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Friday, 23 of April of 2021

Tag » Life Unexpected

Life Unexpected – “Ocean Uncharted”

“What makes you think you can ever be normal?”

Said the man calling himself Bug.

My reviewing of this show fell off near the end of Season 1 out of a combination of interest in other shows and disinterest in what happened to this one. But, after watching all the episodes I missed today (five of them) and then the season premiere, I can honestly say the show improved at the end of last season. It’s not great but it found its place and, finally, I can see what others can see in this show. I’m just not sure the season premiere helped it at all.

For those of you who fell off the show like I did, let me help you get up to speed. What forced the show to improve was a dismantling of what established the beginning of the show. The formula was a plot set-up around Lux being a teenager while Cate and Baze flailed around like children, inevitably learning some lesson Lux probably should have learned. The series took the sit-com trope of the kids teaching the parents about themselves to another level where the child actively and knowingly imparted knowledge to her sophomoric wards. Lux does this at the tender age of 16 after a lifetime of foster care and, as she briefly mentions, some pretty hefty emotional trauma. Not unrealistic that she would have some sage knowledge after a hard-knock life but you had to wonder, “How could a judge so blindly attribute this small wonder to these insane overaged children?”

As the season wore on, Cate and Baze started to settle better into parental roles (making the ridiculous antics from earlier on look like growing pains in hindsight) and, after the Well-Adjusted Foster Child Trust crumbled into a far-flung group of “just teenagers,” the show revealed Lux to be just as messed up as she probably should be. She’s a bright girl and extra resilient but she also has a lot of baggage and a host of mommy and abandonment issues. The last three episodes of the season really explored these characters (especially Cate and Lux) in a way that made you care about them. Baze’s development was also around but was far more hackneyed. Although, what else do you need to know other than he’s a man-child trying not to be a man-child but constantly put in his place as being, you know, a man-child.

So we finally had some development which led to strong emotional connections which led to stronger stories. The almost-The-Graduate scene at the end of Season 1, where Baze has just as much of an idea of what to do after he breaks up the wedding as Dustin Hoffman did, demonstrated an impressive amount of strength for this show by making Baze bust in late but giving Cate the opportunity to decide between the two men — and choosing Ryan right there. It’s still stuck in that late-90s WB genre (if that can even be a genre) and still leans on old standards to invent cabin scenarios (where characters are all stuck together in a closed-off area and are, therefore, forced to air their grievances or confess their inner desires) but it’s building.

So Season 2 started. And I’m not sure I very much liked how they’re moving things around.

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Life Unexpected – “Bride Unbridled”

“I’m being secretly undermined by Captain Jerksauce.”

Ryan fumes as he finds out his fellow contestants are Baze and Math.

One of these men is not like the others. One of these men just doesn’t belong.

Poor, poor Life Unexpected. Touted as the new family dramedy of the season and then so quickly dethroned by Parenthood. Granted, Parenthood has plenty of time to ruin itself since it’s only two episodes deep. But something tells me Lauren Graham and Peter Krause are going to be just fine.

Meanwhile, Life Unexpected is on the CW bubble despite some good traction in its Monday premieres and Wednesday encores. I suspect, however, its niche will not be in the family way that other show is running with. It’s going to find its own schtick.

Not to say this show hasn’t found a formula. The last few episodes have been formatted in one of two ways: (a) Baze gets upset about something and ends up nearly ruining some radio-show event Cate and Ryan host or (b) Baze tries to fix a situation but ends up lazily seeing it through only for it to end in disaster. This episode has both!

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Life Unexpected – “Crisis Unaverted”

“I gotta stand up, beat my chest, and wreck his banana party.”

Baze and Ryan give each other the evil eye while Lux rushes to Cate for help.

It’s a bed-head showdown!

Of all the episodes so far this season, this one felt the most like a late-90s, early-00s WB show. The stakes are unfair and immature, the lyrics of the background music intermingle at the same volume with dialogue. Lux even looks like the younger incarnation of Amy Abbot from Everwood this week. Same “I’m always on the brink of tears” face and everything.

