Saturday, July 6, 2013

In Appreciation of ABC Family's Family Dramas

I keep thinking about what Jenny said in comments the other week--about how ABC Family doesn't get enough credit for trying new stuff with its programming like FX or AMC does you know for being edgy. Specifically, Jenny said, "I just mean that creative violence/crime isn't the only way for a TV show to be trying new things." Of course this resonated with me and I think she's right. I guess ABC Family gets dismissed more easily or it's easier to overlook the programming because it's geared towards young people, specifically young women and there's a persistent cultural bias against programming for young people and women. FX and AMC's programming (a lot of which I really love) tends to be grittier and this grittiness is associated with being more real...but there's a reality on ABC Family's family dramas that shouldn't be overlooked. Truth doesn't only show up on adult cable dramas and there is so much heart to ABC Family's family dramas. There's also a conscious effort to represent a diverse range of people and that's something I really appreciate. I feel like ABC Family's dramas are split up into two major areas right now...teen mysteries and family dramas and the family dramas are far superior, in my opinion!

I've been enjoying both Switched at Birth and The Fosters so much lately that I thought I'd share with you some of the specific reasons why in order to help make Jenny's case that ABC Family is trying new things with their programming.

Switched at Birth has an undeniably catchy premise...two girls were switched at birth and discover this fact as teenagers. What results is two families trying to figure out how make sense of this new situation and help the girls know their biological families as well as still feel secure in the families they grew up in. The show doesn't end things there, though, they use this switch to explore the differences in the families...the Kennishes wealthy intact family in comparison with the Vasquez's lower income broken family. Daphne is deaf which leads to a host of complicated feelings about how that happened. Bay is rebellious and doesn't feel like she fits into the family she grew up in and she also learns she's a POC which will lead to rejection from extended family members. Concepts about what makes a family family...Switched at Birth explores all these things.

Additionally, as I mentioned before, Daphne is deaf and the show wholeheartedly embraces an exploration of the deaf and hard of hearing community. I know it's the show's goal to include as many stories as possible...which is great! I've learned a lot. And the characters feelings about being deaf and identity, etc. evolve and change throughout the show. They are never static which I also think is great. I don't know I just really appreciate the effort the show makes even if it's not perfect. They've had an entire episode done in ASL before and every episode includes scenes in ASL between two deaf characters.

Also...I've been thinking lately about how much I love the differences between Kathryn and Regina. They are both great moms who clearly love their daughters very much, but they are also both very different. There's always some tension between them about their decisions in raising their children. I like this because even though most people won't encounter this unique co-parenting situation, there is always a present conflict with women with regards to raising their children. It seems to be so easy for women to pass judgement on each other for their different styles and behaviors with their children, but the truth is that there are multiple right ways to be as a woman and a mother. And I think Switched at Birth shows that and shows also how some things are easier for each woman but other things are more difficult based on their positions in society, etc. Anyway, I never feel like I'm being told one mother is better than the other, but rather that these are two women who love their children and are trying to make the best lives for them that they can.

Which leads me to a final thing I love about this show. I like stories about relationships...relationships that are complicated but deeply felt. The characters on Switched at Birth are all flawed and make reckless and selfish choices at times. And those choices have consequences that continue. I love Daphne and Regina's relationship for this reason, because it's such a great depiction of loving someone but also having to deal with a whole big pile of hurt in loving them, about having to forgive once and then keep forgiving.

The melding of two worlds, though, is a theme on the show and has most recently been shown in Toby's relationship with Nikki. Nikki is a woman of faith with very specific values that influence how she interacts with the person she's dating. The two plan to marry at this point and are facing their own issues with compromise and figuring out if loving each other and being together is going to be worth the sacrifices each will have to make. Personally, I enjoy the story because it feels very real and it's an excellent wake up call leading up to marriage, especially at such a young age.

It's not a perfect show and has had it's share of missteps, but right now it's on a winning streak as it focuses more on the dynamics of the family.

Which leads me to The Fosters. The ABC Family promos annoyed me a bit with their emphasis on "how do you define family" but they aren't's very much what the show is about. The main family on the show is perhaps non-traditional--two mothers, adopted children, and some foster children, but it still feels very much like a family drama about the usual things that occur in a family. The show oozes warmth and good-heartedness and as it tackles its own share of issues that aren't often addressed on TV, it firmly stakes its claim that family is where you feel accepted for being who you are.

And the show doesn't skirt around the issue that having two moms can be different from having a mother and father...when Lena (faaaave btw) and Stef throw a quinceanera for their adopted daughter Mariana, she feels some embarrassment over not having a male family member to do a traditional dance with. The show deals with it nicely, I think, allowing Mariana the space to feel that way as well the chance to change her mind.

Basically ever since the third episode, it's made me teary on a weekly basis with its grappling of difficult life realities. But I think this past week's episode might have been my favorite. Up until this week, I found Jude, one of the foster boys, falling into annoying child on TV syndrome. But this week the show pushed forward his story a bit...he's a boy that likes to put on dresses and wear nail polish. And when some other boys made fun of him for that, Lena gave him a nice feel good talk. But it was the conversation he later had with his biological sister that I loved. She warned him about getting too attached to the family, they wouldn't be there forever, "you're going to get hurt." she said. "I already hurt," he replied. I looove this. Because that is what family and friends boil down to for me. Getting hurt, loss, etc. those things are going to happen no matter what, we all get hurt and that hurt never really goes away. All we can do is keep trying. If we close ourselves off to love and affection, sure we might be saving ourselves from some future perceived hurt, but the truth of that matter is we are all already hurt and broken inside. Love is about a risk of hurt and a decision that the thing gained outweighs that pain.

And I also liked the conflict between Stef and Lena and giving Lexie the morning after pill, how they thought they did everything right, but it STILL happened, Lena's indignation over Stef going ahead and doing it and saving her from having to make the choice, etc. All A+. The show has touched on colorism, custody issues, etc. all in the first five eps!

But the moment that really moved me was the slam poetry contest and so I was delighted to discover that was a real poem and a real story! Here's the poem from Noah St. John so you can watch it yourself. (it's a tear jerker, tho)

Again, the show isn't perfect. The one reservation I have is the budding relationship between Callie (foster daughter) and Brandon (biological son of Stef). I totally think this could and does happen in real life, but the show seems to want viewers to root for them to get together despite the jeopardy it places Callie and Jude in. They wrote Brandon's first girlfriend in very narrow terms...she was selfish, insecure, and mean...the show didn't offer a lot of room to understand where she was coming from or why Brandon fell for her in the first place. But despite this flaw, I feel like The Fosters is depicting a different kind of family and in so doing helping us all realize the ways in which we are the same.

So yeah...Jenny is right. ABC Family's shows are trying new things and they are good satisfying experiences for the most part! These two shows are the ones I'm enjoying this most summer so far.


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