Monday, January 18, 2010

"Life Unexpected" tries to save the CW's soul

When the CW launched a few years ago, it inherited a number of shows from its parent networks, UPN and The WB. These included two strong, female-centered dramedies, "Gilmore Girls" and "Veronica Mars." However, within a year, those shows were off the air, and the network soon became home to schlocky remakes like "Melrose Place" and "90210." Yes, there were still a handful of quality shows (I still miss "Reaper"), but shows like "Gilmore" and "Mars" weren't really to be found on the network.
Thank goodness, then, for "Life Unexpected," a charming dramedy that debuts at 9 tonight on the CW.
The show -- about a foster teen who reconnects with her birth parents -- is sweet, intelligent and funny. In short, it's the kind of show that might have aired on The WB back in the day.
When series starts, 15-year-old Lux (the luminous Britt Robertson) is looking for early emancipation, so she can leave a foster system that's bounced her from one awful family to the next her whole life. To do this, she needs the approval of her birth parents. Dad is an immature 30-something bar owner who calls himself Baze (Kristoffer Polaha). Mom is an emotional basket case named Cate (Shiri Appleby) who hosts a radio talk show with her boyfriend (Kerr Smith, playing perhaps the most understanding TV mate this side of "The Closer's" Fritz Howard).
Turns out, Cate and Baze were teens themselves when they had the one-night stand that led to Lux. Baze always thought Cate had an abortion. Cate thought her baby had been adopted by a nice family.
When they learn that Lux is alive and miserable, they want to help. But can they?
The series is engaging as it follows these unique, damaged people as they attempt to form a family. It helps that Robertson is nothing short of magnetic as Lux. Despite her descents into headstrong teenage bratdom, we feel for her as she tries to get used to having her real parents in her life. Appleby and Polaha are also likable as two of the most unsuitable parents on earth. Despite their issues, we really believe that they might become decent parents just by the sheer force of their love for their newly discovered child.
"Life Unexpected" is fresh, sharply observed and brimming with smart things to say about families and human nature. If it takes off, it could bring some much-needed heft to the CW's lineup.

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