Tag Archives: ABC Family

Summer 2013 Review: The Fosters

23 Aug

Foster has two meanings

Deep in the bowels of ABC Family Channel, where males and people above the age of 30 don’t venture very often, we may have on our hands, if it goes in the best possible direction, a potential successor to Friday Night Lights.  Not plot-wise, as The Fosters has absolutely nothing to do with football. What I mean, rather, is a successor to the type of emotionally honest, compelling, and heart-wrenching relationships between teenagers, their family, and their friends that Friday Night Lights mastered more than any show in recent times.

The Fosters is about an interracial lesbian couple, Stef and Lena, (shout out for seeing that on TV – pretty awesome) who live with a son from Stef’s previous marriage, Brandon, and two Hispanic twins, Jesus and Mariana, they took it when the twins were around 6 or 7, I’m guessing, based on the timeline given, and whom they eventually fully adopted.  To this already busy home, comes a new teenage girl, Callie, who may be troubled, is coming out of juvenile detention, and needs a place to say.  Lena, who is an assistant principal at the charter school which her kids attend, sees something in Callie’s eyes and can’t resist taking her in just for a few weeks until she finds a more permanent home.  The first scene of the entire series is of this poor girl, Callie, having her ass kicked in in an absolutely brutal fashion, devoid of context, in juvenile detention, by girls jealous that she’s getting out.  Stef, the relative hard-ass of the marraige, is a cop.

Everyone in the family is a little bit thrown by the new girl, and Stef is not thrilled that her wife made such a major decision, inviting a stranger into their home, without discussing it first (Lena called Stef a number of times, but she was busy and din’t answer).  Callie seems troubled; she may have issues after all, and she calls the lesbians dykes right out at the dinner table on her first night, not generally a way to get welcomed into a new home. Fortunately, the family sees it for what it probably is, a teenager trying to antagonize and takes it in stride.  The main episode plotlines from here are two fold.

First, in the A plot, Callie wants to go back to where she was from, for someone named Jude, who she calls, and who sounds like may be a boyfriend.  She gets ready to ditch school after lunch, and the Brandon, who has a musical performance that evening, decides to come with, to watch her back if nothing else.  It turns out she wants to go back to her old foster home to save her brother from a violent foster father.  Callie and Brandon get into some trouble there, and the father seems like a genuinely bad dude in the two minutes we see him, but eventually everyone finds them and they end up okay, and the brother is safe and coming home with the family as well, at least for now.

In the B story, the female twin, Mariana, wants to meet her birth mom.  Mariana early in the episode is seen by the viewer and Callie stealing some of her bother’s pills. While Lena was supposed to be arranging this, interaction between Mariana and her mother, Mariana was talking to her mom on the internet with no intermediary.  Her and her mom arranged to meet and it turns out that the birth mom asked Mariana for money, which she sold some pills to put together.  Her brother finds out and reams her out – their birth mom abandoned them and he can’t understand why she, the smart one, doesn’t see that. When she finally meets her mom, she’s disappointed; instead of someone who seems to really care, her mom seems like someone more interested in the money.  She goes home to be with her real family and takes part in the heartwarming moments that follow.

Now, getting back to the FNL comparisons, here’s more on why The Fosters reminded me. of FNL  The people feel like real people, and the family feels like a real family.  The writing isn’t amazing in the sense of hyper crisp plotting or brilliant lyrical dialogue, but it is in the sense that within just one episode the show assembles an entire set of character which all feel authentic.  Similar to FNL, it looks like there are very few bad guys; there isn’t a major antagonist character – every character who spends at least some time on screen is largely decent, if sometimes deeply flawed, even when it may seem like they’re no good at first blush.  This is exactly the The Fosters was up to with Cassie, who seemed like a bad girl running home to a boyfriend, but instead was out to save her brother from abse.  First impressions are misleading; people are usually not as bad when you give them a chance.

Like in FNL as well, I can imagine a penchant for occasional mildly overdoing it melodrama; emotional moments are everywhere, and the show is going to tug your damn heartstrings a lot.  But what that mostly says is that they have the ability to pull those heartstrings.  What’s remarkable is that I felt really moved during the climax scenes that occur near the pilot’s end, and in a way that didn’t feel cheap or emotionally manipulative like most shows would if they made you actually feel feelings in the first episode.

Quick unrelated note – can we cool it with the in-show hashtags, ABC Family?  When Mariana was stealing pills seven minutes or so into the show, a #MarianasSecret came up in the corner, before I even really remembered Mariana’s name.

Will I watch it again?  It’s still not an instant yes, for circumstantial reasons as much as anything else.  The fall is coming, and that’s busy tv season; I probably should have watched this months ago. But I’ll say yes, because this deserves to be a yes, (I know that’s cheating a little bit – but hell I usually don’t know for certain that I’ll watch any show again except in rare circumstances, this time I’m just being honest).  This is not in the first tier of shows I particularly loved this year like The Americans and Rectify or even Orange is the New Black but it is good. It’s often the type of show that’s not particularly up my alley, so I think the fact that I cared for a good amount may say even more.

