Southland is returning to TV screens as part of the TNT network, and changes are on the horizon. Detective Adams (Regina King) is paired up with a new partner as Clarke (Tom Everett Scott) remains in the hospital attempting to recover. She believes this new assignment is only temporary, but Clarke doesn’t give her much to hang her hopes on. She arrives at a scene to investigate the disappearance of an elderly man who had been tending to the roses outside his house when a large, ominous figure approached. An eyewitness said they left the house in his car, the stranger behind the wheel and the man in tears.
This is pretty much all we’re given in the network’s sample of the new season, beginning this Tuesday (3/2, 10:00 EST) but it certainly provided enough questions, like why the Bentley was being chased by the white pickup truck and after taking a few bullets came to a stop, only to wind up in the midst of a full-fledged hit, and how this relates to the street riot that opens the episode.
Perhaps less visceral is the new program Life Unexpected on the CW (airing on Mondays at 9:00 EST), which has a couple interesting distinctions going for it. The first positive is that it doesn’t make me feel completely ashamed for admitting my viewership, unlike the better part of the network’s lineup (Can we please admit the Melrose Place reboot is awful and send it on its way already?) The second is that the premise is quite nifty in its way: three people, forced to grow up at the same time, but only one is an adolescent.
Nate “Baze” Bazile (Kristoffer Polaha) is a party guy, co-owner of a bar and a man dedicated to the premise that morning is that thing that occurs seven hours before you wake up. Cate Cassidy (Shiri Appleby) is the co-host of a radio talk show who is trying to get over her commitment issues, specifically her commitment to co-host and fiance Ryan (Kerr Smith.) There are only two things Cate and Baze have in common: their one-time high school fling and the baby that resulted and, consequently, was put up for adoption. Sixteen years later, daughter Lux has arrived on their doorstep, originally seeking permission for emancipation, but now becoming a part of this rather mutated version of the American family.
There are some really good things about the show, starting with the idea that the one-time solution of the teenage pregnancy actually gets addressed in a thoughtful manner over time. The topic itself has been kicked around for decades, from Norman Lear sitcoms to ABC Afterschool Specials, but never has a program really latched on to the cause and effect of the action beyond its occurrence. It doesn’t get shoved in your face in every episode, but it provides a great talking point. Britt Robertson as Lux is a very effective actor, both forced to be tough after being unwanted and bounced through endless foster homes all her life, and vulnerable and wanting to simply be a kid. Having waited for adoptive or foster parents all her young life, she’s now in the charge of her birth parents, but they can be just as juvenile as she.
There are a couple problems, mostly in the construction. In one episode, the parents must meet Lux’s boyfriend. In another, Lux is embarrassed when Cate gets wild at her party. Being an episodic program, it’s only natural that these topics are going to come in. After all, as I said before, this is a show about three people, not one, all learning how to act their age, but having been given these charming characters I didn’t want them to simply be turned on then off in the last few minutes, just in time for the happy ending. It’s not that severe, but you can feel a sense of unnatural summing up creeping into the last act, and it doesn’t live up to the show’s potential. The other problem is in the character of Lux herself: She was never adopted because she has a congenital heart defect, and the probability of a tear-jerking “very special episode” coming ’round the horn is plainly certain.
Aside from those points, I’ve enjoyed almost every episode I’ve seen. Polaha’s turn as Baze is often funny, not just because of his antics (and it’s oddly smart casting, as Polaha bears a slight resemblance to Jackass Johnny Knoxville) but because you can see this character growing before your eyes. Baze wants to have a new maturity; he just can’t keep his fratboy demeanor from sabotaging it. Appleby is appealing as the sudden mother who has more in common with her daughter than might be suitable. The two characters share a great love/hate chemistry and, again, Robertson is able to pull off her difficult role without being precious or overly petulant.
It would be nice to see a few episodes that focus solely on these characters getting to know each other, without the creaky hinges of a plot point making things seem more mechanical than they need to, but the elements are all there for enjoyable and often sentimental television viewing.
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