When “Life Unexpected” debuted on the CW last spring, I admitted that I liked the show as much for what it represented – the style of shows like “Gilmore Girls” and “Everwood” from CW parent the WB – as for the show itself, which told the story of 16-year-old foster kid Lux (Brittany Robertson) reconnecting with the birth parents (Kristoffer Polaha as Baze, Shiri Appleby as Cate) who had her after a one-night stand in high school.
But as that first season went along, I quickly realized that nostalgia wasn’t enough – that too many parts of the show (particularly the repetitive nature of the stories) frustrated me for the “Gilmore” echoes to compensate. When the show moved to a more competitive timeslot midway through its run, I began skipping some episodes, and didn’t even make an effort to see the finale, in which Baze was too late to stop Cate’s wedding to radio co-host Ryan (Kerr Smith).
When the CW sent me a screener of the season two premiere, which airs tomorrow at 9, I figured I would give the series one last shot, only to realize that “Life Unexpected” had now come to represent a different kind of show altogether, and one I have little patience for.
Season two opens with Cate and Ryan and Lux returning from a family honeymoon to Vegas, and already there’s trouble for everyone. Baze is still hurt by the wedding and mad at himself for not trying sooner. Lux is caught in the middle of that. And Cate and Ryan’s boss at the radio station is not at all happy with their new situation.
“We don’t want a show about boring people,” she tells them, “and marriage is boring.”
So of course there’s quickly conflict on both the work and home fronts for everyone, much of it awkwardly manufactured and phony.
In other words, “Life Unexpected” has become just another drama without an obvious TV “franchise” (cops, doctors, lawyers, etc.) that knows it needs to generate conflict but isn’t quite sure how to do it in anything but loud, annoying fashion.
Whatever radio execs – and their counterparts in TV, for that matter – may think, marriage isn’t boring, but too many TV shows freak out about happy couples and have to start driving in wedges immediately, and that’s dumb. I don’t particularly like Cate (one of the more shrill and self-involved lead characters on any primetime drama), but it might have been nice to see the show go at least a week or two of letting her and Ryan enjoy marriage before throwing silly obstacles in their way. (One of these obstacles is a caricatured new, Dr. Laura-esque co-host who claims to be saving herself for marriage, “Like Jessica Simpson, and Jesus.”)
Too many things happen on this show just because creator Liz Tigelaar was afraid of being boring – too many characters making dumb decisions, or withholding information, or turning up where you might least expect them to – and so it becomes impossible for me to invest in any of the characters and their stories, because I know consistency and a throughline will be sacrificed the minute Tigelaar or her CW bosses think things are getting slow.
I like Polaha. I like Robertson. I like those moments (which feel increasingly rare) that make me feel like it’s 2002 and the WB is still going. Just not enough for the rest of it.
That’s it for me, “Life Unexpected.” It was a pleasure – for a little while, anyway.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org