ABC Family is truly taking their tagline of “a new kind of family” to heart with its newest hour-long drama, The Fosters. Following a young girl named Callie (Maia Mitchell) released from juvie into the care of foster parents Lena (Sherri Saum) and Stef (Teri Polo), The Fosters dares to go where no scripted programming has gone before: into the world of foster care and blended families. The subject matter is special enough, but Bradley Bredeweg and Peter Paige, the show’s creators, were careful to build the family with equally unique character to tell original individual stories unlike anything we have seen on television before, too, all while staying true to life. The Fosters is truly forward-thinking television without being preachy or relying on teachable moment text.
The Fosters has all of the ingredients to make a strong family drama. Its characters are defined by those around them, rather than some story tropes or stereotypical teenage angst. There are clear complications already laid out, with the promise of additional issues to come down the line. What’s even better, though, is that there is no weak link, character or actor wise, in the bunch. You will find yourself equally invested in all stories and struggles.
In addition to Callie who comes into the home secretive and independent, Lena and Stef are raising three other kids. Brandon (David Lambert) is Stef’s biological son from her first marriage, and he has a gift for music and an even bigger gift for being a good guy; Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) seems like the All-American girl next door and great student but has been carrying on a secret online relationship with her birth mother, whom she plans to meet and sneak a bunch of money; and Jesus (Jake T. Austin) is Mariana’s twin brother who has an undisclosed health condition. It’s a busy house, full of people who get pushed and pulled in various directions, but the love between the walls is felt immediately from the first time we step foot inside.
There are a few moments when Stef, the gruffer of the two mothers, says things that make it sound like Callie is her first foster kid, not her third. Undoubtedly this is to represent some thoughts the audience, not too familiar with the foster care process, might be having. It momentarily distracts, undermining the authority on the topic with which these two women should be seen, but thankfully it’s a minor blip on an otherwise beautiful pilot.
Mitchell is certainly a star on the rise as the conflicted Callie, a girl who clearly wants to see goodness in others but has been burned so many times before. She does confide (in Brandon) a bit quickly in the story, serving to push the plot along. But because Mitchell sells it that her character is desperate and at a loss for what to do, the “in the moment” response does seem real.
For the majority of the pilot, Mitchell has to be the centerpiece and yet also understated, quietly taking things in and guarding herself emotionally from these strangers. There is a dignity and subtlety to the way Mitchell plays this that seems to reverberate throughout the rest of the pilot. The way she acts out alone is not unique to her character but instead something we see from each child, only partially because of the age they are at in their lives. Instead, it speaks to the experiences of all foster care children who often get used to moving around and only being able to rely on one’s self. Hopefully as time goes on that behavior will dissipate as everyone truly gives into what it really means to be a part of a family. The characters all have very big hearts, but more importantly, so does this show.
The Fosters premieres on ABC Family on June 3 2013 at 9 p.m.
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