Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Life Unexpected an Unexpected Hit on the CW
By Lorraine Dusky
"Life Unexpected" was an unexpected hit for me last night on the CW. With all my internal fears and prejudices against first moms being shown as heartless harlots, I was ready to pounce and say Aha! there they go again when the show debuted last night. Instead, dear reader, I loved it.
A brief plot outline is called for here. A fifteen-going-on-sixteen girl, Lux (Britt Robertson), shows up looking for her parents--she was never adopted and has been rotated through a number of unhappy and abusive foster homes throughout the years. Lux wants to be emancipated at sixteen so she can escape one last lousy foster care placement. To do that, she needs the signatures of her parents. Birth parents, first parents--her parents. (Because she was a white baby, we wondered how the writers would explain why she was never adopted, which is taken care of in a quick conversation with her mother, Cate [Shiri Appleby]: Lux needed several heart surgeries as an infant and was not a "healthy white baby" until she was three, and by then she had passed the "cute baby" stage and no one stepped up for her. Okay, plausible enough. All kinds of things happen in life. If in doubt, see a previous blog about my own strange occurrence of late.)
Lux tracks down her parents, Cate, a sassy radio talk-show host, and Baze (Kristoffer Polaha), a beer-loving bar owner who lives above his bar. Baze never even knew he and Cate had a child, as their romance seems to have been a one-night stand in the back of his parents' van after a dance. When both Baze and Cate show up in court for Lux's emancipation hearing, the judge denies Lux's request, makes them the responsible parents on the spot, but when their bickering outside the courtroom leads Lux to walk away. She goes back to her foster home...out of which she has been kicked.
Several scenes got to me: Baze and Lux watching the You Tube video of the lion raised by a couple but returned to the wild, and a year later, the lion recognized them. I had heard of this amazing tale but had not seen it until just this moment and well, you know I'm the teary type, particularly of late, and this had me enthralled after twenty seconds.
Other bits I appreciated: when Cate tells her boyfriend about her daughter; when there is dialogue about her not hoping for anything because she's afraid of being hurt, references to how Cate has been affected by surrendering her child, which made this light years away from Juno, the most hated film in memory, where one sobbing scene seems is meant to stand for all the pain of giving up a child entails. The pilot episode last night of Life Unexpected was both touching and amusing, the dialogue clever not cloying, and it had none of the smart-ass attitude of the first-mother-we-all-love-to-hate, Juno.
Life Unexpected did not sugar coat the answer when Lux asks Cate if she even thought of keeping her. After a pregnant pause, Cate says, No. She was fifteen at the time, the same age Lux is now. Cate and Baze end up in bed together after Lux disappears, and don't hate me, that too wrung true to me. Over the years, both adoption reformer Florence Fisher and I talked about how many women we both knew who had sex with the father of their child after they met through being reunited by the child that was given up for adoption. I don't know if the lost child created a special bond or if it was just the old love and attraction that is still there. And I'll admit, I continued a relationship with my daughter's father after I relinquished, but it was dead and over when we were reunited when she was--fifteen. But everybody's different, every story has its own nuance, its own ending.
Lux is sleeping on the sidewalk when Cate emerges from the bar in last night's dress around six a.m. "Don't you ever learn?" is Lux's reaction. Elsewhere we learn that Cate doesn't trust people because she doesn't want to get hurt, that she is tired of pushing people away. When her fiance makes a smart remark about her being "one of those girls who got knocked up on prom night," her face crumbles. What's a little hard to explain is how Cate's fiancee is not troubled by the fact that she and Baze obviously had a night together...but hey, I said, he's obviously going to be a part of the show, the cool understanding step-dad. Or not. I'll wait and see.
The show so far has won critical kudos, and last night scored the largest audience for CW on a Monday night in a year. I've already go my DVR set to record automatically, and I hope the show, the creation of Liz Tigelaar, is a huge hit. I was not surprised to read that Ms. Tigelaar is adopted. I'll be looking for more news about her. If you happen to read this Liz, please leave us a message as to how we can be in touch.
To watch a four minute clip: