lot to absorb in roughly forty-five minutes of storytelling. I found it to be too much to tackle for a pilot, which should have focused on introducing the characters and setting before having each character tackle a dramatic personal hurdle that the audience can hardly be invested in after only knowing the characters for about twenty minutes.

That said, I was pulled in by the show, but I honestly had difficulty telling if it was because the writing was actually good or if I was just being emotionally manipulated, because I’ll come right out and say it: I’m soft and my heartstrings are easily tugged, especially when it has anything to do with young people and/or families going through tough situations. As such, I definitely plan to watch the show some more to flesh out my opinions. If you’re watching, let me know what you think of the show and maybe you can help me make a more level assessment free of my interfering sentimentality.