Toward the end of The Fosters pilot, the drama’s central couple — lesbian couple Stef (Teri Polo) and Lena (Sherri Saum) — are having a chat in their kitchen. Lena asks if she?s pushing too hard for the couple’s adopted twins — Jesus (Jake T. Austin) and Marianna (Cierra Ramirez) — to meet their biological mother, Stef grabs string cheese and peels off a piece to eat. The string cheese moment is mundane, for sure, but it illustrates what this show does best: quiet, simple scenes that show the multi-ethnic family — with a mix of biological, adopted, and foster children — just being a family. It?s almost as good as a different scene where Stef has a serious conversation with her biological son Brandon (David Lambert) about how their new foster child, Callie (Maia Mitchell), has been in juvenile detention, and then just casually asks if he?s been using condoms with his girlfriend. Oh, moms!
Despite ABC Family?s flashier programming — about high school pregnancy, sexy fibbers (in two shows), and a guy who is either a sociopath or just misunderstood (either way, he?s attractive) — the network does take risks on niche shows (Bunheads!) and occasionally makes groundbreaking programming (Switched At Birth!). And while after only one episode of The Fosters it?s unclear how this show will develop, so far it seems completely watchable, heartwarming, and — at times — moving.
In the pilot we met our heroine, a young, troubled girl named Callie, as she is being chastised and beaten up on her last day in juvenile detention. The motherly Lena, who maintains an intense dignity and poise throughout the episode, decides, without her partner Stef, to take Callie in as a foster child after seeing her cut lip, scared eyes, and desperate need for help. Throughout the rest of the pilot, the entire family gets to know Callie, and we learn more about how Callie ended up in juvenile detention in the first place.
An easy criticism of this new show would be that it tries to fit in too many ”controversial” topics into one show — The Fosters takes on homophobia, child abuse, drug addiction, and abandonment right away. But let?s just remember: Seeing a lesbian, biracial couple on a family TV show is a big deal. It shouldn’t be a big deal at this point — shows should offer diverse casts — but if you look at the demographics of most TV shows, it’s easy to realize how important, and deliberate, this choice was.
Scenes on the show that seem a little cheesy — for instance, a teacher asking Callie about what she would do if she woke up in a nightmare like Gregor in ”The Metamorphosis” — don?t linger too long, making them seen genuine rather than exhausting. The twins have amazing chemistry with each other, playing off the eternal exasperation and endless support that comes with being a twin. There?s something timid and beautiful about the way Brandon and Callie interact — on the bus their knees touch, and it’s entirely not sexual but incredibly intimate and caring. It remains to be seen if the show will be forced to become too outlandish to raise the stakes. Will it toe the line of “Very Special Episode” cheesiness or just jump in head first? If it sticks with the quiet, string cheese moments, it could end up being an understated — but provocative — must watch. B+