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'Life Unexpected': It's a wonderful life

January 19, 2010 |  6:52 am
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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