May be spoilerish. You’ve been warned.
I’ve been hearing many good things about this show from my friend Dana at Mombian. The story focuses on a lesbian couple that happens to be biracial, Stef and Lena, who are raising a blended family. Their children include Stef’s biological son from her first marriage, Brandon, as well as “the twins” – Jesus and Marianna, jointly adopted by Stef and Lena at a young age. Brandon is now 17 and the twins just turn 15 in this first season. Rounding out the blended family is Brandon’s biological father, Mike Foster, Stef’s ex-husband and current partner – they are both police officers.
Into the mix and propelling the story are Callie and Jude, siblings cast into the foster system by the death of their mother and the incarceration of their father (or so we are told at this point.) Callie is 16 and jaded, but fiercely protective of her little brother. Jude is 13 and slight for his age. He is also a little behind academically from being moved so often in the system, but has a sweet personality.
As you may recall, I worked for a foster care agency for several years and I also actively recruited LGBTQ families so this show resonates with me very well. All of the things that have happened to Callie and Jude as well as Jesus and Marianna as foster children are realistic and in fact, probably toned down a bit. So for once the “emotional crisis” of the week is actually pretty true to life and somewhat accurately shows how much these kids need loving, stable homes.
Stef and Lena are a great couple. They are loving, they quarrel, they are still getting to know one another even after ten years of being together – they don’t have it all figured out, but they know that they can figure it out and that is what lends stability to their lives. I love that the writers have explored how homophobia impacts their day-to-day lives in subtle ways, especially a conversation Lena had with Jude comparing holding hands with Stef to Jude’s desire to wear nail polish. It was a lovely scene.
Extended family plays a role, too. Mike Foster has an uneasy relationship, but he’s trying to be there for his son and to be a good friend. His struggle as a functional alcoholic is played just realistically enough. Lena’s parents are a biracial couple and she has some “mama’ issues of her own because her mother thinks Lena’s passing privilege as a lightskinned woman of color has immuned her to the experience of real black women (her words.) Stef’s mother is Annie Potts so that’s delightful, but her father is struggling deeply to accept Stef’s identity.
What I do like about the dynamics is when Lena’s mother (Lorraine Touissant) swept in, embraced all of the children and had presents on hand for Callie and Jude, telling them “all kids in this house call me Gram” which I thought was terrific. I’m curious if the show will further explore her views on racial identity as Jesus and Mariana are young people of color.
The other grandparents didn’t interact with the kids on-screen yet, but there’s no hint of “yours, mine and ours” about it. Mike lends a listening ear to Jesus and dances with Mariana. He also walks into a drug house to save Jesus. His interaction with them is pretty much adult male family friend who happens to be the father of their brother – sort of a quasi-uncle without really delving too heavily into the “kids need a male figure” vibe. That might be coming.
I have only watched 10 episodes of the show thus far (all that Netflix has loaded.) I highly recommend it if you like family stories.
Is it authentic? I’d say pretty much in the sense that the writers characterize a lot of real things that happen to same sex families, to foster kids and foster parents and to blended families, as well as touching on lots of other nuances that play into everything – their racial identities, their languages, their histories of abuse, their religious beliefs and more. Of course, everyone is really pretty on the show and impossibly dressed in the finest clothes. Everyone is trim or slender and seems to have some money, but it is Hollywood after all.
This show can’t be all things, but I do hope it will explore the much more nuanced issues involved in child welfare than your mom dies or your mom is a drug addict. Children in care have complicated relationships with all of their family – birth family, various foster families and adoptive families. There is conflict, but there can be reconciliation, too. The path that Stef, Lena, Brandon and Mike are traveling is not *just* for divorced families with a step-parent.
The only complaint I have is the teen love story between Callie and Brandon. They need it to push the plot, but it just seems too forced to me. Callie and Brandon are far too young to realize that she needs a stable family life far more than she needs a boyfriend. Watching Callie and Brandon develop a genuine platonic friendship and learning to trust would have been more interesting. But we’ll see what happens in the rest of the season. I *suspect* Callie thinks Brandon saved her when in reality Stef and Lena helped her save herself. One serious issue in foster care or child welfare in general is that the children and youth are oversexualized – that is exposed to sexuality, not necessarily that they are sexually abused. It might be that they witnessed people having sex or saw adult content on tv that other children might not have been exposed to and this can create a lot of challenges both in terms of their own sexual choices and their general social interactions. Callie has acknowledged she was raped in a previous foster home – she needs to be in counseling, not kissing her foster brother. To be fair, he’s a kid too and so I think the system and Lena & Stef dropped the ball here for not having a proactive conversation given how vulnerable both Callie and Brandon are.
OK, I have another complaint – the only characterization of a bio parent so far (Ana – mother of Jesus and Mariana) has been terrible. She’s an addict, living with a reprobate who tried to shoot Stef, cons her kids into giving her money, etc. Yes, this happens. But I hope the show evens out that characterization at some point or at least tells Ana’s backstory a bit more. It has been pretty sympathetic in terms of portraying alcohol abuse, the story of an undocumented family and a kid exploring his sexual orientation and gender identity. It has also been pretty brutal showing how the system fails kids everyday. I hope we see some better storytelling on this angle.
If you watch this show, at least 3 people reference not having a toothbrush. I can personally attest that even in “good” circumstances, kids move around with black trash bags. So having a personal care closet at the GLCC matters – more than a few foster kids pop in to our youth programs. Your modest donation to Cathy’s Closet will make that resource available soon …
I give this show many thumbs up. This is a scene I really liked when Lena is talking with Jude about feeling different.
“There’s nothing wrong with you for wanting to wear nail polish, just like there’s nothing wrong with me wanting to hold Stef’s hand. What’s wrong is the people who makes us feel unsafe.”