Mothers Know Best
If you’d asked me last year as I first sat down to watch The Fosters whether I really needed to see an ABC Family drama about two moms, I would have said no, of course not.
My wife and I have as many straight married couples in our social circle as same-sex pairs, and what we have in common with most of them is that we don’t have kids. Maybe one day we’ll take in some troubled gay teens, we’ve said, not entirely joking, but for now we’re happy adopting old rescue dogs and warding off well-intentioned would-be grandparents with our mantra: “No puppies, no babies.”
Before watching The Fosters, I would have said I was long past feeling left out if I didn’t see my own life and experiences reflected in the media we consume, though maybe that’s as much to do with our settled-in old-married life as it is any dramatic change in how LGBT stories are presented on-screen.
So I was unprepared for the overwhelming gratitude I felt for the show. If I was so evolved, so post-post-gay in my relatively privileged queer California life, how could this one hour of TV leave me feeling so emotionally devastated? I truly hadn’t thought I needed anyone to say, It’s OK, this is what your life could look like if you wanted, but I did. And more than that, a show built around a family that works so hard to convince even the most fucked-up kids that they deserve unconditional love felt inherently queer and restorative.
I could barely believe the show was on TV—that it was doing well for itself, both critically and by the numbers—and was enjoying the support of a network that easily shrugged off a feeble right-wing attempt to protest the fact that the two moms weren’t dowdy and sexless. (The so-called “million moms” weren’t too excited that some of the teenagers were also sexually active.) If I was wrong about whether I needed to see these two beautiful women so casually but fiercely displaying their love through the show, I’ve also been happily proved wrong that a TV network would expect (or approve of) anything less.
Tonight’s new episode—technically the return of the back-half of season one—starts with a shot of the two moms, Lena (Sherri Saum) and Stef (Teri Polo), in bed. They’re naked. They’re (finally) married. This is their honeymoon, even if the only getaway they’ve gotten is to make a clean break for the master bedroom.
“The only little criticism I’ve ever heard about the show is that [viewers] want to see more sexy time,” Saum told me when I visited the set. “It’s not like they’re hiding from it. It’s just a hard appointment to make sometimes.”
Polo—whose career playing intense, severe characters masks a vivacious class clown—immediately joked, “If you want to see something that’s not real, you’re going to see us in bed all the time.”
Most of The Fosters’ focus falls firmly on the younger characters’ ups and downs, and even in this first episode back there’s a heavy dose of teenage angst—capably and movingly led by Maia Mitchell, who plays foster daughter Callie with a heartbreaking mix of vulnerability and bravado.
But for a minute there, we get a glimpse of two moms who are smart and sensible enough to know their moment of intimate bliss won’t last, that of the five kids in their charge at least one will be neck-deep in drama before the day’s end. And they’re right, of course. That’s why I keep watching.
Season 1 of The Fosters is available on DVD and Netflix, and new episodes start January 13 on ABC Family.