Of all the basic cable channels that have expanded their original programming in recent years, ABC Family has built one of the more eclectic (or, if you’re feeling ungenerous, one of the less stable) brand identities. Its offerings have included broad sitcoms in the ABC-in-the-’90s T.G.I.F. mold (Melissa & Joey), staid family dramas that recall the network’s Family Channel roots (The Secret Life of the American Teenager), and mildly lurid, social-media-friendly soaps that would make Pat Robertson choke on his own spleen (Pretty Little Liars).
Into that hodgepodge steps The Fosters. Like one of ABC Family’s most lauded shows, Switched at Birth, this new family drama aims to preserve its genre’s wholesome core while subverting its traditional nuclear dynamics. It’s an admirable approach on paper—but does it translate into quality viewing?
Who are these Fosters?
Like a cardiologist named Hart or a woodworker named Carpenter, the Fosters are an aptronymically named clan. Spouses Stef Foster (Teri Polo, Meet the Parents) and Lena Adams (Sherri Saum, In Treatment) are raising biological and adopted children alike: Brandon, Stef’s son from a previous marriage; Marianna and Jesus, adopted twins; and, as of the pilot, a new addition named Callie.
Who brought this bustling household together?
Queer as Folk veterans Bradley Bredeweg and Peter Paige are the creators and showrunners, and Jennifer Lopez serves as executive producer. In addition to Polo and Adams, the brood is rounded out by alums from various Walt Disney Company properties, including David Lambert (Aaron Stone), Cierra Ramirez (the aforementioned Secret Life), Maia Mitchell (Teen Beach Movie), and Jake T. Austin (the Waverly Place wizard who wasn’t Selena Gomez or Ted Mosby’s son).
When should we gather for family togetherness time?
The Fosters welcome you into their home on Monday, June 3, at 9pm on ABC Family.
Who will want to keep the company of The Fosters?
Well, if you have fond memories of any of those show credits I mentioned above, this might be right up your alley. Otherwise the pilot aims squarely for fans of domestic drama: parents and children figuring each other out, teen coming-of-age quandaries, the sort of emotional wounds only loving relatives can both inflict and balm.
Also, if you dig those TV high schools with expansive outdoor grounds (including a frigging beach), here’s one more!
What makes this family functional?
A multi-ethnic, bilingual family headed by a married lesbian couple represents the sort of diversity of experience that’s far rarer on American TV than it is in actual American life in the 21st century, so that’s refreshing. The pilot neither glosses over this unique permutation nor seems to demand credit simply for offering it. There’s a sense that the characters’ different backgrounds will inform them as people without defining them—sort of like, y’know, real people.
Polo and Saum are the strengths of the cast, with both actresses bringing a a lived-in, slightly world-weary affection. Also, at one point, a musically inclined character breaks down his art in a way that suggests the show might be interested in exploring such aesthetics, which could give it another differentiating shade.
Sure, sure, but it’s still a family—so what makes them dysfunctional?
Every piece of the pilot feels by-the-numbers. The pacing, direction, and dialogue are mostly down the middle—occasionally clunky, occasionally lively—but that’s not uncommon for a pilot, and future episodes could tilt either way. At one or two points, character development is elided too quickly just to move the plot along. The conflicts it establishes are nothing anyone who’s been watching TV a while hasn’t seen before. An initial feint toward intriguing moral ambiguity is almost immediately wiped away.
Final verdict: Should I watch it with my own family/pets/houseplants to whom I am weirdly close?
If family dramas are your speed, there’s enough in The Fosters's premise to set the show apart and make it worth checking out. If you’re not an aficionado of the genre, maybe trust those who are to let you know if it makes the leap to Switched at Birth / Parenthood levels down the road.
Can I see a trailer?
The Fosters debuts Monday, June 3 at 9pm on ABC Family.