Last month my partner and I started watch The Fosters on netflix.
It has some problematic elements (like siding with the cops, sappy lingering on teenage romance, and comically flat portrayals of poverty/non-middle-class people) but if you're a sucker for Very Special Episodes then you should definitely watch this show. Every episode is very special. Just like all seven of the principle characters. The Fosters addresses many real life issues that other light hearted family shows are unwilling to associate themselves with.
I was particularly impressed with this show's portrayal of rape and the social aftermath and personal trauma that it causes. I've also been impressed with the way that it portrays the subtlety with which most bullying and exclusion happens. While it is still made more obvious for the show, its presentation is more subtle than I have seen before. It's much closer to the realities of discrimination.
All that said, it's an incredibly schmaltzy show that knows how to stick its tear-jerking claws into your heart strings. The writers are masters at making you think the worst is coming and then softening the dramatic blow so you feel sweet sweet relief (in fact I suspect one of the cliffhangers of the most recent midseason finale will pan out this way). The turn of events can also surprise with very dramatic stuff that seems to come out of nowhere and hit you in the guts.
Just based on the amount of principal characters and the vast array of diverse and subversive topics it covers, The Fosters could have been an awful mess of cute faces and progressive Hallmark moments. Diversity Soup if you will. And I'm not gonna lie, it feels a bit like that in the beginning. But by the 5th episode you are fully in love with every character and you physically twitch when they make the wrong choice for loving reasons. Which is basically what drives the plot of this show.
You watch it for the characters. Because you love them, pretend they are your friends, and want them to be happy. The characters and their motivations all ring pretty true and the actors work exceptionally well together. The way they avoid, sublimate, and misread their stresses and anxieties is painfully realistic. Some of the "drama" of the show is definitely played up in a way that is unrealistic, but that's not really what you watch the show for right?
Also for a show that centers around a lesbian couple and their family, we see a whole lot more of the teens doing sex things than we do the moms. I think that what The Fosters need the most is more sexy lesbian mom sex. This is my biggest critique of the show. Not enough gay sex.
I guess my point here is, if you liked watching Boy Meets world and My So-Called Life and if you get tired of every LGBTQ show out there being "gritty" and "edgy" then this is the show for you. It doesn't turn away from tougher issues but still leaves you feeling good about the world. Enjoy!
PS: I tried to keep spoilers to a minimum in this review but if you want to read more about the show and don't mind spoilers Autostraddle has some amazing posts about it.