vulture lists

5 Reasons Why Adults Should Watch The Fosters

Stef and Lena forever. Photo: Eric McCandless/Freeform

The world can be a dark and scary place. Sometimes, the only remedy is an earnest television show about family and love and hope and also SO MUCH DRAMA. You may think you know that show, but if you’re not watching Freeform’s The Fosters, you know nothing.

Currently in its fourth season (and already renewed for season five!), The Fosters is easy to overlook. It’s on a network with a meaningless name. Its title is groan-inducing: a series about a foster family that’s called The Fosters? Really? At first glance, it looks like a TV show about teenagers, for teenagers. But if you’re a fan of quality family-ensemble dramas, shows that discuss relevant social issues in new and surprising ways, and/or falling in love with flawed, authentic characters and you haven’t yet found the joy of The Fosters, well, you’re missing out. Still not convinced? Here are five reasons why The Fosters is the family drama you should be watching.

1. It’s a Traditional Show That Feels Very Modern

When NBC’s hit drama This Is Us arrived and turned the country into a teary-eyed mess, it was quickly heralded as the successor to Parenthood, another earnest show about a large family that could make you laugh and weep in the span of minutes. Although This Is Us is great and does certainly call for that comparison, those of us who already met the Adams Fosters of San Diego had to groan a little. The show that fills the Parenthood-shaped hole in all of our hearts has been around for four seasons. The Fosters checks all the boxes of a traditional family drama: It’s a multigenerational show, it has complete control of your emotions, and there are lots and lots of elaborate house parties. But it flips the tradition on its head a bit, in order to be more reflective of today’s society. Those loving, frustrated parents? They’re a biracial lesbian couple (portrayed by Teri Polo and Sherri Saum, oozing chemistry in every scene). Those scrappy youngsters getting into trouble? They’re a mix of biological and adopted children, each with their own particular brand of baggage. And as we’ll discuss in a minute, the creators and writers aren’t afraid of less-than-traditional story lines.

Is it saccharine and melodramatic? Oh, yes. Yes. A thousand times yes. But what fan of family dramas doesn’t enjoy that, if even a little bit? If the genre has taught us anything, it’s that we should always be honest with ourselves. And also that every family has a child pursuing a music career. Hey! The Fosters has that too!

2. If You Miss Eric and Tami Taylor, You’ll Love Stef and Lena Adams Foster

Stef (Polo) and Lena (Saum) are the matriarchs of the Adams Foster clan and the obvious heart of The Fosters. On Friday Night Lights, the appeal of Eric and Tami Taylor was their authenticity as a couple. Like those FNL parents, Stef and Lena give great pep talks, have excellent hair, and aren’t around to simply reprimand children making bad choices. They are integral to the show and could also easily be inducted into the TV Marriages That Feel Like Real Marriages Hall of Fame. Stef and Lena disagree and they can be unreasonably stubborn, but they always, always have each other’s back in a crisis. Their relationship is the epitome of a partnership. If it’s the “teenage-ness” of The Fosters scares you off, give the Adams Foster ladies a try. Watching them weather whichever drama storm hits their family next is a real treat. Not to mention, they are hot as hell together.

3. It Doesn’t Shy Away From Controversial Issues

The premise of The Fosters alone should tell you that this show isn’t afraid to tackle some important, not always well-represented subject matter. It doesn’t end there: The show covers a staggering number of controversial issues. Some of these issues are handled in a regrettable way (can we please forget that a pair of foster siblings were “in love” and had sex?), but most are presented in a lovely, thought-provoking manner. Racism within biracial families, late-term abortions, the problems with the sex-offender’s list, a gay person confronting their own homophobia — the list goes on and on.

From depicting a trans teen attempting to survive in the foster-care system, to a frank conversation about nipple tattoos after a mastectomy, The Fosters is all about giving a voice to topics that other shows shy away from. The best part? It adeptly shapes each of these issues to specific story lines, so it doesn’t feel like you’re watching a Very Special Episode. Okay, sometimes they do feel a little Special, but we can forgive it because gosh darnit, those Adams Fosters are so easy to love.

4. You May Actually Learn Something!

Let’s be real: I’m not typically watching a family drama to learn something new. I’m watching to get the warm and fuzzies and then sob into my sofa. What if I told you The Fosters allows both of those things? Because guess what — it does. Sometimes I even feel like a better citizen of the world for having watched. They dive into subject matter in such interesting ways, even if you’ve heard of the topic, you’re sure to leave thinking about it in a new way. And I’m not just talking about the “taboo” subjects mentioned above. The sheer amount of detail you get about the foster system and adoption services in America is remarkable. I know that sentence sounds boring, but watching it play out in an emotional and engrossing story is not. I promise!

5. The Teens Act Like Real Teens

Don’t get me wrong, I was raised on teen dramas. I fell in love with Pacey Witter, I cried tears of joy when Seth and Summer finally got married, and I bought numerous headbands in an attempt to be more like Blair Waldorf. So I get being into shows about TV teens who do not act or look or speak like normal teens. That’s the whole fun of it. However, it’s also nice to watch a show about a family in which the teenagers deal with challenges that your average teenager would face. It’s good for us old-heads watching as much as it is for the youths. Sure, The Fosters deals with some big issues that some teens will never have to face — ahem, most of the Callie (Maia Mitchell) story lines — but for the most part, the Adams Foster teens are incredibly relatable. Even Brandon (David Lambert), who makes poor decisions at every single turn, feels like a real teenager because he is so infuriating. The Fosters proves that you don’t always need heightened melodrama or a thesaurus of a vocabulary to make teen stories compelling. I mean, being a teen is hard enough, people. Let them live their truths!

Thanks to the great care put into these honest portrayals, The Fosters makes its more traditional story lines feel just as important as the hot-button issues. Yes, watching Callie take on foster-care privatization is interesting and important, but so is watching Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) take on the patriarchy within her school robotics club. Or watching Mariana deal with those mean dance-team girls. Or Mariana … okay, you get the idea. Bless Mariana Adams Foster, holding it down for realistic teens across television.

Honorable mention: That Theme Song

If you’ve been in need of some great opening credits, look no further than The Fosters. There’s a moving, applicable song (shout-out to Kari Kimmel’s “Where You Belong”), pancakes, and hand-holding. It is a masterpiece.

Season four of The Fosters airs on Freeform, Tuesdays at 8 p.m., and previous seasons are available on Netflix.