Freeform is sending “The Fosters” off in style — the series is wrapping its run with a three-night “special event,” centered on Brandon’s (David Lambert) destination wedding. But those three hours, which start airing on June 4, will also serve to launch the upcoming spinoff.
“These three had to kind of have a standalone feel to them,” executive producer and showrunner Joanna Johnson tells Variety. “That’s why the event of a wedding really helped — to give us a real beginning, middle, and an end — rather than just three meandering or serialized episodes. We felt strongly that these three had to have something that structured them as a piece.”
The season 5 finale, which aired back in March, jumped forward in time to show all of the Adams-Fosters kids graduating from high school. But Johnson says she came up with the idea before she learned that the series wasn’t coming back for a sixth season.
“We would do them either in college or post-college because I think parenting adult children, I’ve heard, is sometimes even more challenging than younger children because bigger people, bigger problems,” she says. “And that would give us freedom to tell adult stories,” she says.
Johnson says the network initially wasn’t supportive of that idea, but when they decided the show would not continue on, they changed their minds — with one additional request for “The Fosters” team: “[They] wanted the audience to know, ‘Hey, there’s more story coming, we’re not done,'” Johnson says. So Brandon announced his engagement — kicking off the upcoming series wrapper.
While Johnson says “there were financial reasons” behind “The Fosters” ending this year (the network declined to comment), she notes that it was Freeform who pushed to “have the show go out with something special” before launching the spinoff.
“After watching this family grow and evolve over the last five seasons, we ultimately decided it was time to see the kids grow up and send them out into adulthood to face new challenges,” Karey Burke, Freeform executive vice president of programming and development, tells Variety. “We knew that by following Mariana and Callie to Los Angeles we could continue to build on ‘The Fosters’s’ legacy, all while focusing on that pivotal moment in a young adult’s life when they’re trying to find their place in the world.”
The final three episodes of “The Fosters” start as the family prepares to travel to Turks & Caicos for Brandon’s wedding. And while Johnson admits her writers’ room was a little nervous because they “didn’t want to do ‘The Brady Bunch’ goes to Hawaii,” they found a way to make it feel like the show they had been doing for five years. “The show starts at home and comes back home at the end of the three-night event,” Johnson reveals.
And just because the characters are older does not mean they have things all figured out. Callie (Maia Mitchell) has mixed feelings about seeing her foster brother and ex-boyfriend ready to settle down, for example.
“When your first love is getting married, it brings a lot of feelings back,” Johnson says. “And the question is, ‘Is there any reason they’re not living together? Is there any reason they were meant to be but they couldn’t find their way back together?’ I don’t know that they should, but I think it’s a question that a lot of our fans are curious about.”
But the Callie-Brandon relationship won’t drive the final three hours. “Every character has a conundrum or is at a crossroads,” Johnson says. For some it is the question of old relationships, but for others it is a wider ranging question of “What am I going to do with my life?”
And although only Mitchell and Cierra Ramirez, who plays Mariana, are signed on to the spinoff, the other characters may not get their answers by the end of the three-night event.
“The vibe we wanted to cultivate onscreen as well as offscreen was that we’re not saying goodbye to this family — they’re still out there and they’re still thriving. We’re going to check in with them and so it’s not over,” Johnson says.
While not serving to directly set up the spinoff, the three-night event will set up the new dynamics now that the kids are grown, out of the house, and starting lives of their own.
“We think the consequences of their actions at this age are more grave than when you’re younger, so we do feel it opens [our storytelling] up,” Johnson says. “Even with basic stuff — you can go to a bar and do the things that grownups do and it’s not an issue of ‘Oh we don’t want to promote drinking at that age.'”
What is of the utmost importance to Johnson and her team, though, is bringing the sensibility of the show the audience has known for so many years into its final episodes and beyond.
“The main thing we want to bring…is that sense of heart and the sense of what is your community, what is your family [especially] when you build your own in your work community or outside of your own living family?” Johnson says. “And I think the other thing is, we are of course interested in social awareness and social activism. And we think that is a very millennial thing. This Gen Z generation is more socially conscious and out there more, being provocative and wanting to change things. And I think that’s so amazing, and that’s part of what the show has always been about.”