Television has an innate nature to repeat itself. In the past five years or so, shows have sprung out of the seeds planted by older, successful shows of the same genre.
Case in point: ‘Flash Forward” has been trying to monopolize, with some minor success, on the fan base that ‘Lost” generated through its mythology-oriented stories. When I tell people that I watch ‘How I Met Your Mother” I constantly get the response, ‘Oh, you mean the “Friends’ remake?” The hit NBC mockumentary style comedy ‘The Office” inspired Amy Poheler’s newer comedy ‘Parks and Recreation” too. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Remember that successful show with the mother and daughter who were more like best friends and unnaturally well versed in pop-culture references? The one with the rich grandparents and the grumpy, cynical, yet incredibly lovable diner owner. Oh and of course the ‘bad boy” boyfriend.
Now let’s play a game of spot the differences.
Here’s a new show with a mother and daughter reunited and trying to learn how to do the whole parenting thing. We have met the rich grandparents who don’t understand their children. The sarcastic, ‘Peter-Pan-like” bar owner is present throughout. And can’t forget the ‘bad boy” boyfriend. Check, check and check.
While Liz Tigelaar’s new CW drama ‘Life Unexpected” looks a lot like Amy Sherman-Palledino’s ‘Gilmore Girls” up close, when you take a step back from the fun house mirror, the fundamental differences between the two are much more apparent.
‘Life Unexpected” begins by following the clever and witty 16-year-old foster child Lux (Brittany Robertson). On a quest for emancipation, Lux decides to set out in search of her birth parents only to get papers signed, not realizing that she may be finding a family.
She tracks down her birth father, bar owner Nate Bazile (Kris Polaha), aka Baze, and learns that her mother is the radio star Cate Cassidy (Shiri Appleby), whom Lux just happened to listen to everyday. Say it with me now: aww.
Lux, the product of some high school winter formal shenanigans, continues her journey and, with the help of Baze, ambushes Cate, who has just agreed to marry her co-star Ryan Thomas (Kerr Smith).
While both Baze and Cate initially sign off on the emancipation without question, later they both seem cosmically drawn to the courthouse to watch their daughter get shut down by the judge. Denied emancipation and kicked out of her previous foster home, Lux suddenly finds herself placed in the custody of two strangers called mom and dad.
The first several episodes of the series tend to put the plot on repeat mode. We are first introduced to the family created by Lux, Cate, and Baze. Then we meet the family that Lux formed with her friends, who were also in the foster system. Next we meet the extended family, with Lux’s grandparents and aunt (Cate’s sister) thrown into the mix. Three families, three episodes, three very similar stories.
Yet, in spite of the repetitive nature of the show (which, by the way, tends to happen in a new series), something about these characters sparks an interest that has caught my attention.
What is undeniable about Lux’s world is that Tigelaar and the writers have continued to expand the relationships and number of people present in her life over only the course of a few episodes. But even more importantly, the characters are constantly being developed further.
Baze’s less than close father-son relationship, in particular, sheds much light on his ‘I-won’t-grow-up” lifestyle in a way that just makes the viewer like him more. Lux’s street-smart manners give her the ability to promptly make new friends (and some enemies) upon her enrollment at a new school.
As Lux blows out the candles on her 16th birthday, it’s clear that she has never felt more loved than wat that moment surrounded by her new family.
The show’s charm in its first few episodes owes a lot to the leading cast members, who deliver extremely well and have an irrefutable family chemistry about them. As Baze and Lux bond over tear-jerking YouTube videos, Cate and Lux banter through the only means the 21st century can provide, text messaging of course.
‘Life Unexpected” definitely has room to grow and holes to fill in, but it has started in a strong enough way that will keep me watching. New stories need to be developed besides those involving Lux getting angry at the new authority figures in her life. But if the actors keep bringing it like they have so far, Lux’s life may be an unexpected treat to add to Monday nights.
‘Life Unexpected” airs on the CW at 9p.m. on Mondays.
Rosenberg is a member of the class of 2012.