“The Fosters” could be this summer’s answer to “The OC”

If that Fox classic and "Switched at Birth" had a TV baby, it might look something like "The Fosters"

Topics: the fosters, abc family, TV, Television, teri polo, The OC,

"The Fosters" could be this summer's answer to "The OC"

Over the past few years, ABC Family has been more reliably successful than its big sister network ABC, a feat it has accomplished by releasing a host of very well-executed shows that explore the same subject: the friends and families of teenage girls. You know the kind of show you are going to get from ABC Family, a predictability that is great for branding — and ratings. (Not knowing what you are going to get from them has become the network’s biggest liability.)

ABC Family’s programs — shows like “Switched at Birth,” “Pretty Little Liars,” “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” “Bunheads” — are aimed at teens and the women who like shows allegedly aimed at teens and they all have a similar feel. (Except for the great “Bunheads,” which is too idiosyncratic to feel like anything else, even as it checks off many of the ABC Family boxes.) The shows have a soapy structure, but usually a moral imperative. The shows are often political, but the political is expressed in entirely personal ways.  The series are not taxing, but they are not stupid. Teenagers break the rules, but they do so in recognizably teenage ways. They may get pregnant and drunk, but they are not like the alienating hyper-sophisticated “teenagers” one could find on “Gossip Girl.” These kids have parents, who, good or bad, are seriously involved in their lives.

ABC Family programs all year long, but summer is its ideal season. Maybe that’s because it is hardly ever cold on ABC Family shows (they’re almost all set in California), or because I was raised in the “Beverly Hills 90210” era and always associate summer with teen dramas. But it’s also because a good ABC Family show is like a good beach read: great plot, great character, compelling without being too heavy.

Its newest show certainly fits the bill. “The Fosters” is about a family named Foster that is full of foster children. (The puns, thankfully, end there.) It stars Teri Polo (the wife in the “Meet the Parents” movies) as Stef Foster, a police officer married to Lena Foster (Sherri Saum). The couple have three teenage children: Stef’s biological son from a previous relationship and twins they began fostering eight years ago and adopted five years ago, who still speak in Spanish to each other when they don’t want their moms to understand them. It’s your basic black-white-Hispanic-adopted-biological-lesbian family. They have a warm, functional California home that will, eventually, reveal itself to contain lots of secrets, but for now is basically a place of domestic stability and bliss, where everyone eats dinner together and talks over each other cutely at breakfast. Into this idyllic circumstance, Lena brings another troubled, teenage foster child, Callie, who, despite her traumatic past, is a good kid, who will likely adjust her bad attitude when she realizes she has just gotten insanely lucky.

Like “Switched at Birth,” “The Fosters’” title suggests it is about something soapy. It’s really about family, and an extremely diverse one at that. (When Callie sits down to dinner, she asks, “So you’re dykes?” Dryly, one of the twins responds, “We like to think of them as people.”) Despite the birth switcheroo that kicked off “Switched at Birth,” the show explores the intersection of the hearing and deaf communities, as expressed in one sprawling, complicated family. Foster care figures  into “The Fosters’” first episode, but nobody is going back into the system on this show. Instead it’s about how this family makes more space for its newest members.

And that means the show that “The Fosters” most resembles is the best summer show of all: “The OC,” in which a highly functional SoCal clan took in a troubled boy and made him their son. “The Fosters” has no character as singular, charming or chatty as Seth Cohen, which — like every other show on TV — it could use. But Callie has a lot of Ryan Atwood in her and Stef and Lena’s marriage seems as functional, appealing and aspirational as the Cohens’. If “The Fosters” ends up being half as good as “The OC,” I’ll be watching all summer long.

Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>