August 6, 2013



THE FOSTERS had a very busy first season (or half-season, depending on whether you count ABCFamily’s practice of ordering 10 summer episodes and then 10 more for winter as one season or two). There was, to begin with, the basic situation of the Foster family itself, with two lesbian parents, Lena (Sherri Saum) and Stef (Teri Polo)–an interracial couple to boot–Stef’s biological son Brandon (David Lambert), the pair’s adopted twin children Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) and Jesus (Jake T. Austin), and the new foster children Callie (Maia Mitchell) and her brother Jude (Hayden Byerly).  Oh, and Mike (Danny Nucci), who’s Stef’s ex-husband, Brandon’s biological father and by the way Stef’s partner on the police force.  Add to that the storylines that included teen sex, alcoholism, high school drug sales, gay marriage, Mariana and Jesus’s junkie biological mother, a shootout, Callie’s having been raped in a former foster home, and various soapy romances involving one or more of the characters.  The impressive thing about The Fosters was that it handled all this narrative heavy lifting, by and large, without breaking a sweat.  (And also without attracting much in the way of protests from organized wingnuts, which says something in itself.)

Apart from a last-minute cliffhanger ending (the kind likely to be resolved quickly when the series returns in January, since Maia Mitchell’s Callie, a key part of the show, is unlikely to be staying in Indiana for long), tonight’s season finale, written by series creators Peter Paige and Bradley Bredeweg, and directed by Jim Hayman, was less packed with incident than most of the episodes have been.  It concentrated instead on Lena and Stef’s wedding, and while dominated by delicate work by Saum and Polo, it featured strong turns by guest stars Stephen Collins, Lorraine Toussaint, Sam McMurray and Annie Potts as their respective parents.  The hour illustrated how good The Fosters is at understatement, a skill that doesn’t come up too often on TV these days.  There was the usual in-law fuss about what kind of flowers would be at the ceremony, but it was dealt with in a scene or two.  When Stef told her disapproving father (McMurray) that he shouldn’t come to the wedding if he couldn’t accept her love for Lena, he simply didn’t show up–there was no falsely dramatic climax made of his absence.  Even Callie’s testimony in a hearing about having been raped gave Mitchell one major speech from the witness stand about claiming her truth, but then the fact that the hearing turned out badly and her attacker will apparently go free was just treated as a sad part of life.

For all its frequent melodrama, The Fosters is as much about small moments as major ones, and the cast is able to make the most of them,  It’s a very tolerant show, not just in a political sense (an episode in which the very Catholic parents of Jesus’s girlfriend came to dinner was remarkable for matter-of-factly treating everyone involved as reasonable human beings), but in the way it views teen life–and adult life, for that matter–as a series of crises that are ultimately survived.  Polo and Saum are strong leads, and the young cast is very fine (although, probably for logistical and budget reasons, Jude tends to come and go from episode to episode), with Mitchell and Ramirez particularly good.

The Fosters sometimes pushes too much drama into an hour–the subplot about Mike’s alcoholism feels like it’s there mostly to give Nucci something to do–and it can have an Afterschool Special feel in its let’s-all-sit-down-and-talk-about-this moments.  But it’s unusual to see a TV series that aims to downplay the sensationalism of its storylines in favor of real life, and The Fosters shows that the low-key can be the right one, and no less compelling for that choice.


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."