On a clear, sunny Portland morning, a 15 year old girl named Lux knocks on the front door of a downtown bar. The owner, a scruffy, bleary eyed thirtysomething nicknamed Baze, opens the door and lets her in. Moments later she changes his life: she’s the daughter he never knew he had and after a lifetime in foster homes, she wants to be emancipated and live on her own. He quickly signs her legal documents and gives her the name of her mom: Cate, the local radio celebrity heard on the airwaves each weekday morning. Baze offers Lux a ride and drives her to the radio station so proper introductions can be made.
The opening minutes of Life Unexpected certainly deliver some fine dramatic moments to build on over the course of a TV season; lots of potential. I believe it was that potential that so many critics saw, lavishing praise on creator Liz Tigelar’s series when it premiered back in the winter of 2009. Like so many, I had such high hopes for this show (especially considering Tigelar’s resume) that I was disappointed with certain part of the pilot, in particular the decision to have Cate (in love and engaged to her radio co-host, Ryan) jump into bed with Baze, even though they have not spoken to each other since the fateful night back in high school when they had sex and Cate got pregnant. It felt like a betrayal of her character and it felt very, very forced. Did that needless sex scene ruin the show for me? Almost. But Life Unexpected got better; it got much better, as this DVD set proves.
Lux’s request for emancipation is turned down by a judge and Cate and Baze are given temporary joint custody. These three strangers, plus Ryan, have to figure out how to become a family virtually overnight. With this decision comes many mistakes, plenty of bitterness and a busload of guilt. Fortunately, Life Unexpected’s writers manage to keep even the darkest moments a little light. It also helps that the main characters are played by superb actors: Britt Robertson (Lux), Shiri Appleby (Cate), Kristoffer Polaha (Baze) and Kerr Smith (Ryan). These four give truthful, poignant performances that can both light up the screen and bring you to tears. By the show’s tenth episode, the pivotal “Family Therapized,” Life Unexpected finds its true voice and more importantly, its true identity.
Season two suffers from many of the trappings that you see in sophomore seasons: Bigger stories! More drama! Scandals and heartbreak! Actually, the entire run of episodes from both seasons have a familiar ring to them: Lux’s first boyfriend is a delinquent (he has a spider web tattoo on his neck, no less) with a heart of gold; Baze has a secret fling with Cate’s younger sister; Baze has a fling with Ryan’s flighty younger sister; Baze has an affair with his older, boss. Lux has her own affair, hers with one of the high school English teachers. On paper these plots are groan inducing, but in execution, both in the writing, the tender performances by the four leads and their excellent supporting cast, Life Unexpected rises above the clichés that feel like they’ve been handed down from the executives of the CW who don’t quite understand that smaller, character driven stories are just as compelling as soapy driven big plot dramas. Alas, smaller stories don’t equal huge ratings, just ask the producers of Friday Night Lights.
However, even with the excellent production and the big stories,it looks like Life Unexpected will not be back in the fall. While the title of this DVD doesn’t come right out and say, “the complete series,” the season two finale certainly feels like a series finale, especially with the epilogue that takes up the last ten minutes of the show. If that’s the case, and all that we have to remember Baze, Cate and especially the unique and wonderful character of Lux is this 6 DVD collection, then fans of the show, both old and new ones that will check out the series in the years to come, should be more than happy. Warner Brothers always does an excellent job with their TV packages and Life Unexpected is no exception. In addition to widescreen presentations of all 26 episodes, there are also two fine featurettes,one about the making of the show and the other about the casting.