Review: “The Fosters” delivers family drama with endless heart

The Fosters is a family drama with two moms and endless heart. The new series premieres at 9 p.m. tonight on ABC Family and is well worth watching not only for rainbow tapestry of inclusiveness (Yay, gay moms! Yay, multi-ethnic family! Yay, blended households!), but its genuine richness of character.

When the show was first announced from executive producer Jennifer Lopez, I worried it might be a paint-by-numbers portrait of diversity. The mixed-race same-sex parents. The biological son of one partner. The Hispanic adopted twins. The troubled foster youth.

But despite the genetic demographic engineering, The Fosters is a solid hour of television that rises above simple melodrama thanks to top-notch acting and a very believable family dynamic. The reason it works is because The Fosters seem real. We could know them, we might know someone just like them already.

Much has been made (and much excitement as been expressed here) at the same-sex aspect of the show. Indeed, The Fosters have two mommies: police officer Stef (played by an elegantly efficient and surprisingly wry Teri Polo) and high school vice principal Lena (a warm-hearted Sherri Saum). Still the show never belabors the point, choosing instead to exemplify the extraordinariness of the situation by empathizing its ordinariness. It’s the opposite of your standard afterschool special, with its dramatic reveal and preachy morals.

The family is rounded out by adopted twins Jesus (Jake T. Austin from Wizards of Waverly Place) and Mariana (Cierra Ramirez from The Secret Life of the American Teenager) and biological son Brandon (David Lambert from Aron Stone).

When new foster child Callie (a very capable Maia Mitchell, who comes across like Paige McCullers’ wayward little sister), who Lena brings into the house last-minute without first consulting Stef, meets her two new foster family the scene typifies the pilot’s matter-of-fact approach to its inherent differentness.

Callie: So you’re dykes. And he’s the real son.
Jesus: They prefer the term “people,” but yeah – they’re gay.
Stef: [Beat, laughter] And who’s this?

The bond between Stef and Lena is both organic with out-loud terms of endearment like “honey” and “my love” and everyday shows of affection like kisses, hugs and bedtime snuggles. They’re every inch a couple if by their own admission “definitely not The Brady Bunch.”

There’s even a little something for the sisterhood-loving feminist in all of us. Lena takes both her youngest son, Jesus, to task for suggesting his sister’s crankiness is because of her “time of the month” and Stef’s new police partner, Mike (who is also the baby daddy of Brandon, yep, it’s complicated), for saying he wanted to work with her to help protect her.

“Thanks, I mean as a feminist I’m totally offended and everything. But as her wife, thanks,” she tells him.

It’s those unshowy pops of humor that help The Fosters land squarely on its feet, as if this thoroughly modern family has just always been just another home on the block. And isn’t that really the point.

The Fosters premieres at 9 p.m. tonight on ABC Family. Tweet along with the hashtag #GaydyBunch. And then come back weekly for recaps by Lucy Hallowell.

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