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Reviewed by Will Harris
hen a new TV series starts getting descriptors like “‘Juno’ meets ‘Gilmore Girls’” thrown around, you’d like to think that the average person’s Too-Good-to-be-True Detector would start beeping like a Geiger counter in Chernobyl circa 1986. As such, it’s only reasonable to be skeptical that “Life Unexpected” – which, as you may have guessed, is the series to have received the referenced descriptor – could possibly live up to that kind of comparison. Indeed, really, the only reason to put any stock in it whatsoever is the fact that the show aired on the very same network that gave us “Gilmore Girls,” namely The CW.
“Life Unexpected” reels off its concept in a quick and simple fashion: Lux Cassidy (Britt Robertson), a 16-year-old girl who was given up for adoption at birth, goes in search of her birth parents so that they might sign the paperwork for her emancipation. First, she finds her father, Baze (Kristoffer Polaha), a semi-slacker who kind of owns a bar but has no significant career aspirations beyond that. Then, Baze, who didn’t even know that he had a daughter, contacts Lux’s mom, Cate (Shiri Appleby), a popular local DJ who’s in a serious relationship with her on-air partner, Ryan (Kerr Smith). Despite Lux’s preference for emancipation, she ends up being put in the custody of her parents, making for one enormous learning curve amongst the three of them.
Okay, fair enough, it’s kind of a cool cross-generational concept: teenage viewers can relate to Lux, teenage viewers’ parents can relate to Lux’s parents, and Baze and Cate are young enough that they still have to deal with their parents, too. Unfortunately, there’s a problem somewhere in the execution.
When “Life Unexpected” first kicks off, it’s a three-way storyline split between Lux’s life at home and school, Cate’s life at home and work, and Baze’s life in general, since he lives in a loft above the bar. While it’s fun to watch Baze struggle with being handed this huge amount of responsibility that he neither wanted nor even knew anything about, the storylines revolving around Cate and Ryan’s lives at the radio station always seem to feel at best forced and at worst completely shoehorned in. But, okay, fair enough, at least they’ve got an interesting profession.
The problem is that certain plot threads seem to recur every time you turn around, most notably the whole Baze-loves-Cate-but-Cate-loves-Ryan-except-when-she’s-thinking-about-Baze stuff, which literally goes on until the last ten minutes of the final episode of the series, at which point it’s revolved definitively, if only in the sense that there ain’t gonna be no more episodes, so what you see is how it’s gonna stay. There’s also an incredible tendency for Lux to learn virtually nothing from any mistake she makes, which kind of makes you want to throttle her at a certain point.
Oh, wait: that makes her a typical teenager, doesn’t it?
Yes, “Life Unexpected” has moments of reality, occasionally treading into unexpectedly dark territory, such as in Season Two, when it’s explained how Lux came to develop a learning disability late in life. It’s heavy stuff, and it’s dramatically effective to be sure, but it also feels a little bit out of left field. But, then, that’s Season Two in a nutshell, which also includes an ongoing storyline where Lux ends up dating a teacher at a school. Season Two may play better, dramatically speaking, but when viewed hot on the heels of Season One, as it’s packed in this set, it smacks of a series that desperately wanted to pull in viewers. Unfortunately, the plan didn’t work: despite the lack of the words “complete series” in the title of this set, it’s definitely not coming back – which, presumably, is why the producers tacked on an ending which ultimately creates more questions than answers. (“Wait, they’re together now? And she’s pregnant? But I thought…”)
Don’t believe the hype: “Life Unexpected” does have some nice family moments, but even at its best, it was never in a position to deserve the title of “the next ‘Gilmore Girls.’”
Special Features: It’s a pretty typical trifecta, with a making-of featurette, a gag reel, and a look into the process of casting the show. No commentaries, though, which is rather disappointing.