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Friday, 16 of April of 2021

One Tree Hill – “Nobody Taught Us to Quit” & Life Unexpected – “Music Faced”

“Just the sight of a man and a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck and I start ovulating.”

Haley and Cate look on to Mia's performance from the wings.

“Oh, good. You look just as uncomfortable on my show as I do.”

Ladies and gentlemen, this was WB/CW meta-porn.

Obviously from my many mentions of Gilmore Girls and fewer (but important) mentions of Dawson’s Creek and Felicity, I was a fan of the late-90s/early-00s music-with-lyrics-fueled, fast-talking, youth-exploitive, hour-long dramas of the WB. In fact, what appealed me to start watching Life Unexpected in the first place was the constant comparisons to those dramas, particularly Gilmore Girls and Everwood. Sadly, when I arrived at the pilot, I realized that the only thing it shared with those shows is a mother who had a child at 16 and a bunch of adults that didn’t want to grow up. Maybe some fast-talking, definitely a singer-songwriter crooning lyrics over dialogue, but Life Unexpected hasn’t really lived up to the series to which it was compared.

You notice that I never mentioned One Tree Hill as one of those series I adored as a high school senior through early college. Because that show bugged the crap out of me. I liked seeing Tristan from Gilmore Girls (aka Chad Michael Murray) but he’s always had trouble picking roles that suited his abilities. One Tree Hill almost fit him if it wasn’t hampered by elementary dialogue, ridiculous overacting, and characters based almost exclusively on archetypes or stereotypes (like Lucas’s best friend, Skills).

Cringeworthy this show was. Maybe is. I haven’t watched more than an episode a season since. So, imagine my confusion (although I’d heard about it from various places) when I learned the show was flung forward in the future where Nathan and Haley have a writer’s soapbox of a child (you know, the kind that are wise beyond their years and announce the inner-workings of the characters around them) and I didn’t recognize anyone else (except Mouth who looks exactly the same). I don’t want to speak to how the series is telling its story but this particular episode seemed to dispense with typical structure. “Nobody Taught Us to Quit” felt more like walking into a soap opera with stories that are constantly ongoing, so much so that they have no need for intra-episode arcs. Instead, each scene is written like the conventional coda of a WB-series (cue the singer-songwriter, discuss interpersonal issues in overly-articulate platitudes, swell the emotion). It made the episode so. Long. And there really wasn’t much here for the crossover.

So all that WB torch-passing stuff was left to Life Unexpected.

The crossover actually only involves two of the characters: Haley and Mia. Mia’s presence is incalculably minor as she’s just around to give Haley a reason to be in Portland. Obviously, as is the case with most crossovers, the premise for the shows to overlap is a bit hackneyed but Haley (a former singer now producer) booking Mia (her client who’s ultimately famous for telling Nick Lachey to stay out of it) a festival in Portland (hosted by Ryan of course) is at least plausible. I mean, it’s not like Haley created a rocket pack and flew to Portland to do the Urkel dance or anything.

What makes this episode interesting (to me anyway) is the torch-passing. One Tree Hill is the last surviving show of its era, a vestige to the pre-CW past, on the WB-side of the family. Though it’s nearly unrecognizable from its early days (even the last remaining shot of the original opening, a be-hoodied Lucas bouncing a basketball on a bridge, looks out of place next to its decidedly more pop-sounding theme song for the opening of this week’s episode), the current show is the evolution of that original series (and, I think, has seen more seasons than all of them — not counting Smallville) and has lived to see the newer incarnation of the old WB sentiment. While tending to be more saccharine than Dawson’s Creek (but still on this side of edgy compared to 7th Heaven), Life Unexpected has grown to embody the same traits that identified those older shows. The dialogue is fast-paced, the storylines walk a fine line between controversial and accessible, and it stars impossibly good-looking people. Shiri Appleby (alien-romancer Liz from Roswell) and Kerr Smith (Joey-stealer Jack from the Creek) as part of the cast just seals its pedigree.

So we have old meets new, a show in its twilight greeting a show in its dawn, the new show helped along by veterans of the style. Of course, there are terrible interludes where the “rock stars” from One Tree Hill sing a song that backs up events taking place in the episode, but that only reinforces the genre, if you could call it that (just about every show on the WB is culpable to this as Warner Bros. tried to expand its music market share through its television arm — synergy!).

