The two-hour Life Unexpected finale is on tonight. Whether you want to put ‘season’ or ‘series’ in front of that sentence is up to you, but I am more than willing to bet that this is it for the little CW show that could.
Its second season pick-up last May was practically a miracle in of itself, and it’s also this year’s least watched show on network television, so you do the math. But despite being un-incredible in terms of ratings and overall storytelling, I’ve still come to enjoy this CW series about a foster kid who finally finds a home with her dysfunctional birthparents sixteen years after they gave her up for adoption.
The plot is pretty standard TV stuff – an angsty teenager, an unconventional family, lots of love triangles, plenty of lies, and some forced drama, but overall it’s unlike many of its other CW siblings. On Life Unexpected the characters get by without superpowers, they don’t live on the Upper East Side or in another famous zip code, and vampires and demons don’t exist. For a television drama it’s actually rather mellow and has so far resisted the temptation to employ fantastical plotlines (although it’s only season two). Rather, Life Unexpected has a very WB vibe.
For anyone who grew up on a steady WB diet, this show evokes a pretty high nostalgia factor. Life Unexpected has a lot more in common, on a thematic level, with shows like Everwood, Charmed, Rosewell, Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, 7th Heaven, Gilmore Girls, and Jack & Bobby than say Hellcats, Gossip Girl, The Beautiful Life, The Vampire Diaries, or Nikita. Not only does Life Unexpected tackle many of the same topics as past WB shows, but it also stars Shiri Appleby, who played Liz Parker on Rosewell and Kerr Smith, who was Jack McPhee on Dawson’s Creek.
But back to its plot point similarities, many shows on The WB revolved around the family unit and how their various characters negotiated the often-complicated relationships portrayed on them.
Okay, hold up, I know you’re thinking all shows do that, but just hear me out…
Overall, most of their shows stayed grounded and presented relatable storylines of characters struggling to belong, seeking acceptance and love, or simply trying to figure out who they were. A teenager often took center stage and consequently the feeling of being an outsider was quite prevalent. In most of the shows the characters felt as if they were different from everyone else figuratively and literally depending on the show’s genre.
In Life Unexpected’s two short seasons, its storylines have encompassed all of these sentiments, perhaps even more overtly. Think about it, the show is about a girl who was given up and is now trying to figure out how she fits in to this makeshift family of hers, while starting at a new school, and running from her past. Abandonment, exclusion, parental bonds, life lessons, and a fresh start are all laid out in its premise. There’s really no need for metaphors here.
Life Unexpected and Gilmore Girls could be two sides of the same coin, the same story with two very different paths. Although Cate and Lux have an incredibly tenuous relationship, they’re working on it and like Gilmore Girls, the mother daughter relationship – at its core – helps define who they are, also both got knocked up in high school. But for example, Lorelai would not have been who she was if she hadn’t had Rory and left home. Likewise, Rory was like a changed person when her and her mom had a falling out and she left home to live with her Grandparents. The same can be said for Lux and Cate. Not only has it immediately forced Cate to grow up, but also becoming a mom has forced her to confront many of her shortcomings and insecurities. Likewise, Lux is finally learning to rely and trust others, kind of crucial life skills. Together they are better, separate they are a mess.
Like Everwood’s Ephram, Life Unexpected’s main character Lux has some series parental blame issues and even more trouble fitting in. Feeling unwanted and like an outsider she often rebels and relies on sarcasm or silence. Both shows tackle realistic and relatable journeys of a family’s road to redemption and forgiveness.
Similar to the main characters on Rosewell, Lux feels different, not unlike an alien. Growing up in foster homes and living on the streets she can’t always relate to the average teenagers she matriculates with. She also goes to great lengths to keep her past a secret. The same can be said for Clark Kent on Smallville, Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the Halliwell sisters on Charmed.
If you’re looking for more examples I could keep going but I think you catch my drift. Although Life Unexpected certainly would have benefitted from more viewers, it also seemed like The CW’s own orphan.
This video is another reason I love the show – watch here.