‘Life Unexpected’ a Delightfully Unexpected Surprise

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As we grow older, especially as we reach young adulthood, we sometimes grow closer to friends than we do our family.  Sometimes we don’t – especially in recent years – have a normal, nuclear family and consider our step-family our real family.  Sometimes we have others in our life – teachers, friends, coworkers, colleagues – that we put up there with our family.  Sometimes we don’t even know who our real family is.

This is the case for Lux Cassidy of CW’s Life Unexpected.  The show was very well received by critics and (gasp!) was canceled after two short seasons on air due to low ratings.  Wow, what a shocker (If you haven’t been keeping up with me, a lot of my favorite shows were canceled after a few seasons due to low ratings).  Lux, portrayed by Britt Robertson, is a 16-year-old girl who was given up for adoption by her biological parents.  Throughout her life, she’s been through seven foster homes.  Her best friend, Natasha (Ksenia Solo), and boyfriend, Bug (Rafi Gavron), have spent most of their lives in foster homes too and are considered her only real family.

At the beginning of Life Unexpected, Lux is trying to file for emancipation in an attempt to live on her own with Natasha – referred to as Tasha – and Bug.  The only problem is she needs signatures from her biological parents in order for the emancipation to be approved.  So right before her sixteenth birthday, Lux tracks down her dad, Nate Bazel (Kristoffer Polaha).  It turns out Nate, or Baze as he’s referred to, is a 32-year-old irresponsible bar owner who doesn’t quite have his life together.  Living in the loft above the bar with roommates Math (Austin Basis) and Jamie (Reggie Austin), Baze often has trouble paying rent to his dad, the landlord, and he struggles to make profit with his business.  Although irresponsible, Lux soon grows fond of Baze, as he treats her more like a friend than a daughter.

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Baze steers Lux in the direction of her mother, Cate Cassidy (Shiri Appleby), a radio talk show host who Lux has found comfort in listening to for several years now.  On her show, Cate is a wacky foil compared to her co-host, the straight-laced Ryan Thomas (Kerr Smith).  The appeal of the show is built on the two arguing and not agreeing with each other, but they have been secretly dating for three years now.  When Lux finds her, Cate had just been proposed to by Ryan.  Cate is a little more uptight than Baze and was more of a nerd in high school.  Lux is upset to learn that she was conceived in the back of a van at winter formal and Cate never considered keeping her.  The adoption agency assured Cate that Lux would find a home quickly, but a heart condition left Lux in the hospital for several years after her birth and no one wanted to adopt her by that time.

After getting the signatures from Cate and Baze, the court actually rules against emancipating Lux and puts her in the care of her biological parents.  Initially a little happy about this, the three soon learn that it’s a huge adjustment.  Lux’s caseworker, Fern (Lucia Walters) often drops by to check up on how things are going.  Cate and Baze haven’t seen each other in years and she still resents him for not being there for her and treating her badly after they had sex.  Lux still very much resents Cate for giving her up all those years ago, although she doesn’t always show it.  Ryan has trouble with the entire situation, as he was thrust in, and he sometimes feel left out of the loop.  Some relationship problems with Cate arise as well due to the fact that Cate has lingering feelings for Baze after all these years.

Homecoming Crashed

Lux has trouble getting used to a more normal life and is initially looked down upon by Tasha and Bug.  Her parents have her transferred to a different high school, which causes her to lose contact with friends and completely start over.  She has an internal conflict in that she wants desperately to have a normal life and be accepted by her new peers while also struggling to keep Tasha and Bug happy, who don’t want her to lose sight of where she came from and “who she really is.”

With my recent affliction for coming-of-age movies, I had to check out Life Unexpected, especially after finding out Britt Robertson and Shiri Appleby starred in it.  The show is definitely a journey.  Its two short seasons – 13 episodes each – could constitute one long TV season.  The concept is pretty interesting.  I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it on TV.  Despite this, the show has its pitfalls.  The possible relationship between Cate and Baze is played on too much during the first season.  It’s like a broken record playing over and over, with Cate and Ryan often getting into fights.  The first season focuses too much on that in addition to Ryan and Cate having to hide their relationship from the public eye.  But it’s not all bad.