As rife with potential that this situation might be, the episode, for the most part, limits the “crossover” aspect to a conversation between Haley and Cate, similar characters who were knocked up in high school by jocks named Nathan. From there, the paths of the women diverge as Haley went on to marry and create a family with her athletically successful baby-daddy and Cate surrendered Lux for adoption in the face of option 2: raising her daughter with a slacker that couldn’t admit to liking her. Haley is like looking into Cate’s alternate future had Cate not been an anxiety-ridden, self-destructive nutjob. Also: just as she is on One Tree Hill to all her soap-opera-esque ridiculous chums, Haley is the calm, rational, insightful center to the crapstorm that is Cate Cassidy.

Lux crosses the field to meet Eric.

Sluxxxy indeed.

In further comparisons between the shows, as Life Unexpected is still pretty early on this voyage toward possible syndication, it isn’t yet able to lean on series arcs to create pockets of drama and make a show out of it. Instead, they have to actually have a storyline in acts. They’re still trying to sell us on this whole “Lux and the Teacher” thing. You see, I would avoid as much contact as possible with the 16-year old I didn’t know I was kissing but Eric seems to invite the danger into his life. And Lux doesn’t make it any better by inviting him on a date to a concert. But he already has a date: Paige. You know, the Ghost of Lux’s Future? Validating my belief that Paige is just a sexually-legal Lux surrogate (making her encounter with Baze all the more creepy), Eric takes her to the festival and denies the child (thankfully) by telling her to give Jones a chance. Jones, who looks like Eric in as a 16-year old. Is this weird incestuous dynamic intentional or are we looking into the casting directors’ psyche? Lux would’ve gone back to Jones, except he’s too busy trying to make Lux jealous by making out with Tash.

Lux’s running off after she and Tash have a fight is the inciting incident to Cate’s blowout with her mother, a blown gasket filled with pressure by Ryan shoving her in the direction of being a baby-factory (and him finding out that she’s still on birth control). With Baze reconciling with his father, I suppose someone needs to have parent issues.

Baze, meanwhile, is having “the Night” with his boss (the Ghost of Lux’s Future Future) who admits to once having an affair with an unavailable man as she commiserates with him about trying to get over Cate. $10 says that person is Pops Bazile. Although I kind of hope something happens to boost Baze’s confidence. I miss the old Baze, the one that was kind of a slacker and spoke in a real, witty, casual fashion instead of speaking in only platitudes and soft-spoken positive-thinking proverbs. I understand that “fatherhood” has softened him but his character evolution has been annoying to me. I miss Baze the Douchebag. See what happens when Jamie leaves? He turns into Math.

All is well by the end. Baze is on the brink of making a huge mistake in order to get over Cate (bumping uglies with the boss never ends well), Cate and Ryan come to an understanding about the baby thing, and Lux — well, lots of stuff is going on with Lux, included the plotline that was Don-Drapered over from last week where a former foster mother makes Lux cry tears and rip up notes. Maybe we’ll get more on that in the non-crossover episode.

Don’t worry. I’ll go back to cracking on the show next week.

Quick hits:

  • Dear Mia, eat a donut.
  • How funny was it when Emma called Baze out by describing Cate and then calling the type “like that girl from Roswell?” A bit of meta-humor for us. I’m not sure Life Unexpected has ever been this intelligent (I’m fully aware of how not intelligent this is).
  • I like that Tash coined Lux’s alter ego as “Slux.” Paige’s makeover did nothing for her. It removed her best features (curls, quasi-natural look) and replaced it with elements from the first half-hour of Pretty Woman. She did look Slux-y. Or Sluxxxy.
  • Laverne (Cate’s mom) is the Zeek (Parenthood) of Life Unexpected: brash and full of one-liners (the quote at the top is hers).
  • I say kudos to Jones for getting somewhere with Tash. Lux is full of jackassery and it’s time Jones, who has been nothing but sweet and honest, gets some play from a cute girl (because the girl at the party a few weeks ago was not.
  • Some quick thoughts about the bands that played. All of them are popular in the WB format. Mia, obviously, has some Hannah Montana-like fame from One Tree Hill, Ben Lee has been featured on One Tree Hill and Grey’s Anatomy (a show that could have easily slid into the WB line-up though it looks more slick with ABC money), Rain Perry (responsible for the Life Unexpected theme). I was really missing Gavin DeGraw here (the original singer for the One Tree Hill opening) but was intrigued by Sarah McLachlan gracing the stage. Although her songs have been featured many times over the course of WB history (to mind comes “Full of Grace” in Buffy and they use “I Will Remember You” in this episode) but she might be a Lilith-Fair-fellow stand-in for Paula Cole, who I could imagine might choke a person if she has to sing that accursed song one more time.

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