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'Life Unexpected': It's a wonderful life

LU100_0180b I consider myself a child of the WB. I grew up on the network and still hold many of its shows close to my heart. “Life Unexpected” is the first show since the departure of the WB that feels to me like it could be on that network. That's not just because two of its stars – Shiri Appleby (“Roswell”) and Kerr Smith (“Dawson's Creek”) – got their big breaks on WB shows. Creator Liz Tigelaar's scripts follow normal people navigating the world with warmth, good-natured humor and heart-on-your-sleeve emotion. I guess what I'm saying is that I'm predisposed to like “Life Unexpected” and its makeshift family, so let's get to know them.

Meet the daughter: When we first meet Lux (Brittany Robertson), her pervy foster brother, who “puts the 'ew' in Stewie,” walks in on her as she's naked and just stands there staring. Her foster mom looks like she couldn't be less interested in Lux. Between these folks and the Scope-drinking foster moms and dads who try to hit on her – how are these people allowed to be foster parents?! – I can totally understand why Lux wants to get emancipated from the foster care system. Lux goes searching for her biological father to the sounds of a pleasantly mellow pop song – yet another element of the show that is very WB – and Cate's (Appleby) and Ryan's (Smith) morning radio show. Yes, it's a little “what are the odds?” that Lux has been listening to her mother her whole life unbeknown to either of them. But it's also sweet that Cate has had this role in her daughter's life without her knowledge. Lux is more like Cate than she thinks.

“I learned really early on the only person you can depend on is yourself,” Cate says. “If you expect anything else, you're setting yourself up for heartbreak.” The same can just as easily be said for Lux, who's had to put on a tough shell and fend for herself as she jumped through seven different foster homes.

But while Lux shares a personality with Cate, she certainly doesn't share her looks with either Cate or Baze, despite their insistence that they have the same nose, eyes, etc.

“You have blond hair,” Cate says in surprise. With that, let's put the blond hair issue to rest until it is acknowledged again in episode three.

Meet the parents: Lux's father, Baze (Kristoffer Polaha), is clearly a manchild: He lives over a bar, says he will “grow up after noon” and wears a “MILF Does the Body Good” T-shirt (a penchant for clever/cute shirts must run in the family – Lux sports one with a ladybug that says, “Don't bug me.”). He even acknowledges that “some of us peak in high school.” Fifteen years ago, “meathead” Baze lured type-A overachiever and student body president Cate into the back of his mom's minivan during winter formal with Zima and the Spin Doctors. This was after his date had to be taken to the hospital to get her stomach pumped. We know Cate had a thing for Baze in high school, but I'm dying to know what happened that made Baze set his eyes on Cate. Flashback episode?

What turned out to be Cate's first time also turned out to be Lux's conception. This is where the story veers from “Gilmore Girls.” Cate admits to Lux that she never even considered keeping her, and Baze was under the impression that Cate had “taken care of it.” Cate put Lux up for adoption, but the girl was born with a hole in her heart – yes, she literally had a hole in her heart that will be filled by finally getting a family – so Lux was never adopted. After failing to get emancipation, the judge puts Lux in the joint custody of Cate and Baze, which seems a bit brash on the judge's part, but it helps Cate, who is in many ways still stuck in high school, step up and finally commit to her boyfriend and co-host Ryan.

Meet the fiance: It's pretty obvious from their shared history and spontaneous sex that Cate and Baze are the show's endgame, and I definitely like them, but I also can't help rooting for Cate and Ryan. Appleby and Smith have such a charming, easy chemistry that I can't help but wonder why the WB never did a “Dawson's Creek”/“Roswell” crossover. Yes, I realize Jack (Smith's character on “Dawson's”) was gay. I love that Cate hit him and threw all her neurosis at Ryan when he tried to propose and he just deflected them. Yes, he knows her and he still wants to marry her. You have to love him. I think Ryan might be a saint. He didn't make a single noise about the fact that his fiance is bringing a teenager into their lives. Too bad Cate fluked twice with Baze even if she and Ryan were technically not together – and that's a big technically. It made me a little disappointed in Cate, but more than that, I'm not looking forward to the inevitable Ross and Rachel-esque “We were on a break!” fight.

Meet the friends: We didn't get to know too much about Baze's roommates. I had to look them up to remember their names. Jamie (Reggie Austin), the one who was leading out a one-night stand, seems to be indulging Baze's bad habits. The other roommate, Math (Austin Basis), won me over with his shock when Baze revealed that Cate is the mother.

“Did you roofie her?” he asks incredulously. Turns out Math had a thing for Cate, but he ate his feelings in high school.

Readers, what did you think of “Life Unexpected”? Were you as charmed by it as I was? Are you rooting for Cate and Ryan or Cate and Baze? And are you disappointed that we didn't get some real opening credits with a theme song?

-- Vlada Gelman (Follow my TV musings on Twitter: @stayingin)

Photo: Cate (Shiri Appleby) meets her daughter (Brittany Robertson). Credit: Michael Courtney / The CW


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Comments () | Archives (11)

I fell in love with this show last night.
Definitely. It's just like critical said: completely charming.

