Although it has some of the new-colt wobbliness common to newborn series, “The Fosters,” which premieres Monday on ABC Family, gets on its legs pretty quickly.
Created by the alliterative team of Bradley Bredeweg and Peter Paige, whose main previous writing credit is the short-lived CW reality series “Fly Girls” — a peek back into the archives reminds me that I did not like it much at all — and with Jennifer Lopez as a celebrity executive producer, it is a blended-family series that leaves no stone unblended. The kids are biological, adopted and fostered, white and Latino; the parents are black and white, and lesbians: Stef (Teri Polo), who’s a cop, and Lena (Sherri Saum), a vice principal at the paradisiacal high school their children attend. (So they have discipline and negotiation covered.)
Such multicolored, multi-cultured thoroughness would seem to be making a point — that we all can get along in this rainbow world. Yet the real point is that it’s beside the point. The show allows some minor reaction to the two moms thing but confines it to a raised eyebrow and a single impertinent question, quickly parried.
It is not the first television show to refuse to make a big deal over same-sex coupling or parenting, but it makes a smaller deal of it than any I can think of, moving quickly on to folding the laundry, homework, dinner and Guess What Happened to Me Today at Work.
As the series opens, the family is about to get bigger, with the supposedly temporary (OK, sure) addition of Callie (Maia Mitchell), whose fight-or-flight response brutal experience has dialed up more or less permanently to high. Cut and bruised and fresh out of what is still apparently called “juvie,” she is put into the care of the Fosters (which is not yet to say foster care), because she has trouble with “male authority figures.”
Meanwhile, across town and a world away, Stef’s biological child Brandon (David Lambert) is playing rippling arpeggios upon a piano, object: scholarship. And adopted twins Jesus (Jake T. Austin) and Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) are dealing/not dealing with the possibility of meeting their birth mother.
The series is closer in spirit to “The Secret Life of an American Teenager” — whose final episode will air the same night “The Fosters” bows, as in a relay race — than to the network’s 800-pound gorilla-in-a-sports-car, “Pretty Little Liars.” Sometimes smart and sometimes not, the kids regard themselves as independent, but this is not one of those shows where the kids are both terribly sophisticated and better than their parents. They do keep secrets, as they should, but they share them as well. As they also should.
The pilot launches a few intense story lines but gets mileage too from normal drama: trying to act casual around the new person in the house, the new person in the house trying to act casual. There is a lovely small moment when Callie pours herself a cup of coffee, to the stares of a household in which high school students do not drink coffee.
It’s not perfect. Some of what happens seems unlikely, though the acting takes no notice of it, while Timothy Busfield’s direction highlights the quiet present even in tense or emotional moments. (I did go all to pieces when Stef told Callie, simply, “You’re not disposable ... you’re not worthless.” Because I am actually 17 years old.) In the current fashion, there is an over-reliance on pop songs to add emotional weight, and though it is true that the emotional life of teenager is ladled out in MP3s, it’s lazy, and I would like you to turn it off now.
But these are quibbles. The future looks bright.
Where: ABC Family
When: 9 and 10 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14-DLV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and violence)