Monday, July 29, 2013

'The Fosters' Review - 1.09 Vigil

        On the newest episode of ABC Family's The Fosters, Stef and Mike's encounter at Ana's house lands someone in the hospital; tensions rise as the family waits anxiously for news; Callie has a heart-to-heart with Brandon to help him understand the perspective of a foster child; and Wyatt calls Callie on her growing bond with Brandon but she is all too familiar with the damage that kind of relationship could bring.

        Last week's ended with gun shots ringing out. (And when are gunshots never not tense, shocking and cliffhanger-y?) Tonight promised that one of the main characters would be fighting for his or her life. And the drama did not disappoint as the hour was unequivocally the series' best to date. I was very tepid in my initial review of the series and it has grown slightly better as it has run its course - although I still have certain issues with it overall. Those issues are still present here but the episode simply came together more precisely than the eight hours preceding it. I never thought that Stef would die because Teri Polo is a leading character on the show. But I did feel the weight and worry distributed amongst the rest of the characters. Their reactions and confusion amongst each other was a delight as they tried to make sense of what just happened and if they could ever forgive Mariana and Jesus. It also forced many of them to confront each other on the many pressing plots that have been percolating throughout the season. The show and the characters came together in this time of uncertainty and became so much better because of that.
        One of the more concerning issues that is keeping me from enjoying this series more than I am is the high amounts of social commentary it has stacked into its first season. To date, the show has tackled the foster system, gay marriage, safe sex, divorce, alcoholism, religion, sexual assault, foreclosure and undocumented immigrants. Don't get me wrong, I love when a show tackles pressing social issues. The Fosters however just has a way of piling all of these issues on top of each other all at once. So it's not really doing an excellent job on really saying something about any of them. The show does a decent job using the foster system to round out several characters as that was the primary basis for the show in the first place. That alone is a great building block for core dynamics. And yet, the show found it necessary to use other issues to help color in some other stories - but to much lesser success. For instance, I liked Mike's drinking with the context it gives to his relationship with Brandon. But, I have never gotten a real understanding of what drinking means to Mike the character. And then, there was the show's attempts at talking about safe sex practices and undocumented people in the country. Both of those topics were only brought to give an individual episode some dramatic beats for that episode. Did it really make sense that Jesus and Lexi wouldn't use protection given that we knew Lena and Stef had that talk with him? Not really. But hey, it made for one dramatic episode, right? Additionally, why did Lexi's parents have to be illegals? To make that story make more narrative sense? No, not really. It was a detail that was there. It didn't add anything compelling to the proceedings and just made me dislike Lexi and that whole story - which up to that point was more bland and unnecessary than anything else.
        Additionally, the only romantic relationship I actually care for is Lena and Stef's. I do not care about Jesus and Lexi. The show has given me no reason to. I do not care about Callie and Wyatt. Though I'm slightly turning around on that based on his little speech in this hour. Callie wake up! That's a good man. I don't care about Brandon and Talya and I especially despise Brandon and Callie as romantic coupling. Brandon is a decent character but he is far more compelling when dealing with his dad than he is in his pining for Callie. Similarly Callie is so much better as the outsider looking in with this dark past that has resurfaced. The show made a huge point that that relationship is taboo and yet it also wants us to be rooting for them. It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Each of these characters are better defined by their individual actions and that's what makes them interesting. And yet, the show constantly feels the need to also have them romantically tied to someone at all times - because its an ABC Family, don't you know.
        But while all that sounds pretty negative, I do really like this show. It has a very cool WB-vibe to it and that's a genre not happening a whole lot right now. The only other shows I can think of like it tone-wise are lead-in Switched at Birth, Parenthood, Hart of Dixie and the late great Bunheads. Plus, its core dynamics work well and it has my favorite depiction of parenting in quite awhile. The parents and children are comfortable with each other and are open to talking about most anything. It's refreshing to see these kids actually go to their parents to talk about the important stuff. It's vastly different than what ABC Family offers elsewhere on its schedule - like Pretty Little Liars and Twisted where the teen characters roam about and keep a multitude of secrets and horrendously lie to their parents and they in turn do nothing to learn more. That's stupid and not an honest depiction. Parents have a pull in their children's lives and that dynamic needs to be predicted more accurately. But these kids aren't perfect. They do keep secrets and do stupid things. Okay, Mariana and Jesus do A LOT of stupid things. But whenever they are in trouble, they feel comfortable with going to Lena and Stef. They may be angry and furious with them but at the end of the day they still love their kids and will try to understand why they did what they did. I struggled to find a reason why Mariana would go after Ana the way she did from the very beginning and it continued to baffle me every step of the way. And yet, when Lena talks to her about it, her understanding of the situation was much more rewarding than how Mariana tried to portray it. It's not a great story but at least the reasoning makes more sense than it did.

Some more thoughts:
  • Jude is by far my favorite character on the show and yet it always seems like the show is getting rid of him and dumbly explaining his absence. A week or two ago, there was a dinner scene and everyone was there except Jude and the show had no explanation for him not being there. But he is a great character in his simplicity. All I need is little doses of him per episode. Him reaching out to Lena's hand was a great moment.
  • So, Mike unnecessarily shot Ana's boyfriend. That's a detail that likely won't go unresolved for much longer as it definitely is weighing on Stef's conscience.
  • And next week is the show's summer finale. I fully expect ABC Family to order more episodes of the series but I'm wondering why they only ordered 10 episodes in the first place when fellow newbie Twisted got 12?
  • The flashbacks weren't really needed in the grand scheme of the episode. They didn't inform us of anything we didn't already know about the characters. But hey, Stef used to have different hair and that's exciting, right?