Loved everyone, really, but Cate and Ryan sold it to me in a way I wasn't expecting...

Some thoughts on "a hole in her heart":

So I loved the show, even the insanely sweet parts. But let's go ahead and clear up the whole "hole in the heart" being too cute to be real.

Essentially, Lux could have had two conditions that required multiple surgeries and intensive medical care for the first years of her life. One would be something called Tetrology of Fallot, which 16 years ago would have required a staged series of surgical repairs. The other would be a simple ventricular septal defect that got complicated by endocarditis.

The point is that Lux could well be normal now but have had a serious hole in her heart as an infant.

As to why this would have prevented her from getting adopted: surgery is expensive, but foster kids are covered under state medicare. However, if Lux had been adopted, then her medical bills would be her adoptive parents responsibility. Sad to say it, but money is a factor at times like this.

Conclusion: the idea that a heart defect would prevent Lux from getting adopted (even as a white infant) is not unreasonable. It certainly shouldn't be added to a list of the show's implausabilities.

CrimsonV -- It's not that I didn't believe that Lux had a real condition or that it would hinder her chances of being adopted. I bought that completely. I've heard of real cases like that before. I just thought the symbolism of her condition within the show's premise laid it on a little heavy.

I enjoyed the show very much. I liked the Gilmore Girls and I liked Life Unexpected for the same reasons. Good acting, a good cast (especially Brittany Robertson) and it was both uplifting and relied on a good story rather than suggestive dialog and the such. I'm no prude but I like good family entertainment. But I'd like to point out that with both parents having brown eyes and the daughter bright blue, someone must have switched babies at birth.

Just for the record... Two dark-eyed and dark-haired people can have a blue-eyed blond daughter as long as they both carry the gene for blond hair and blue eyes (i.e. each of them must have a parent with blond hair and blue eyes). It is less likely (1 in 4 chance) than having a dark-haired dark-eyed daughter, but entirely possible. Both of my parents have brown eyes and mine are blue... and I definitely wasn't switched at birth.

The nitpicky thing that irks me is that yet again on the CW, the Vancouver Art Gallery has masqueraded as a courthouse... it was a courthouse on 'Reaper' and 'Smallville' and maybe even on 'Supernatural' (I don't watch that one enough to have noticed).

On Blue Eyes and Blond Hair:

I believe this is being covered in other articles, but just to respond to Tony.

In overly simplistic terms, everybody gets 2 sets of genes, 1 from mom, 1 from dad. if the two are different, one can trump the other. In the case of hair, brown eyes trump blue, brown hair trumps blond.

Both Baze and Cate could have brown eyes and brown hair, but their gene sets could be 1 gene brown hair/1 gene blond hair and 1 gene brown eyes/1 gene blue eyes. Because inheritance is random, there is a 25% chance Lux would get 2 blue eyed genes and a 25% chance of her getting 2 blond hair genes.

You can make this more complicated with more genetics, but the bottom line is:

Summary: Lux may be too cute, but not as result of bad genetics research.

I am rooting 100% for Cate and Baze!

Great review. I have mixed feelings about the hole in the heart, having been born with one myself (two actually). It's completely realistic (as one of the commenters above explained) that this would keep Lux from being adopted. I absolutely buy it, considering what my family went through with all my surgeries, both emotionally and financially -- I personally would have a difficult time adopting a child with the same condition, knowing how hard it is. As far as a "heavy metaphor" -- yes, it's definitely a metaphor, but I personally like a bit of myth with my drama. Especially when it's not a simple metaphor... It's actually Cate who has the bigger metaphorical hole in her heart, after being ditched by Baze in high school, and then having to give up her kid. And it's interesting to me that the "hole" was passed on to Lux via birth -- as it is, after all, a congenital birth defect. I'm not saying this is Shakespeare, but I do think it's a sweet metaphor, especially since it is so grounded in reality.

Louise -- That's a really good point about Cate having the metaphorical hole in her heart and passing it down to Lux. I hadn't thought of it like that before. It is quite sweet.

I'm rooting for Cate and Baze! I know Ryan was really sweet and 'knows' Cate, and still loves her, blah, blah, blah. But the fact is, he's too nice for her. It's exactly how I felt about the Dawson's Creek love triangle too. Ryan's the stereotypical 'perfect guy', but he's not perfect for Cate. She and Baze are both emotionally stunted, and I feel as though it will become more and more apparent that the spark that they had in high school was something real. I feel as though they complement each other. Not in the irritating 'opposites attract' way, but they seem to be kind of kindred spirits.

I'm well aware of the possibility that my affection for "Life Unexpected" has more to do with what it represents than what it is, and that if I could suppress my WB nostalgia, I'd object more to the plot holes, or simply find the whole thing to be a trifle. But as someone who spent a lot of time in the last decade watching the adventures of Buffy and Lorelai and Angel and Rory and the rest, I couldn't help but smile at the introduction of Lux.


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