And we see a lot of her this episode. Even though Cate and Ryan are off doing their morning show (which I assume is a Monday-Friday gig), Lux is chilling at home, mourning the loss of Bug. Apparently, a loser boyfriend skipping town is on the list of excusable absences from the school we never see this whole episode. But Cate indulges by providing Rocky Road ice cream when she gets home from work and they talk about how Cate will always be there for her. Aww. She’ll regret making that promise later.

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Life Unexpected – “Turtle Undefeated” and “Truth Unrevealed”

“You never touch a cop.”

Tash trying to tell Cate not to touch the officer.

Unfortunately, this is the voice of reason on this show being ignored.

Now they’re just getting lazy with the titles. Slant rhyme? Come on.

In my earlier reviews of this show, I fretted over them burning through so much material in the first three episodes, worrying that they would hit a wall and thin out their story with cheap melodrama tricks and, eventually, one of them was going to have to be bitten by a radioactive spider. I thought this thing was heading for One Tree Hill territory any week now. But, once Lux offered Baze’s place up for a party to her school chums in “Turtle Undefeated,” a light bulb came on. This show is never going to run out of material; it has 50+ years of stuff to work with.

You see, the underlying story for each episode, beyond the character arcs and interaction, is just a manipulation of common sit-com tropes. With the wisened daughter coming into the realm of immature adults (and thus becoming slightly stupider by association), all this show has to do is break out the elements of the typical sit-com themes and apply them to different parties within the cast.

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Life Unexpected – “Bong Intercepted”

Who knew the bong lamp would play such a large role in this series?

So we have the last three episodes out of the way and they introduced us into this world of well-adjusted kids in the foster care system, slackers who get by, and a “mess” with the best of maternal intentions. All the pieces of the storyworld are in place and, yes, they’ve bypassed several opportunities for drama in what I can only determine to be hope for bigger and better things. More or less, this is a world in stasis.

So let’s mix it up.

This is an episode about infiltration, probably a brief taste of this as a theme to, at least, the first season of this series. Each of these characters have the proverbial wall constructed around them and it is Lux’s mess that’s able to break them down, even her own firm constructions. Here, the walls aren’t so much trashed as they are just trespassed. Cate’s not-quite-honed maternal instinct leads to Lux’s friends invading and dispelling her lie. Ryan’s innocuous remarks reveal an already festering inferiority complex in Baze from which he (quietly) lashes out. And, of course, in an effort to get back at Cate, Lux, intentionally and in dramatic fashion, single-handedly puts Cate’s and Ryan’s careers in jeopardy.

Finally! Erratic behavior!

But, just when you think these walls are being torn down, slowly moving the whole group toward becoming a sobbing, angry mess, the episodes as saccharine as the first three. The things all tie together. Late-’90s, early-’00s WB-style montages wrap it all up in a fine bow. They’re all trying hard! They will all succeed! There are no stakes!

We did get to see some flashes of the banter I keep reading about. But watching this show get its legs is like watching a calf wobble to its feet (hooves?) after being born. Slow, shaky, and, despite the fact that there is a lot of opportunity for danger, doom, and the horse’s demise, you’re still watching a baby stand up. Am I a bad person hoping for the doom?


Initial Reaction: Life Unexpected – “Rent Uncollected”

Wow, these titles really are going to rhyme, aren’t they.

I don’t know if I’m just suffering from a Chuck hangover, but this episode did, in fact, step up a little more than the other ones have. Maybe because they focused on one problem throughout the episode rather than stretch the empathy over a hundred mini-moments with zero stakes. Tonight it felt more cohesive, more true to its theme. It seems like it has direction. Sort of.

I think my big problem that is that it wraps up in a pretty bow at the end of this episode. There is certainly going to be a lingering dysfunctional hangover as everyone (grandparents, parents, Lux, her friends) all try to create one big happy but it seems like everyone’s natural walls of mistrust, anguish, disappointment, self-preservation, etc, etc, all melt away with a couple bats of Lux’s baby blues. It all seems too easy. They struggle a little through the episode but they tackle years of family drama in 45 minutes. Seems a little speedy.

