Everything distinctive about “The Fosters” — an ABC Family drama eager to promote Jennifer Lopez’s involvement as a producer — appears to have been extracted during the pitch meeting, indicating a show either built by committee or incorporating too many notes. Although the series has its heart in the right place, focusing on a lesbian couple raising teenage foster kids, as well as a birth child from a previous marriage, it’s an utterly by-the-numbers affair. Give the channel credit for trying, and the material feels tonally compatible with its other hours. Still, the premiere does little to merit laying down roots.
Callie (Maia Mitchell) is introduced receiving a beating in juvenile hall, on the eve of her release. The kindly Lena (Sherri Saum) reluctantly agrees to take her in (“It’s just for a few weeks,” she sighs), much to the chagrin and surprise of her partner, Stef (Teri Polo).
The first real clue “The Fosters” is going to be patently silly comes when Stef walks in wearing her police uniform — in this case, a pretty hackneyed excuse to have an adult with a gun and badge around, which can be handy when the going gets tough, as it inevitably does.
Callie is prickly with her new foster family (named, incidentally, the Fosters), calling the moms “dykes” and drawing a distinction between the twins they’ve taken in (Cierra Ramirez, Jake T. Austin) and Stef’s biological son (David Lambert), a talented pianist. Yet Callie isn’t the only one with issues and baggage; hers are just the freshest, and a point of introduction to the family drama.
Created by Bradley Bredeweg and Peter Paige (“Queer as Folk”) and directed by Timothy Busfield, “The Fosters” might ostensibly feel risky — portraying a loving lesbian couple raising a multiethnic brood, on a Disney-owned channel with “family” right there in the title. More proof that family is, after all, what you make of it — and while a laudable message in the face of lingering bigotry, for TV, not an especially ground-breaking one.
Moreover, the concept sounds more provocative than anything evidenced in the execution, and the tone is clearly designed to be compatible with “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” and “Switched at Birth.” Polo and Saum are good actresses, but they appear pretty well hamstrung in their initial scenes together, as Stef and Lena banter about not taking in more stray kids, prompting Stef to quip, “We are not ‘The Brady Bunch.’ ”
Take away a few elements, though, and they sort of are.