When the WB merged with the UPN to form the hybrid CW, a lot of good things happened. The new network stepped away from the twenty-something shows that began to all look the same after a while. The network began to take on cutting edge genre shows like Supernatural and Smallville. But deep down inside there was still that family drama mentality that drove at least one of the parent networks. Life Unexpected is, unfortunately, a totally expected result of that dark place.
The premise is actually pretty interesting. Lux (Robertson) is a 16-year-old girl who has spent her entire life in foster care. She has been bounced from home to shelter to home again 7 times in those 16 years. She’s lived with drug addicts and abusive situations. She’s had it, and so she decides to seek legal emancipation. Because her parents are still alive and somehow never gave up their rights, she needs their signatures on the court documentation. She finds her father first. Nate Bazile or Baze (Polaha) is a guy who’s refused to grow up. He lives in a loft above a bar he runs primarily so he can drink for free. His father (Thomas) owns the building, and the bar is just one of many unresolved issues between them. He lives with two roommates who are only slightly more mature than he is, including English teacher Math (Basis). He’s shocked when Lux shows up, because he didn’t even know she existed. Together they contact her mom, Cate (Appleby), who is a popular radio talk show host with her partner and soon to be fiancée Ryan (Smith). Cate gave Lux up for adoption unaware that she had a heart condition that required her to remain in the hospital until she was three. That made her a tough adoption candidate. So, when Lux shows up she is just as surprised, believing she was happy and in a family. The emancipation doesn’t happen, and Baze and Cate are given joint custody of Lux.
As a basic premise, this all sounds pretty interesting. But under the convoluted guidance of show creator Liz Tigelaar, it is all an incredible mess. Each episode comes off as contrived while these characters continue to make the worst decisions possible and come out of it fine. The entire premise depends on us having some connection and empathy with Lux. But Lux makes Tony Soprano look like a fine upstanding citizen. Almost every word out of her mouth is a lie. She steals and sleeps around with abandon. Her list of boyfriends includes her high school English teacher. We get moral lessons from adults that tell us “if it feels good it must be the right thing”. Lux is supposed to be desperate for a family, but she acts like a spoiled brat. She’s willing to let those around her cover for her mistakes at great personal loss. Whenever something doesn’t go her way or she gets caught in a lie, she’ll either lash out and brutally hurt someone or she’ll begin to give a huge pity-me cry because she had such a tough life. She hurts everyone she knows, and it’s usually quite intentional. I can’t image anyone but a psychopath actually relating, let alone feeling bad for this girl. It doesn’t help that actress Brittany Robertson is actually 20 and just doesn’t look like a 16-year-old girl. There’s a lot of work utilized to try to make her look younger, including the use of these incredibly ugly hats. At times she doesn’t even look like the same person, and the 20-year-old shines through.
The cast is a mixed bag, and I hesitate to be too critical of their performances here. They can’t help how the characters are written or the long list of stupid things that they do. Brittany Robertson seems like a pretty solid actress, and I’d like to see her get a chance to do something she could really sink her teeth into. Kristoffer Polaha is the best actor and character on the show. Baze is supposed to be the immature kid who never grew up among the adults, but he’s the only one who appears to be trying and care about how other folks feel. I’d absolutely love to see him doing something again soon. Kerr Smith might be the best known of the cast after playing Jack on Dawson’s Creek for 5 years. It’s a solid performance, but a not-so-solid character.
The show runners must have expected a pick-up for a third season. There’s medication to help with delusions now, and I highly recommend Liz look into that. A forced “two years later” coda is placed on the final episode that wraps the show. It was a nice gesture to the fans, but I think all six of them might agree that it looks too sudden in the context of the episode. The release is only useful as an effective insomnia treatment. If that’s your problem, you should get a prescription for Life Unexpected.
Each episode of is presented in an above-average television 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The show is often a little too dark for my tastes, but the image doesn’t suffer in quality from the choice. Black levels are fortunately pretty solid. A taste of softness sometimes works its way to the forefront, but never enough for me to downgrade the quality. You’ll see a little compression artifact from time to time, again made more noticeable by the dark tone of the show. Colors are solid, and sharpness creates a fine element of detail most of the time. Again, I just wish this show were a little brighter.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a nice mix for a television series. There’s plenty of subtle surrounds, more than enough to generate a nice immersion into the story for the viewer. The songs are presented in a solid presentation in so far as quality is concerned, but many of them appear to be from the same female vocalist. I know rights costs make this sort of thing necessary these days, but could you at least mix it up a little bit? Dialog is clear and well-placed in the center.
Life In Portland – The Making Of Life Unexpected: (13:18) It’s a bit odd that the piece would be titled after Portland, where the show is set all the while bragging about how it’s really shot in Vancouver.
The Casting Of Life Unexpected: (11:47) Includes audition footage.
Gag Reel: (3:39)
The series lasted for only two short seasons, and I’m surprised it lasted even that long. It’s obvious that the show’s creative team were worried about the show. It resulted in a second group of episodes that tried to cram way too much mellow-drama in just 42 minutes. It was a desperation Hail Mary toss that didn’t go anywhere near the endzone. Don’t waste your time with Lux and her dysfunctional cast of characters. “It’s more depressing than an episode of The Biggest Loser.“