Are two moms better than one? According to ABC Family, they are.
Stef and Lena Foster have been legally married for a while now, leading their blended clutch of kids through the perils of adolescence and identity. Brandon's the eldest and the only one with biological connections—Stef's son from a previous, heterosexual marriage. Jesus and Mariana came to the couple through San Diego's foster care system and have since been adopted. Callie and her younger brother, Jude, are the newbies, but settling in with their relatively new family just fine, thank you very much.
Of course there are hurdles aplenty for this family. The Fosters, after all, is essentially a primetime soap opera. Kids get in trouble, sometimes deeply. Tensions between the two matriarchs surface. Crises are had and sometimes averted. Such is the nature of these sorts of shows. It's merely a question of how provocative and graphic those issues prove to be onscreen.
And in 2015, the show answered that question with finality by televising the youngest same-sex kiss ever—shared by 13-year-old Jude and his best friend, Connor, both of whom are questioning their sexual identity. The scene has been called by some "the kiss that broke the Internet."
Gabe Bergado wrote in The Daily Beast, "The Fosters is already lauded as one of the most progressive shows on TV, with the heads of household being an interracial lesbian couple raising a family of biological, foster, and adopted kin. With the kiss … setting a fantastic standard, we're inching toward more accurate representation of LGBTQ youth in entertainment. It reassures all the real-life Judes and Connors out there that their feelings of self-discovery during those middle school and junior high years are valid, while also providing a heartrending example for those who don't endure this to understand and learn from."
"Sexuality in this modern world, you don't necessarily have to put a label on it anymore," co-creator Bradley Bredeweg told MTV. "Jude's whole journey so far is 'I just want to be who I am. Why do you have to call it anything?' That's a beautiful way of looking at sexuality because eventually we're not going to have to call it anything. We're just going to accept love as love is, and that's definitely what we're trying to portray here."
Talking to The Wrap, co-creator Peter Paige added, "We are here to tell the true stories of what it is to grow up, and these are true stories of what it is to grow up as a young, potentially gay person. It's the truth and that's all."
Also the "the truth and that's all" in this show are depictions of Stef and Lena kissing and cuddling and sleeping together. So it might at first sound odd to call The Fosters a throwback to shows from the 1950s and '60s, where families were largely aspirational. But this, its makers suggest, is how a healthy family looks—sort of like The Waltons with a rainbow-friendly vibe instead of black-and-white traditionalism.
The Fosters wears its message-mindedness on its sleeve, proffering an utterly transparent social agenda—but a social agenda that runs counter to a Biblical understanding of marriage and family.
It also brings with it a discomforting level of … tolerance.
And here I'm not talking about tolerance in the politicized sense. For the moment, I'm focusing on the tolerance shown by the Foster parents—and by the show itself—for unhealthy behavior. The adults and kids alike have been known to explore and gratify their sexual urges, for example, and Stef sometimes even supplies her teens with condoms. (As a cop, she says, it's her job to "protect and serve.")
By indulging in such stereotypes, the show strives to not just normalize same-sex parenthood, but also teen promiscuity. On a parallel track is this: The series naturally takes a dim view of teens selling drugs—unless said teen is selling drugs to raise money for her down-on-her-luck birth mother. In that case, selling drugs isn't necessarily good, but at least it's understandable.
Every bad deed and spiritual compromise here seems to have a good intention. Every ransacking of a household rule or municipal law or even moral construct has a mitigating excuse. Rules truly are meant to be broken—as long as there's a dramatic enough setup.
Who really are the Fosters, then? A family that resides in one of the best-written shows on ABC Family. A family that serves as a really effective piece of social propaganda. A family that trumpets "family values" while thumbing its nose at those who might have different values in mind.
"Now Hear This"
When Connor wants to visit his girlfriend after spending the night over at Jude's house, Jude—who's attracted to Connor, and who apparently kissed his friend before—gets confused and upset and kicks Connor in the gut. When Jude apologizes and expresses his confusion, Connor kisses him. Meanwhile, Callie learns that a friend of hers has slipped into prostitution and tries to rescue her, Mariana organizes a boycott at school after Lena fires her favorite teacher, and Brandon sells a family heirloom to make money for a band tour.
Brandon really wants to go on tour so he (a high school junior) can have sex with a bandmate. (We see the two kiss and make out on Brandon's bed.) When Brandon's father asks if he and the girl are serious, Brandon tells him not to give "that patented safe sex speech." Callie's friend is shown working the streets in provocative clothing, and when a friendly social worker (Rosie O'Donnell) comes to take her away, Callie spits in her face and accuses her of soliciting sex. Lena and Stef kiss and flirt, with Lena joking about needing handcuffs.
There's talk of prostitution and pimps, drug use and not quite believing in heaven. Jude lies. Callie admits to the same. Kids hack into a neighbor's Internet when they're forbidden from using their own. They skip school as an act of protest. We hear "a--," "d--n," "b--ch," "h---" and "freaking" (once or twice each).
"Take Me Out"
Brandon, a pianist, wants to have another operation on his hand so he can get back into top classical form. Stef says no, as does the boy's biological father. But Lena disagrees, causing friction between the two moms. Callie's dad forces her to get a DNA test before he'll allow Stef and Lena to adopt her.
Jesus nearly has sex with girlfriend Emma … but she's so particular about how they do it that it turns him off. That's a good thing, of course. Still, we see the two kissing madly in a car as she strips off his shirt. (Hers is unbuttoned.) And there's talk of trying again at the beach. There's also talk about Jude being gay, an assertion that prompts another boy's dad to step in and keep the two friends apart. The friend apologizes for his father, telling Jude that he knows he's not gay. "What if I was gay?" Jude asks. The friend walks away, perplexed.
Callie gets slapped suggestively on the backside, and there's a line about how a fortysomething man must really like her. We hear that Mike (an alcoholic) got drunk, blacked out, got into a fight and broke someone's nose. (Stef worries that he's lying and may have actually killed someone.) We hear about leering high schoolers and drug-addicted moms. Mariana wears short shorts. Bad language includes "a--" (once) and the euphemistic "freaking" (once).
Callie's released from juvie into the care of Lena and Stef. But she seems anxious to hook up with a guy named Jude, whom she calls on a phone she "borrows" from Brandon. When Brandon confronts her about it, she fesses up: Jude's her little brother who's in an abusive home. She needs to rescue him. Brandon goes with her—even though he has a musical scholarship performance that night. Naturally, they keep the trip a secret.
Stef talks to Brandon about the importance of condoms. Brandon's girlfriend invites Brandon to spend the night with her. ("I'll have to sneak out," he says.) Callie rudely asks Lena and Stef if they're "dykes." We see the two women kiss affectionately a few times and snuggle in bed, at all times acting as any husband and wife would in a similar TV drama. There's a reference to Jude trying on a woman's dress (an act he gets beaten for by his foster dad).
Callie promises not to "narc" on Mariana when she sees the younger girl steal drugs. Mariana returns the "favor" by giving Callie advice on how to sneak away from school. A man threatens kids with a gun. (Cops intervene forcefully.) Callie gets beaten up by other girls. We later see her naked in the bathtub, an ugly bruise covering the side of her torso.
Characters say "a‑‑" (twice), "d‑‑n" (twice), "h‑‑‑" (three times) and "jeez" (once). God's name is misused a half-dozen times.