ABC Family’s The Fosters, which airs the last episode of its first season this week, is one of the sleeper pleasures of summer, a sweet family drama that goes down easy while unabashedly having some of the most overtly liberal politics of any series on TV (and without a Republican straw man behind which to hide its blue streak).
It’s a straight-up family values show, zealous in its episodic affirmation of the good a stable home can do for children and parents — but one in which the family itself is an affront to social conservatives. Interracial (and yes, sexually active) lesbian couple Lena and Stef (Sherri Saum and Teri Polo) are raising five kids: Stef’s biological son Brandon, a pair of adopted teenage Latina twins, Jesus and Mariana, and two new additions to an already bustling house, foster children Callie and her little brother, the probably gay seventh-grader Jude.
In just eight episodes, The Fosters has been remarkably frank about a number of issues that TV usually avoids, including race and abortion.
The Fosters often grants airtime to characters with different points of view to express their opinions, opinions that are always written respectfully, but the show’s underlying, deep-blue perspective ultimately wins out.
ABC Family has previously aired shows with more conservative undertones, like the more pro-life The Secret Life of the American Teenager, but The Fosters fits on the channel because its real message, week after week, is that when there’s trouble, it’s your parents who will help you the most.
At the climax of most episodes, a teen’s situation dramatically improves when they bring it to one of their mothers, who have fielded everything from pregnancy and sexual assault to wearing nail polish to school. Stef and Lena can’t fix complicated situations entirely — they are moms, not superheroes — but they do, consistently, make these situations much, much better. On The Fosters, parents are to be trusted, which means kids get to be kids.
Willa Paskin, Slate’s TV critic, has written for New York Magazine , The New York Times Magazine and Salon.com.