March 24, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “The Fosters”


THE FOSTERS seemed sturdier in the first half of its season than in its second.  Series creators Brad Bredeweg and Peter Paige loaded up so strenuously on sudsy, often ham-handed melodrama that it’s threatened to extinguish the fine little character moments that originally distinguished the series.  Tonight’s season finale had more of the same–and not much promise that Season 2 (which begins in June) will be any more restrained.

Anyone with a working knowledge of television knew that the one thing that definitely wasn’t going to happen in the season finale, written by Bredeweg and Paige and directed by Norman Buckley, was a smooth adoption for series focal point Callie (Maia Mitchell), since Callie had been pinning all her hopes for happiness on it, to the extent of spurning the potential love of her life, foster brother Brandon (David Lambert).  He’s the sensitive pianist oldest son of the Foster family, which is headed by Brandon’s biological mother, San Diego policewoman Stef (Teri Polo), and her wife Lena (Sherri Saum), who happens to be the assistant principal at the school all the kids attend.  Sure enough, at the last possible moment it developed that Callie’s birth certificate had been tampered with, and her father isn’t who she and we thought it was, but a completely new and unknown person.  (His name didn’t mean anything to Callie, so his identity was a mystery left for next season.)  Luckily for Callie, the youth group home leader played by Rosie O’Donnell was around to give her a plucky cliche of a speech to lift her spirits.  And luckily for Callie’s little brother Jude (Hayden Byerly), his paternity was uncontroversial, so his adoption was completed.  Jude naturally had his own subplot, confirming his emerging homosexuality that had been hinted at earlier in the season, and his scene with Lena, showing the way a gay parent might deal with this development, was one of the episode’s best.

That was just the beginning of the hour’s sturm und drang.  After a brief moment where it looked like the show might take the brave step of not proceeding with the pregnancy storyline that had been percolating all season, after Stef admitted that she’d prefer Lena not get pregnant despite Lena’s passionate wish to bear a child, it naturally turned out that Lena was pregnant–by a sperm donor who not only works with Lena and is the teacher of some of the kids, but who post-insemination refused to sign the contract which would have required him to keep his distance from the baby.  Notwithstanding all of that, instantly upon hearing the news Stef abandoned all her doubts and hesitations about the pregnancy.

Meanwhile, there was another storyline in which Ana (Alexandra Barreto), the junkie mother of fellow adoptees Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) and Jesus (Jake T. Austin), whom Brandon had earlier bribed (through money raised illegally) to testify that his policeman father Mike’s (Danny Nucci) shooting of Ana’s boyfriend was justified (Mike, apart from being Stef’s ex-husband and the father of her son, is her partner on the force)–anyway, Ana tried to blackmail Stef for $10,000 or else she’d turn in Mike and Brandon, and did I mention that Mike is an alcoholic?  And that his new girlfriend Dani (Marla Sokoloff) slept with Brandon in the finale?  And that Mike awoke from a bender with bloody hands after having been seen yelling at Ana, and that Ana is missing from her halfway house?  And that Brandon, just accepted into a symphony program, spent the last scene of the pilot getting his fingers broken thanks to another plotline, like something from a 1940s gangster movie?  That’s not even to mention Mariana’s boyfriend and his mother’s early onset Alzheimer’s, which was making her physically and verbally abusive to the teens.

It was all too much, in the end veering more toward 90210 than Parenthood.  The series, which started by being sensitive about the complex interactions of an unusually constructed family, ended up by having virtually every commercial break arrive with the smack of a contrived crisis. The Fosters is still compelling, due in large part to the very fine cast, especially Mitchell, Polo and Saum, but the material gets increasingly less interesting as it becomes more conventional.

Summer competition is different than the regular season kind, so The Fosters has some excuse for its ratings decline in recent weeks, but it’s been rather steep–in August, the show was in the 0.7-0.8 area, but recently it’s been as low as 0.4.  That’s a sign of audience discontent, and one hopes the showrunner/creators understand that the series badly needs to recapture the emotional reality that made it distinctive in the first place.  As of now, it’s on the verge of turning worse than routine.



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."