But maybe that’s the aim of the show. The writer creates his or her ideal world and, in this world, problems of intolerance are easily solved, everyone wants to be open-minded but needs to be shown the way, and even gang violence can be a minor footnote in a saccharine world where birth parents get a second chance to raise the mature, tempered product of the foster care system. She’s like a blonde Annie, minus the dog but supplemented by tattooed boyfriend named Bug. Not that Annie’s dog and Bug are the same. Though, right now, their roles carry about equal weight in their individual productions.

Maybe that’s the nature of the show, that the world can be a better place and the hardships we try to surmount can be conquered organically with a little bit of compassion and a lot of understanding. This isn’t SVU or Southland; it doesn’t strive for nor does it have to pass a test of absolute realism. But it’s walking a fine line.


Initial Reaction: Life Unexpected – “Home Inspected”

Although I can always appreciate rhyming series and episode titles, there’s just something about this show that doesn’t sit right with me and I can’t put my finger on it.

Maybe it’s them shoving the story down our throats? We’re two episodes in and already there have been more poignant moments than Dawson and Joey had in their entire verbose first season. With so many moments, the build-up just doesn’t seem to be there for the me to care about the stakes. But that could just be because they’re trying to establish the story so they can move on to other things.

So maybe it’s that they’re missing so many opportunities for drama? They’re running through major season developments like single-ply tissues, quickly resolving them within minutes. The whole “let’s win over the social worker” could have been dragged out for a bit. Ryan not being able to handle Cate’s quick “take in a child” turnaround probably should be threaded through a few episodes but, besides that one scene where he explicitly said he was having trouble trying to deal with it, he really hasn’t shown he has much of a problem with his plans being put on hold and his life, more or less, turned upside down. Baze’s friends, giant opportunities for reflector-ing (reflection seems like the wrong word) and/or comedic reprieve, are such background characters they might as well be extras. But we’ll call that studio influence. The first few episodes are meticulously constructed for dramatic moments. Maybe poorly and ruinous of early potential but the intention is there to hook people on this show, not necessarily to slow-burn a plot.

Oh, I got it! I totally know what it is! Kerr Smith hasn’t really had an opportunity for smart-assery. He has the initial scene with Cate on the radio and then, after that, nothing but kind of a sap. Come on, guys. A bird has to sing. Let the man deliver some lines that aren’t necessarily heart-felt or sweet-boyfriend-like.

There. Totally put a finger on it. I knew I’d figure it out.


Initial Reaction: Life Unexpected – “Pilot”

So there I am, watching the 16-year old lead of the show blow out candles on her birthday cake, surrounded by well-intentioned well-wishers, but let’s face it, they’re all complete strangers she’s known for two days. With one candle left, one of the strangest of the strangers makes sure to note, “You have to blow them all out or your wish won’t come true.” She looks around at the biological parents flanking her, the biological parents that until the day before yesterday were completely absent from her life, two otherwise childless adults that have taken to her with exceptional speed. She looks them up and down and I see the grin start to curl onto her heretofore snarky lips.

“No,” I say. “No, don’t say it. Don’t say it.” She looks back at the stranger, smiles brightly and says it. “It already has.”

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

This is the show compared to Everwood, Juno, and Gilmore Girls for its unconventional familial situations and witty writing. I had a lot of trouble finding it. Not to say there aren’t glimmers of hope but — okay, there was one part that Lux (that’s the girl) stops morning show DJ Kate (the mom that put her up for adoption) when she’s pouring her heart out to her about how she wants to make up for not being there and Lux tells her, “You were there. On the radio.” Even my girlfriend, who once got teary-eyed during a holiday Publix ad, gagged right there.

While some of the banter is witty and some of the character situations have potential for depth and poignant drama, they need to purge the saccharine. Watch when the aforementioned shows hit their stride (see Everwood and Gilmore Girls late-Season 1 and Season 2) and skip the overdone stuff from all of them (see Gilmore Girls, Season 3). I have it on good authority that this series is going to get good. It needs to. Because lines like “he really puts the ‘ew’ in Stewie” and “it’s not a girl scout … it’s a girl” are not going to cut it.