August 19, 2014

THE SKED Midseason Finale Review: “The Fosters”


Almost every quality series, at one point or another, takes a wrong turn (remember the Friday Night Lights murder storyline?); the mark of one with staying power is whether it can bounce back.  THE FOSTERS was in danger of going over the edge at the end of its first season, piling one melodramatic plot turn onto another and seemingly losing sight of the gentle, relatively realistic story it had started out telling.  In the first half of its second season, it was clear the series creators Bradley Bredeweg and Peter Paige had recognized the mistake, and they and the other writers went a far way toward correcting the imbalance and recovering the show’s original tone.

That meant many of the contrived events that were poised to happen at the end of Season 1 didn’t.  The show’s main protagonist Callie (Maia Mitchell), although the center of plenty of tumult, was in significantly better shape this season, not wandering the streets or stealing, and only spending time in the group home Girls United when she chose to pay a visit.  Callie’s foster brother and sometimes uneasy romantic interest Brandon (David Lambert) didn’t quite recover enough from his broken hand to resume his classical music studies, but he was more than capable of playing pop songs with a new group, and that was probably healthier for the show anyway.  Brandon’s alcoholic biological father Mike (Danny Nucci) hadn’t killed Ana (Alexandra Barreto), the drug-addicted biological mother of Brandon’s adopted siblings Jesus (Jake T. Austin) and Mariana (Cierra Ramirez), in a drunken rage, as early episodes suggested–in fact, the two were diligently working the AA program together.  There was no nasty lawsuit from the biological father of the baby being carried by Lena (Sherri Saum), who with wife Stef (Teri Polo) forms the glue that keeps the assembled family together, after he refused to sign the donation papers; instead, he quietly dropped his claim, and she sadly lost the baby shortly thereafter.  Most of the storylines stayed tied to family relationships and the kids’ school and dating problems, which is where The Foster has its strengths.

That’s not to say the half-season remained entirely low-key.  An arc in which Callie’s brother Jude (Hayden Byerly), overwhelmed by the revelation that Callie had a different biological father, the super-wealthy Robert (Kerr Smith), and a half-sister Sophia (Bailee Madison), and also by his emerging homosexuality, suddenly became psychosomatically mute was presumably rooted in medical fact, but probably played better in the writers’ room than it did on screen.  It felt somewhat over the top, too, that after 16-year old Brandon revealed that he had slept with Mike’s girlfriend (Marla Sokoloff), Mike and Stef had her carted off to prison for statutory rape.  Jesus’s clingy girlfriend Hayley (Caitlin Carver) seemed like a borderline sociopath.  And tonight’s half-season finale, written by Executive Producer Joanna Johnson and directed by Norman Buckley, ended not unexpectedly on a fevered note, as Sophia–always a little too attached to Callie–ripped up the papers their father had signed that allowed for the Fosters to finally adopt her, then Robert refused to sign them again, prompting Callie and Brandon into a lip-locked meltdown.

The Fosters, after all, is a TV soap, and some level of forced intensity will always be part of the mix.  Where the season has been strongest, though, has been in smaller bits, like this episode’s study of the complexity that results when a gay parent of a child who is himself turning out to be gay has to decide how to deal with another parent who doesn’t approve (further complicated by the fact that Lena worked–until she abruptly quit–at the boys’ school, and the revelation that Jude hadn’t been quite as innocent as she’d thought).  Or Mariana’s relationship to her Latina background, which she associates with her troubled mother.  Or the difficulties in Lena and Stef’s marriage after Lena miscarried.  At its best, The Fosters provides a different angle on familiar soapy stories without pushing too hard.

One strength the show retains even where the plotting is dubious is the graceful interplay of the ensemble cast.  Bredeweg and Paige do a fine job of balancing storylines among all the family members, and there isn’t a weak link among the actors.  The guest cast is first-rate, too, and Rosie O’Donnell, not always the easiest performer to keep under control, has done a lovely job with her recurring role as the head of the Girls United group home, including in tonight’s episode, where Robert threw a benefit party to raise money for a new house for the group after a fire earlier in the season.

The Fosters’ ratings have been largely in lockstep with its lead-in Switched At Birth, which operates with its 2d half-season in the summer instead of the 1st, and has just been renewed for another season, so a renewal for Fosters seems to be in the cards as well, especially since the series has also gotten some awards recognition for ABCFamily.  The series is imperfect, and very possibly always will be, but it’s moving in the right direction, and continues to be an asset for its network.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."