Bong Intercepted

The show has been called a mix of Juno and Gilmore Girls, which I can definitely see, as it deals with consequences of teen pregnancy in addition to portraying a more grounded show about family.  In all honesty, some of the most satisfying scenes are fights between Lux and Cate, realistically portraying quarrels between a mother and her daughter.  Lux and Cate have a strained relationship just like any mother and daughter might have, but this is blown up tenfold in light of what Lux has been through.  This is played on throughout the entire show up until the series finale.  Lux has trust issues and doesn’t like to be completely honest, often hiding things from her parents.  She even hides some very important, and gruesome, details about her time at a foster home during middle school.

However, as time goes on, we see her put a little more faith in her parents, especially Ryan, who eventually marries Cate and becomes another father figure in Lux’s life.  It’s often said that Lux’s peers are kids trying to act grown up, while Lux is an adult trying to act like a kid.  We see this as she tries to have a normal life by becoming friends with new classmates, attempting a relationship with popular boy Jones (Austin Butler), and joining the basketball team to be more like her dad.  This often times prove to be a bust, however, as Lux has a tendency to make bad decisions because she doesn’t believe she can have a normal life.  By time the series finale rolls out, though, we see that Lux’s life is far from normal, but as Jones tells her, everyone has a little abnormality in their life.

Life Unexpected is definitely a breath of fresh air compared to other shows on the air.  It takes things back too a certain normalcy.  Britt Robertson is a standout in her role.  She’s very much capable of playing a bit of a teen outcast.  I don’t know if I could really picture anyone else in the role.  Shiri Appleby and Kristoffer Polaha do a fine job as her parents.  The show is very much revolved around family, with Lux, Baze, Cate, and often Ryan at the center of the show.  We see Baze have his own issues with his dad, an uptight businessman, who very much disapproves of him.  Cate has problems with her family and blames her mother, an alcoholic, for many of the problems she had growing up, and her sister often creates more havoc in Cate’s life.

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 The show, of course, has its pitfalls.  Like I mentioned earlier, the strain on Cate and Ryan’s relationship due to Baze becomes sort of an annoyance.  I think problems arise when romantic relationships become the main issue of the show, whereas it should focus more on family.  But the show always seems to redeem itself.  For every few episodes ending with uncertainty and issues, there’s always at least one ending with a portrayal of family.

One of the final scenes of the show portrays Lux, Baze, Ryan, and a few friends having fun and acting like a true family together while painting the bar.  Cate walks in, taking in the scene, before making the decision to reveal some life-changing news to Ryan and everyone else.  It’s obvious that she’s content with how things are and is incredibly reluctant to reveal what she knows, but she realizes that she made a mistake before by giving up Lux and knows that she can’t make a mistake like that again, even if it might cause some rifts among everyone.

The final moments of Life Unexpected skip ahead two years to Lux’s, Tasha’s, and Jones’ high school graduation.  With knowledge that the show would be canceled, this was definitely the best route for the writers to go.  Lux stands before her classmates giving a valedictorian speech about how much has changed in her life, but the people around her (people like Cate, Baze, Ryan, Tasha, Jones, Math, Jamie, and Fern) have always been there for her even when everything around her was changing.

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The final shot of the series is a photograph of the group at graduation, showcasing that they have truly developed into a family, something Lux could never have expected.  Even through all the rifts in her own life, Lux has had these people supporting her.  It’s something Cate tells her during the finale and it’s something we, ourselves, often forget regarding our own lives.  Even with everything unexpected happening all around us, the constants that are the people in our life who love us – even if they aren’t blood related, haven’t been there for us all the time, or haven’t received the attention from us they deserve – really care about us and are there to help through troubled times.  In today’s fast-paced world, that’s a pretty simplistic, yet beautiful, message to have, coming from a pretty beautiful show about family.

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