The Fosters, ABC Family’s new drama about two moms and their children, isn’t groundbreaking because it features same-sex parents. We’ve seen same-sex parents on television before, most prominently on ABC’s Modern Family and NBC’s The New Normal. It also isn’t groundbreaking just because it’s about two moms, in contrast to the gay dads of the aforementioned. A number of lesbian and bisexual moms have appeared on television (although never in a show centered solely on them). No, what makes The Fosters truly stand out is that it focuses, at least in the first episode, as much on the children and their perspectives as on the parents.
The Fosters, from Executive Producer Jennifer Lopez, revolves around San Diego couple Stef Foster (Teri Polo) and Lena Adams (Sherri Saum), a police officer and charter school vice principal, respectively, who are living with their adopted twins and biological son. In the pilot episode, they take in Callie, a teen just released from juvenile detention. How will she adjust to her new home, and how will the three existing teens adjust to her and the secret she conceals?
That’s right. Teens. Unlike most television shows featuring LGBT parents, The Fosters isn’t about a couple trying to adopt, get pregnant, or run around with a toddler. The recently cancelled The New Normal, for example, took the entire first season before the baby even arrived. LGBT people have been openly raising children for over four decades; it’s about time someone looked beyond our family creation and tiny tots.
The closest thing we’ve seen to this in mainstream media has been in the 2010 film The Kids Are All Right, in which the teen son and daughter of lesbian moms reach out to find their sperm donor. The film focused more on the moms’ reactions to having the donor in their lives than on the kids, however. The Fosters pilot spends as much, if not more, time on the youths’ interactions with each other and their classmates as it does on the moms. Teen viewers will likely enjoy the show as much as adults.
And while the family in The Fosters seems reasonably well off, their cluttered house seems more in the middle of middle class, more relatable to more viewers, and more in keeping with what we now know about LGBT demographics, than the impeccably designed upper-middle class homes of the families on The L Word, Modern Family, The New Normal, and The Kids Are All Right.
I also give The Fosters credit for not rolling out a big “lesbian” storyline in the pilot episode. The show doesn’t avoid the fact that the family has two moms—their new foster daughter makes a crack about “dykes” when she learns this—but it doesn’t become an “issue.” There’s more to life than having two moms. Even the plotlines involving the twins’ birth mother and the biological son’s father (Stef’s former husband) could apply to any adoptive and divorced family.
Which brings us to another key point: The fact that the family has two moms is, in many ways, the least interesting thing about it—although that is still of tremendous importance to those of us who seek such representation. Not only does the show look at matters related to birth mothers and divorced parents, but also sheds light on the foster care system and on growing up in a multiracial, multiethnic family. Lena is Black or biracial (Saum is biracial; the show isn’t clear about the character), Stef is White, their biological and foster children are White, and their twins are Latino and bilingual. Based on recent vitriolic comments online in response to a Cheerios ad featuring (straight) biracial parents, many in our society are still grappling with miscegenation, LGBT matters aside.
The one thing The Fosters will have to work hard to avoid, though, is trying to fit every family topic of the moment into the show. There’s a reference to a boy caught wearing a dress, for example, that could become a storyline about a gender-variant child, or might simply be a passing reference. It’s an important topic—but because it is, it deserves more than being crammed into a show where it feels forced. Let’s hope The Fosters avoids treating it that way
The Fosters may, however, signal a welcome trend towards shows featuring older children of LGBT parents. NBC is this fall premiering Sean Saves the World, starring Emmy-winner Sean Hayes of Will and Grace fame. In the new show, Sean is “a divorced gay dad who’s trying to juggle it all”—in particular, being a dad to his 14-year-old daughter, who just moved in with him.
More importantly, though, The Fosters may signal a recognition that LGBT families are worth including in TV shows not only because of our differences (most obviously in family creation), but because of our similarities to many other types of families across many other dimensions of our lives.
Based on the pilot episode, it promises a sensitive and well-acted look at some of those dimensions. It shows us that there is more to LGBT families than what we’ve seen on television to date—most significantly, our children, growing in the fullness of their lives.
The Fosters airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT on ABC Family.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), an award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.