TV review: The Fosters and choosing who to be

In the most recent episode of ABC Family’s The Fosters, Stef sits down beside her adoptive daughter, Mariana, who is busy self-immolating in toxic teen angst, and asks her:

“Is this really who you want to be?”

This deceptively-simple question cuts right to the heart of The Fosters. In a TV landscape filled with anti-heroes, it’s downright refreshing to encounter a show that adamantly rejects bad faith.

In The Fosters – which follows a makeshift family consisting of lesbian moms, Stef and Lena, Stef’s son from a previous marriage, adopted twins, and two new foster siblings – life is all about choosing your family; choosing who you want to be.

In an earlier episode, the show deftly dodged the question of “are people born gay, or is it a choice?” when Stef once again emphasised agency and free will. When challenged about leaving her husband for a woman, Stef comments to her homophobic father, “Yeah, I made a choice – I made a choice to be happy.”

As The Fosters nears the end of its initial 10-episode run, it seems to be hitting its stride. The Pilot felt, to me, more like a Hallmark movie of the week than the set-up for an interesting TV show. But, since then, The Fosters has found a better balance between sweetness and grit.

The show is still a little more ISSUE-driven than I would like (every character has been assigned an ISSUE, whether it’s ADHD or undocumented immigrant status, and it all gets a bit tiring), but there’s no denying that The Fosters is taking on more challenging subjects (with more thoughtfulness and more candour) than any other teen show currently airing. It’s proving to be a worthy successor to classy WB dramas of old, like Everwood.

Here’s hoping the show gets a second season and its characters get further opportunities to choose what to do, how to act and who to be.

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