June 11, 2013

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “The Fosters”


THE FOSTERS:  Monday 9PM on ABCFamily

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on THE FOSTERS:  San Diego cop Stef (Teri Polo) and charter school assistant principal Lena (Sherri Saum) are a gay couple raising a blended family:  Stef’s biological son Brandon (David Foster), adopted twins Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) and Jesus (Jake T. Austin), and now foster children Callie (Maia Mitchell) and her brother Jude (Hayden Byerly), all of whom, of course, have their own issues.  In the pilot, the biggest one was Callie’s struggle to be reunited with Jude, which led her and Brandon to sneak out and rescue him from his gun-wielding previous foster father (in the process, Brandon skipped a music scholarship audition).  In case all that isn’t enough togetherness, Stef’s ex and Brandon’s biological father Mike (Danny Nucci) is also Stef’s partner on the police force.

Episode 2:  The second hour of The Fosters, written by series creators Bradley Bredeweig and Peter Paige and directed by Timothy Busfield, picks up the day after the events of the pilot.  The main story this time centers on Mariana and Jesus.  He has ADD, but hasn’t been taking his pills, which Mariana has instead been selling to schoolmates.  Inevitably, Lena gets wind that the drugs are being sold at school, and after blame is temporarily put on Callie (an easy mark because of her juvie record), Jesus “confesses” to the sales.  Meanwhile, we get a taste for the awkwardness of three-way parenting as Stef, Lena and Mike dispute the process of coming up with a punishment for Brandon, and the will-they-or-won’t-they relationship between Brandon and Callie is squarely on track for trouble from his probably mean girl girlfriend Talya (Madisen Beaty).

The Fosters is already a very comfortable show, and that’s no small accomplishment; the characters and actors fit together smoothly and likably (Mitchell is particularly good at suggesting the quiet wariness that comes from never feeling at home wherever she is), and the show takes its time to allow some breathing room between plot developments.  At its best, it seems like a drama that could have the everyday quality of Parenthood, and although its characters don’t yet have that kind of distinctiveness, and it’s currently overdosing a bit on earnestness, Parenthood itself needed most of its first season before it found its legs and tone. Even when potentially melodramatic events occur on The Fosters, like Jesus not taking his medication, nothing dreadful ensues, and while the show is clearly setting up Talya to be a villain (it’s unlikely to be long before she’s framing Callie for something or other), it’s made a point of showing how insecure and needy the girl is.  The only jarring gimmick at this point is the Mike character, and the fact that he and Stef are partners, a contrivance that feels like it comes from another show (“They used to be a couple, but she turned gay and now they’re just partners–with guns!”).

The question will be whether The Fosters is too mild to survive even in the relatively quiet world of summer cable TV.  Last week’s premiere had a modest 0.6 rating in 18-49s, and although that’s not ABCFamily’s target audience, the show doesn’t have any obvious hot-button genre tropes or stylistic innovations likely to create instant social network buzz.  The series has a measure of quality, but that may not be enough to convince an audience to follow.  Parenthood, of course, patiently built a quiet but loyal audience, and ended up as one of its network’s highest rated dramas (admittedly, that network is NBC, but still).  Perhaps the same could be true of The Fosters over time, if it’s given the chance to develop.


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."