Apparently no slate of mid-season replacements is complete without a good, old fashioned soapy drama to go along with the subversive cartoon, the chicks-n-sports dude comedy and the straight-ahead action piece. (And just you wait until ABC premieres their new show about young lawyers at a big firm later this week.) So here's the CW to fill in all the spaces. Yes, their new Life Unexpected is certainly filled with soapy tropes and it's quite the throwback to the old days of the WB and not just because it features Shiri Appleby (from Roswell) and Kerr Smith (from Dawson's Creek). It's just so damn nostalgic. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing.
The show is about a sixteen year old girl, Lux, being re-united with her parents. She was conceived when they were in high school and given up for adoption by her mother, Cate, while her father, Nate, never knew of her existence.
Life Unexpected is billed as "Juno meets Gilmore Girls" and that's kind of true because there's an unconventional family at the center of this drama that has teenage pregnancy as its backstory, but it's not really like either actually, so please refrain from vomiting. Both Juno and Gilmore Girls are quirky little pieces filled with pithy dialogue and the centered on the dilemma of motherhood. Life Unexpected is not that, not at all. It's a story about a family, one born mid-stream, and the way identity is derived from that connection. It's more like the Parent Trap, separated parents coming back together as result of their child's burgeoning self-awareness.
In this way, it's really reminiscent of the late nineties heydays of the WB, when these sorts of shows were everywhere, Dawson's Creek and Everwood being prime examples of the sort of family this show is descended from. In a certain way, it's a throwback to the days when the whole network was shows about people in transitional stages of their life. But, it's also steeped in 90's nostalgia, the Spin Doctors keep figuring into plot and character moments, and this works to its detriment. We're conditioned to be over this sort of thing, instead of being affecting, it's overwrought.
But there's something about it.
To be sure, Life Unexpected is a pretty earnest show, the characters talk about their feelings (a lot) and there's a big, heart-felt speech delivered every other act. But there's something here. It's tough to pin down exactly, but this show just works. It has its hackneyed and cliched moments, especially one big one which figures into the premise: the reason Lux never ended up permanently placed is because of a medical condition, which is fine, that said condition is a "hole in her heart" strains credulity. So, what's here? Honestly, I'm still not sure, and I had to wait and watch the second episode before I could really assemble some thoughts. Because there's something about this show that draws you in, if you can get past all the stuff that strains. I completely recognize that this isn't a show for everyone, but I'm gonna keep watching, at least for a few more episodes.
Come on, Eldrick.