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Friday, 16 of April of 2021

Life Unexpected – “Teacher Schooled” and “Affair Remembered”

“Remember tonight … for it is the beginning of always.”

Lux gives the class speech at her high school graduation in 2012.

Spoiler: the show does NOT end in hail of bullets after double-crossing a South American drug lord. However: Lux does kill Dumbledore.

A film degree at my alma mater requires a minor and, instead of doing the responsible thing and getting a Computer Science minor to tag onto my established expertise, I went in a more interesting route and took every Italian class my school had to offer. My interest in Italian stems from my hero worship of the man credited with codifying the language: Dante Alighieri. I’ve read just about his entire catalog, including some in the original Italian, and have been reading his work since I was fifteen.

The quote Eric Daniels writes on the board doesn’t ring a bell.

If you know where it comes from, I’m willing to learn but I couldn’t find “ricorda” (the command form of “to remember”) and “notte” or “sera” (“night” or “evening”) anywhere near each other in La Commedia, Vita Nova, or Rime. I even looked in the complete poetry of Guido Cavalcanti, Dante’s best friend.

Where I did find a reference (besides the numerous quote sites on the internet citing Dante as the source of the quote but not from where it was derived) is to One Tree Hill. Lucas apparently has a conversation with Brooke about a note in which Lucas included the passage, claiming it was from Dante, an author they read “last semester.” Using One Tree Hill as a kick-off point for the end of the series is fitting, even if the elder series lives on while this one makes its exit.

Life Unexpected was supposed to be the Everwood/Gilmore Girls series that everyone was missing, a show that could fill the void of family drama the WB used to program for so well. And its first season (particularly the end) showed some promise. But second season went off the rails a little bit and started to, frankly, look more like One Tree Hill. Pretty people who can’t seem to ever pull it together because of the soap opera melodrama happening all around them. It’s probably good that LUX wasn’t allowed to limp into another season. Between LUX Shovel and Creepy Eric Daniels, the show was well on its way to a weather machine plotline delayed because Baze’s megalomaniacal father watched his own heart transplant spill across the floor of a hospital. That clip never gets old.

Episodes 12 and 13 are the culmination of this change in direction though I might argue that parts of it are more compelling than One Tree Hill was ever able to manage. The biggest issue this series had to overcome in the beginning of this series is how well-adjusted Lux was. I’m sure a major selling point of the series was the mature kid and the crazy, train-wrecks acting as her guardians but it wasn’t believable (to me anyway) that a kid bouncing around foster care, confronting the mother that abandoned her for her entire life, and adjusting to stability/civility (if with the occasional emotional disturbance in a flair-up between Cate and Baze) could be as calm and rational as she often was. Season 2 saw her spiral out of control rather quickly as all her rocks were yanked away from her. “Teacher Educated” features the final meltdown in what has been a year of jackassery for Lux. Her life finally blows up completely, sending her into a trail of lies and poisonous verbal assaults on the people that love her. The camera is often steadi-cam or handheld for many of her scenes of collapse, Cate and Baze’s invasion of Tash’s apartment to her confrontation with Cate resulting in the “if you don’t talk to me, talk to someone” speech. Lux became a desperate girl and it totally worked.

Another thing that worked was Baze finding out about Creepy Eric Daniels. Finally, someone said the things that I (we, as reviewers) have been saying about their relationship since it began: it’s weird, Eric is gross, it’s not about love. It makes me question whether or not the writers actually intended for their relationship to actually be valid or to be taken as I took it: wrong. Pretty Little Liars has a similar situation (complete with meeting the underaged girl in a bar before realizing he’s her teacher) and, as far as I can tell, they really want to sell Aria and Ezra as a real couple, the ethics just standing in the way of their true love. Obviously (if you’re a reader of my reviews), I’ve never felt that way about Lux and Eric. But maybe that’s because Eric spent a lot of his time whispering, peeking around corners, and communicating with Cate and Baze without showing a modicum of shame. And, to be fair, I don’t feel that way about Aria and Ezra either but I don’t feel like Ezra is as lecherous as Eric has always seemed to be. The Christmas present was the last straw for me. After being told to leave town and to never speak to Lux again, he has the balls, the rock hard cajones, to ask her violated parents to give her a gift on his behalf. I hope he drowns in the Metrodome.

Baze throughout is actually pretty good despite him being so very, very squishy about Emma in the second half of this season. I liked him taking a stand and being his own man finally, not only to his father but to Emma, too. While Baze’s character has problems, he might be the one you can look at and see actual, honest growth. Where every other character continually makes the same realizations every other week (how many times has Cate told Lux that she’s not “stuck” with her?), Baze has progressed from man-child to man-child who wants to be growns up. Arguably, he’s in the same place he was when the series started, right down to taking his bar back. He’s adjusted better this time around.

All right, did we get all the good out of the way? Let’s get to the fun stuff.

