“The Fosters” has been tackling controversial storylines since its first episode — from the complicated nature of the foster system to lesbian parents and transgender teens.
On Monday (March 2) the show does it again when Jude (Hayden Byerly) finally confronts Connor (Gavin MacIntosh) about their feelings for each other. The show has taken careful measures not to put a specific label on Jude’s sexuality, though there have been indicators that he might have romantic feelings for other boys since the pilot. His friendship with Connor has now developed to a point where Jude will have to confront Connor, and his feelings, for the sake of his personal happiness.
Jude’s story is in keeping with the series’ consistent attempts to broaden the TV landscape by featuring people that aren’t normally shown on TV. It further pushes the envelope by addressing those storylines when the characters are teenagers.
“The writers have always kind of asked me how I felt if they went one way or the other. I was always fine with the direction Jude to be, whether they wanted him to be straight or gay,” Byerly says to Zap2it. “I was always very understanding of that, and they were always very open to hearing how I felt at the time. Even the writers and producers for a very long time were figuring [Jude’s sexuality] out.”
Gay characters on television aren’t a new concept in the slightest. The groundbreaking thing about Jude and Connor’s storyline is how young the characters are. Jude and Connor are 13 on the show, while Byerly and MacIntosh are similar ages in real life. Tackling such sensitive material at a young age also requires a director who understands the gravity of what the show is trying to do.
“I approached it as sensitively as I could. In terms of the practical things, I made the set very closed and quiet. I talked to the guys about the significance of what they were doing,” says Rob Morrow, who directed Monday’s episode. “As far as I know, nothing like this has been done on TV, certainly not network TV. I wanted them to be aware of the social impact of that so it transcended their own fear.”
When dealing with characters so young discovering these feelings for the first time “The Fosters” has done a great job of depicting the ambiguity of the situation — allowing Jude and Connor to define themselves rather than forcing them into pre-determined “gay” or “straight” roles.
The storyline allows for the boys to discover they’re bisexual or pansexual (sexual attraction to people of any gender identity) — or to choose not to put a name on it at all. It focuses on their feelings rather than their identity. Morrow — who’s helming his first “Fosters” episode after directing several episodes of his former series “Numb3rs” and other shows — also came from that perspective in framing Jude and Connor’s big scene.
“I wanted it to be tender and sweet and a little dangerous. I wanted it to be a little scary, not because of the gay [factor], but because when you’re exploring those feelings as a young kid,” Morrow says. “It’s a little scary in a titillating way. I wanted it to have a light touch and a tender heart.”
Understanding those feelings and accepting them is the main thing Byerly wants teens his age to get out of watching the show as well.
“I want them to be comfortable with how they feel. That’s the number one thing. You have to be comfortable and love yourself,” Byerly explains. “No matter what, you should be happy with yourself. If those around you don’t always agree with how you feel, you [should] know inside that all that matters is how you feel.”