Life Unexpected (PREVIEW)

The CW is reaching back to its WB roots, in more ways than one, with the witty and poignant Life UneXpected, a dramedy centered around 16 year old Lux, a girl who has bounced from foster home to foster home and seeks out her biological parents so she can be emancipated.  Naturally things don’t go as expected and a judge denies the emancipation and instead places Lux in the temporary joint custody of her reluctantly caring parents.

The first three episodes, which I was lucky enough to preview, set up the background.  Cate Cassidy and Nate “Baze” Bazile slept together once in high school after the winter formal, conceiving Lux in the back of a minivan to the soundtrack of “Two Princes” by Spin Doctors.  Baze assumed Cate had an abortion, so when 15 year old Lux showed up on his doorstep, it was quite the shock.  It’s even more shocking for Cate, who learns Lux has come knocking while she is co-hosting her morning radio show with boyfriend Ryan.  The show follows Lux, Cate, and Baze as they try to make integrate this new non-traditional family into their pre-existing families and lives, no easy task and mistakes are made by all.

Life UneXpected’s writing is sharp and honest, filled with equal parts sentiment and humor.  Teen pregnancy is almost a cliché in pop culture these days, but it is handled maturely here.  At one point Lux asks Cate if she ever considered keeping her and Cate pauses then looks her straight in the eyes and answers, simply, “no.” It’s a raw moment that rings truer than most on television, especially on the CW, and as great a moment as it was, it also worries me.  This is not your typical Gossip Girl-esque CW show.  It’s old-school WB, right down to the casting of Roswell’s Shiri Appleby and Dawson’s Creek's Kerr Smith, and while I’m thrilled to see it, I’m afraid it will have a tough time finding an audience in Gossip Girl’s normal slot.

Lux is the center and the heart of Life UneXpected and Brittany Robertson nails the role.  She is tough, vulnerable, cynical, and hopeful all at once, completely charming and utterly likeable.  Shiri Appleby and Kristoffer Polaha are also outstanding in their roles as the bickering, well-meaning but out-of-their depth parents.  Kerr Smith shines in his supporting role as Cate’s on-air partner and off-air fiancé, and I’m looking forward to watching the inevitable love triangle because it looks to be a fun ride: messy and real with no bad guy.  The other supporting characters help give the show depth: Lux had made a family for herself with other foster kids and they are ambivalent about Lux’s new fortune while Cate and Baze’s families are less than optimistic about their ability to be parents, as we learn in episode three, “Rent UnCollected.”  By the way, Cynthia Stevenson as Cate’s mom=all kinds of awesome.

Life UneXpected isn’t slick or glamorous like the show it is temporarily replacing on the CW’s schedule, Gossip Girl.  It isn’t spooky like Supernatural or as soapy as One Tree Hill, but it really deserves a chance.  It has substance and heart, with solid writing that tugs at the heartstrings and makes you laugh and think.  It’s sort of Everwood meets the mirror image of Gilmore Girls minus the small town odd characters.  The three episodes I saw are completely charming and fun and lay the groundwork for a terrific journey through the lives of three interesting people as they forge connections and learn what they really are to each other and the rest of the people in their lives.  I urge you to tune in to the CW on January 18 at 9pm for this deceptively deep and lovely confection of a show.  You’ll be in for a treat.

Review by Michelle St. James