I have a feeling the staff at Life Unexpected ran into the same problems many writing staffs do when they learn of their cancellation (and are given at least some notice): a limited amount of time before prepping starts for the last episode of the series to wrap the whole thing up. You can tell because “Affair Remembered” feels like a planned 13 episodes compressed into one. In almost subsequence scenes, with very little emotional pause, Cate learns that she not only has a miscarriage but can also never bring a child to full-term again. Ever. Apparently, the mysterious disease struck after Lux was born (that’s not my supposition; that’s in the script) and, the discovery of this sudden-onset barrenness might cause problems for the Cate and Ryan dynamic since they stayed together for the potential kids. Is this Life Unexpected or Passions? There aren’t any possessed ventriloquist dolls around so I suppose it’s the former but sometimes it’s hard to figured.

The conveniently-timed birthday party for Pops brings opportunities for confrontation not only with Pops but also with Emma. As I said before, these kind of go okay but it’s obvious the whole situation is sped up a million miles an hour in order to wrap it all up. Not as bad as Pushing Daisies but definitely rushed. They make sure to introduce Jones again (remember him?) and that he likes Lux (despite his dating the very striking and less jackass-y Tash). Cate also sees Ryan’s ex-girlfriend (the one they kind of invented at the beginning of Season 2) at the OB-GYN and notices that she’s preggers. Most of the fires have been put out, things are all tied up, everyone is one big happy (except for the Julia thing). And we fade out.

That’s when we get a Steven Spielberg A.I. moment.

Instead of letting the family settle there at the bottom of the sea, aliens take over. And when I say aliens, I mean ghosts of television endings past. We fast-forward to Spring 2012 where Lux stands on stage at her graduation, giving the valedictory speech. In the audience: Julia (with her chubby kid), Ryan, Cate, Baze, pregnant Alice, Pops Baze, Ma Baze, Math, Jamie, and the social worker. We’re obviously right in the middle of a pretty manipulative scene, one that, if you’re a real fan of the show, you might not notice the weirdness of the situation. Happily, I’m not a fan of the show.

First, we have to recognize that Gilmore Girls ended their show in a similar manner. Obviously other shows have also included graduation speeches for endings but none to my recollection match those of Rory Gilmore, who gave one to close season 3 and to close the series (when she graduated from Yale). Despite those scenes being so very manipulative, it was so honest that it was very difficult not to well up. The writing team at Life Unexpected decided to use its CW sister to do the same thing. A problem: Rory is believable to be the valedictorian. Lux was failing out of school her sophomore year at an institution that’s, apparently, very hard to get into (therefore, probably very competitive). How did she bounce back from that to make it to the top of her class?

What’s more frustrating is the speech itself. A line: “We all learned what a light year is. And these years together have been our light years.” Apparently, we didn’t learn what a light year since “light year” isn’t a measure of time. She also infuses a little bit of Lost by talking about her constants (those rocks in her life that keep her steady in a chaotic mind). She individually describes the people in the audience by the effect they’ve had on her (including Jones and Tash, also graduating). Heartfelt. But I was still reeling from the light years thing.

Then she swings the tassel and graduates everyone with a hat toss. She gets off the stage and we get our sum-up of happy endings: Ryan ends up with Julia, mother of his child. Math ends up with Alice, presumably the mother of his child (nice score, Math). Lux ends up with Jones, presumably to start their own master race. And Cate and Baze, who Lux now calls “mom and dad,” end up together, too. It was like all the characters on Lux were on Oprah and found happy endings under their seats. Or, as Carrie Raisler put it on Twitter: “And you get a happy ending! And you! And you! (But not YOU TASH. NEVER YOU.)” And she’s right. Tash totally gets the shaft in this episode. But she’ll always have Lux Shovel.

So that’s it for LUX. Despite the fact that the CW has been touting this burn-off as just the “season finale,” Liz Tigelaar has her overall at ABC and, unless they’re in the market for rebooting LUX like they tried to reboot Scrubs, I’m fairly certain the show is over. It’s a fitting end to the season (much of it a train wreck) but also, at a macro-level, a fitting end to the series. It ended in the saccharine way that defined the opening episodes of Season 1 and, if anything else, adding a lot to these actors’ reels for the future. Will I miss it? Not really. I have Parenthood for the feel-good family drama and Pretty Little Liars for the campy teenage drama featuring girls probably too young for me to be ogling.

I’ve addressed in previous reviews that this was a show that might have never really had a chance in this market, especially on the CW. Its tone doesn’t belong anymore, at least not without established charisma like Peter Krause or Lauren Graham around to sell it. Even Greg Berlanti, Tigelaar’s mentor and the man who wrote the book on WB-style dramas, has moved on to family drama with a twist (No Ordinary Family). So goodbye, LUX. Send your cast/crew diaspora into the world (Ksenia Solo in Black Swan, Kristoffer Poloha with a deal at CBS) and bow into the night. Better luck next time, Tigelaar.

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