What’s so unexpected about the new CW show Life Unexpected? That’s it’s actually quite good. And yes, really.
The show, which premieres Monday night at 9 p.m., stars a trio of relative unknowns in the principle roles. Shiri Appleby, perhaps best known as the colorfully named “Jailbait” in Charlie Wilson’s War, plays Portland radio DJ Cate Cassidy. Kristoffer Polaha, who played Carlton Hanson on Mad Men and perhaps will again, stars as Nate “Baze” Bazile, a slacker who owns a struggling bar thanks to the support of his father. And Brittany Robertson is Lux, who turns both of their lives upside down when she shows up on the eve of her 16th birthday after – unbeknownst to them though she was conceived in a one-night stand they had in high school – spending all her life in a variety of foster homes. Also in the mix is Kerr Smith, who viewers may remember as “the gay guy” on Dawson’s Creek and here plays Cate’s fiance and fellow talk radio DJ.
Sound heavier than your average CW show? It certainly is, but hit the jump to find out why it’s a whole lot better too.
As with just about every CW show, this one is about the relationships of impossibly pretty people, though if you’re expecting something along the lines of Gossip Girl or some of their other lighter than air programming, you’re in for a surprise.
Although there’s still plenty of sex to go around, the relationships here are more interpersonal and much more realistically strained. Though I’ve seen it compared to Gilmore Girls – a show I’m not afraid to admit I watched religiously – I’d say it’s more like Party of Five. It’s just people dealing with a tough situation, and though it can certainly be as manipulative as any “heart-wrenching” TV drama, it earns almost all of the emotions it will generate with scenes that are, frankly, sometimes very hard to watch.
After the initial shock wears off for both of the parents in this tale, Lux explains that she wants their signatures so she can get emancipated. I really don’t think I’m giving too much away here since this all happens in the pilot, but instead of granting her emancipation, the judge instead remands Lux into the shared custody of Nate and Cate (and yes, there are some jokes about that.)
Life Unexpected never shies away from how much Lux feels rejected, and watching Cate (and to a lesser extent Nate) try and win back her trust is often a genuinely moving experience (or at least in the first three episodes, which is all I’ve seen so far.)
The show isn’t perfect. The first 10 minutes, in fact, are downright cringeworthy as we have to listen to Cate and Ryan Thomas (Smith’s character) engaging in just about the most inane radio banter I’ve ever heard (they even attempt a couple of marry/sex/kill jokes, but you can’t top Judah Friedlander’s Marry/boff/kill riff with Osama Bin Laden and Martha Stewart, so why bother?)
This, however, is just a setup to show how “care-free” everyone is before Lux shows up, but once she does, Life Unexpected is exactly that: A genuine drama about real life that – if it manages to last for more than few episodes – should appeal to people of all ages who enjoy shows with genuine heart and humanity. And again, yes, really.