Monday, June 3, 2013

The Fosters "Pilot" Review

ABC Family dramas bring social awareness and intense melodrama together--it's the channel's brand. The Secret Life of the American Teenager ushered in ABC Family's brand 54 years ago when it premiered. Brenda Hampton's terrible series concluded just before The Fosters became the latest family-drama to both entertain and educate its audience. Executive-produced by Jennifer Lopez, The Fosters focus on a lesbian couple, their three foster children, and the one woman's biological son. Multiculturalism hasn't hit the mainstream yet. I like multiculturalism, but I don't like ABC Family's brand of melodrama. The Fosters has intense melodrama but it is less nonsensical melodrama than I thought. The cool thing about the "Pilot" is that it uses one's preconception of the characters to subvert any preconceived notions about the characters. Perhaps I'm naive for not considering Callie would be interested in her brother, but The Fosters followed a Brenda Hampton series finale. Brenda Hampton would've had Callie hook up with a boyfriend and then kill her in a horrific car crash. Anyway, The Fosters want to break down expectations about its show before one passes judgment on it.

The "Pilot" works well. Pilots are a toss-up most of the time. A series cannot be judged on its pilot since it takes some time for the writers, and the actors, to figure out what works, what doesn't work, which pairings should happen, which should not, etc. The teaser establishes the series' tone, pacing, and style. There are four or five scenes, each very short. Callie's beaten up in juvenile hall. The first shot is of her hardened face, and her next shot is that face bruised and bloodied. Lena, one of the foster mothers, takes Callie into her home because Callie has nowhere else to go. Lena's reaction Callie's face sets up the dynamic of the house and Callie once the characters are brought together. Lena and Steph, her partner and fellow mother, worry Callie will cause trouble. The audience is meant to feel the way Lena and Steph do. Callie steals Brandon's phone to make a call. She's elusive, at times manipulative, but she's sad. There are as many scenes of Callie looking suspicious as there are of Callie crying. There are tears in her eyes when Lena thinks about bringing Callie home with her. Callie's a beaten and bruised girl.

ABC Family doesn't tell subtle, nuanced stories. The obligatory Here's The Theme scene in the English classroom is one of the oldest tropes in television. Teachers never time their lessons right. Teachers ask the engaging questions just when the bell rings. Callie's teacher asks her what she'd do if she had to live her nightmare. He's interested in her thoughts about Franz Kafka's Gregor character in his short story, Metamorphosis. Gregor wakes up one day as vermin and doesn't know why. Callie's suffering through displacement. She went to juvenile hall for protecting her brother but was depicted as a monster who just went nuts and attacked her foster father's car.

Callie's story resonates most in the "Pilot." She's the integral character of the series--damaged, broken, alone, and becomes lovable and sympathetic when she saves her brother at episode's end. Brandon's the other character written with some depth whereas the others don't feel too deep yet. The texture of the Callie/Brandon dynamic worked. Steph asked her son to look after the newest house guest. Brandon chooses to protect Callie instead of advance his own interests at the piano audition for a lucrative scholarship.

The rest of the characters suffer from inconsistent/uninteresting writing. There are no overt English scenes in which a teacher parallels a character to a character from a book. The twins, Mariana and Jesus, are involved in a typical foster care plot: the biological parent wants to connect with them. The worst part of Disney's Angels in the Outfield is the subplot with the lousy father. Mariana steals and sells pills for money she'll give to her mother, who is addicted to something. The Twins' foster mother is in the manipulative stage of her addiction. She uses Mariana's desire to be close to her to get money from her to feed her addiction. The process leaves Mariana sad, and she's already hiding the truth from Lena, who's been working to get a reunion for the twins and their mother. The story can hit the right emotional beats but it’s swallowed up in trite, predictable, and exhausted tropes.

The adults in the show are the least interesting. The heads of the household shouldn't be the least interesting, but Steph's trapped in a story wherein she's working with Brandon's father, which causes Lena to become 'non-verbal.' I expect the series to explore the dynamics of a modern same-sex relationship, which is a story worth exploring; however, the character needs to be dynamic, interesting. If they're not, why should we care? The Brandon's father element is a bit too easy and safe, but ABC Family, while not always in the business of easy shows, likes to play it safe regardless of its promotions about thrilling and shocking twists.

Callie's the heart of the show. If The Fosters follows her the most, if the audience is allowed to watch her metamorphosis from innocent girl to hardened girl and now into someone else, someone new, someone well-adjusted or simply someone actively healing, then I'd be interested in tuning in every week. The other aspects of the show just aren't engaging. I waited for an engaging scene that didn't involve Callie that would happen at episode's end, just like the teacher's engaging question at the end of the class, but that never happened.

Other Thoughts:

-ABC Family has a type. Maia Mitchell resembles Alexandra Chondra. Chondra resembles TVD's Nina Dobrev. Mitchell also resembles Lucy Hale. These young ladies share a look. Maia Mitchell is the stand-out so far.

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK


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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.