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Summer 2012 Review: Bunheads

15 Sep

I’ve always suspected I would like Gilmore Girls if I ever got around to watching it.  By the time I was ever really aware of the show, it was fairly far along into its existence, and it wasn’t quite so easy to acquire full seasons of shows, and it’s never had the must must watch tag of The Wire or Six Feet Under or The Sopranos, and well, I never did get around to seeing more than 15 minutes at a time of the show. Everything I’ve heard about it though suggests it’d be up my alley; most of all the fast talking and pop culture references for which it’s famous.

So having not previewed cable shows as thoroghly as I did network shows, I came into Bunheads, created by Gilmore Girls’ Amy Sherman-Palladino,  knowing, for me, surprisingly little. I knew it was about dancing, and I suspected, because it was on ABC Family, that somehow kids would be involved, and that there was some sort of controversy about all the main characters being white. I was actually surprised twice during the first episode at events that led to the establishment of the premise of the show.  Honestly, before I knew anything, I thought it was some sort of show about muslims, and that bunheads was a derogatory term.

The show starts with a frustrated vegas dancer, complaining about the essence of her day to day life in the chorus of a Las Vegas revue, and frustrated that her career can’t evolve further. She turns down a coworkers offer to get drunk because she has a big audition the next day, for Chicago, where she could get to be a real dancer again (the musical, not the city). She has a frequent admirer/stalker who comes and visits her in the dressing room every time he’s in town(portrayed by Spin City/Ferris Bueller’s Alan Ruck), buys her flowers and gifts and tries to take her out to dinner. She goes out of her way to avoid and turn him down. The audition is a nightmare when the director takes one look at her and does not even let her show off her routine. Being in such a bad mood, she wants to deal with no one, but lets her guard down and lets her admirer take her out for a meal, where she gets trashed and he proposes to her and tells her about his hometown. Several hours later she wakes up in a car and puts things together and realizes she’s now married to this dude and off to his hometown.

Pause here – I thought for sure something bad was going to happen. Maybe I’ve learned to be inclined that way from years of television, but I assumed this guy was super creepy for real and she was going to end up dead in a ditch, or, well, I didn’t really know what bad, but I assumed something bad would happen. Something bad does not at all happen, or at least nothing epically bad like that.

She arrives in his sleepy coastal town of Paradise, California, where it turns out that his description of living right on the water was correct, but that he omitted that he lives with his mother. The mother just happens to be a ballet teacher to a class of kids, but in particular to four teen friends, who hang out and all have different personalities, which I’m sure we’re going to learn more about as the show goes on. From what I can gather, one is super talented but cynical and unmotivated, one is really into it but doesn’t have the body type to be a great dancer and is insecure about that, one keeps talking about how her boobs are getting bigger, and then there’s a fourth who I think is maybe a follower of the first. Anyway, it turns out the guy is actually a super duper nice guy if actually a little creepy, and, yes, he realizes she doesn’t love him, but that’s okay, because he loves her and she might reciprocate some day. She is touched, they have sex, and then she gets into a fight with his mom at a party she’s throwing for the newly married couple. She wanders into the dance studio where the teens are drinking some beer and teaches them about auditions and shows them some dance moves. The mom walks in, sees how good she is with the girls, and the two of them go to the bar and talk. They have some heart to heart moments about lost promise and potential and dance, when all of a sudden her husband’s ex walks in with some terrible news.

Okay, so they don’t actually say straight out what it is but I happen to know (second episode spoiler?), the guy died in an auto accident all of a sudden, which since I knew nothing about the show I found quite surprising. So, without knowing the premise, that’s two pretty crazy turns – that our main character gets married to a stalker after a drunken night in Vegas and that the guy then died like literally the next night in an auto wreck. I like Sherman-Palladino’s (boy that name is a mouthful) style.  The dialogue was snappy and well executed for the most part.  It veered a little dangerously Glee-y when everyone started to break out in dance at the bar after our main character and her new mother-in-law had their heart to heart, but aside from that seen the potential schmatz was low.  It’s unfortunate that dance is definitely pretty low on things-I’m-interested-in but a great show transcends its subject.  This wasn’t a great show from its first episode, but it was actually pretty good.

Will I watch it again?  It’s at least maybe. This was definitely better than shows I’ve said maybe to in the past.  I’m going to be swamped with new shows over the next month, but as for candidates that I swing back around towards like I did Boss this summer, depending on how many good shows pop up in the fall, I wouldn’t rule it out.  Honestly though, what will most likely happen is that I’ll forget all about it entirely until unless the next season starts because it’s on ABC Family, and who remembers that ABC Family has shows.