Life Unexpected
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Life Unexpected

John Lennon once mused in the lyrics of one of his songs that ‘Life is what happens while you’re busy planning other things’. This can be held as axiomatic and observed by most people first hand. In the television series, ‘Life Unexpected’ the story line demonstrates the way life twists without warning. In the past most of the shows depicting family life typically depicted families that might be unorthodox or even wacky but always manage to work things out. Then in more recent years the concept of alternative family composition and dysfunctional families has gained a foothold in the network lineups. When two networks, UPN and WB, known for presenting first run syndicated series merged the resulting network, CW, found itself in need of s family drama. The series that was offered to the public was ‘Life Unexpected’. It was not a contender for brilliant but cancelled it demonstrated sufficient promise during the course of its two season run to make the ‘Cancelled before its time’ list. The show had several factors working in its favor but it was not able to capture a significantly sizable fan base to secure the necessary ratings. The series had a youthful inclination where even the parents seem barely out of high school and the primary focus is a sixteen year old girl whose entire life was turned upside down. Unfortunately with stories like the one at the center of this show it takes time to develop the characters to the point where the audience can form an emotional attachment to them and tune in because they care about what happens. There is a touch of prime time soap opera here but by taking the high road, departing from the purely salacious plot devices so common place in shows geared towards teens the audience was required to think too much, at least more than they are accustomed to. The show attempted to examine the nature of family and the importance inherent in self discovery. While these topics have been well covered in the past this series had the potential to impart a novel spin on the subject that could have made for an engrossing experience. At least both seasons have been released in a ‘complete series ‘DVD’ so the effort is not entirely in vain.

Prior to cresting this series Liz Tigelaar garnered considerable experience in the ‘touchy-feely’ family offerings. She was behind another series that met with cancellation before having as chance to find its footing, ‘What About Brian’ and both wrote and produced episodes of the still successful ‘Brothers & Sisters’. Based on the 26 episodes that comprise this set it is apparent that Tiglaar has developed an excellent ability for crafting an interesting story. Unfortunately, her efforts here are much like an expert weaver pulled away from her loom before the picture could fully take shape. Shortly after her birth Lux (Britt Robertson) was put up for adoption. Because of a congenital heart problem she was never adopted and spent the next sixteen years bouncing around the foster care system. At that point she wants to file for emancipation but that requires she obtain the written consent of both biological parents. Setting out to discover her roots, Lux finds her father is former high school jock and current bar owner, ‘Baze’ Bazile (Kristoffer Polaha). He is the embodiment of the Peter Pan syndrome living with a couple of slacker roommates in a fashion that is stuck in frat house avoidance of adult responsibilities. He begins to bond with his new found daughter and introduces her to her mother, Cate Cassidy (Shiri Appleby). She currently works as a local drive time radio personality. Cate was just one of many one night stands, just another notch on Baze’s bedpost. As it turns out Lux has been listening to Cate long before knowing she was her mother and instantly feels a connection with her. Cate is extremely upset. She always thought that her daughter would be adopted by a loving family enjoying a good life instead of becoming an unwanted foster child. With the legal papers signed they go before a judge who denies the request for emancipation unexpectedly giving Baze and Cate joint custody with instructions for Lux to reside with the more stable home of Cate. This comes as a shock to Cate’s on air partner and fiancé, Ryan Thomas (Kerr Smith). As Lux tries to adjust to the new situation new friendships threaten to impose on best friend Tasha (Ksenia Solo), Lux's boyfriend Bug (Rafi Gavron), and Tasha's boyfriend Gavin (Rhys Williams). There is also a rocky patch for Cate and Ryan due to his resentment of Baze entering into their lives. In a couple of pages lifted directly from the soap opera playbook Bug is a bit of a bad boy constantly in trouble with the law and Baze begins sleeping with Cate’s sister, Abby (Alex Breckenridge). Making matters worse Baze also bedded Ryan’s younger sister Paige (Arielle Kebbel) after a drunken night.

Relationships in this series are by nature of the circumstances, in a state of constant flux. Even after Cate marries Ryan he still hangs on to his resentment of Baze harboring a touch of jealousy over his freewheeling life style. That is more than counter balanced by Baze having slept with three of the women in his life, Cate, Paige and Abby. Baze wants to connect with his daughter and his character arc is primarily concerned with his efforts to establish a more mature persona. Cate is forced to change when she realizes the true repercussions of a decision made sixteen years ago unfolding in as way far from what she expected. Guilt over this seems to motivate her more than maternal feeling. It is odd to see Appleby as the mother of a teenager. It seems only a short while ago she was a conflicted teen dealing with aliens in ‘Roswell’. Robertson was developing quite a range as an actor here handling what amounted to a fairly complex role as Lux. Her character finds herself in the situation of having to assume the adult part of the family dynamic but this young actress projects this without losing the innate charm and inner strength of her character. The judge was correct that although Lux us strong enough to assume emancipation it is best for her on an emotional level to come to grips with the circumstances of her biological family. The series was heading in an interesting direction but we’ll never known what it could have achieved.

Posted 03/20/11

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