Life Unexpected

Being a series on The CW, Life Unexpected offers mostly what's expected, with alt-rocky song cues and pop-topical references.

Life Unexpected

Airtime: Mondays, 9pm ET
Cast: Kerr Smith, Kristoffer Polaha, Shiri Appleby, Brittany Robertson, Reggie Austin
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: The CW
Created by: Liz Tigleaar
Air date: 2010-01-18
Be what you want to be,

If you ever turn around, you'll see me.

-- The Weepies, "Can't Go Back Now"

"The state's not paying me enough to deal with this." So says the Foster Mom at the start of Life Unexpected. And yes, she is a very bad Foster Mom. In her one and only scene, she looks frazzled and frustrated in her kitchen, annoyed that 15-year-old, Lux (Brittany Robertson) has complained about a younger brother. Lux fumes, "You would think, with your last name actually being 'Foster,' you'd be somewhat equipped to be a foster parent."

Ooh, zap!

Yes, Lux is righteously frustrated and intellectually superior, a 15-year-old on TV with reason to disrespect Mrs. Foster. Having endured seven foster homes over her brief lifetime -- with "Scope-drinking moms and creepy dads that try to hit on me" -- Lux wants out: she announces that in two days, when she turns 16, she's going to court in search of legal "emancipation." Mrs. Foster has nothing to say. Cut.

Turns out that a foster mom named Foster is not the only coincidence in Lux's life. Her research in preparation for her upcoming birthday reveals that not only can she achieve her freedom with a birth parent's signature, but also that both of them still live in Portland, where she also lives. Dad is Baze (Kristoffer Polaha), introduced as he rolls out of bed in his leopard-print undies, explaining to his high school teacher girlfriend (Brittney Irvin) why he lives in an apartment over the bar he owns ("My dad said to do what I love and I love to drink for free"). When Lux arrives on his doorstep ("I'm kind of comprised of half your gene pool"), he's surprised but also not, as he remembers the one-prom-night stand he shared with her mom, Cate (Shiri Appleby). The gimmick here is that Cate and Baze haven't spoken since then, when he believed she "took care of it." Now that they both know they're parents, they have to think about what it means to be parents.

It's not by accident that Cate is played by Appleby, once a star in the teen melodrama Roswell (on which Polaha guest-starred), or that her current fiancé and partner on a radio talk show, Ryan, is played by Dawson's alum Kerr Smith. Ryan wants Cate to take the next step with him, but she's apprehensive (and who wouldn't be, with a proposal premised on her "biological clock": "Where is that desire," he asks, "to make more than ramen noodles and dry toast?"). As those "kids who have kids" you've heard about, these ostensible adults must face their responsibilities, a plot point complicated by their continuing tendency to act like kids. "I learned it really early on," Cate says into her mic at work, where she likes to work out her life questions on air. "The only person you can depend on in this world is yourself. If you believe anything else, you're just setting yourself up for heartbreak."

Cate's re-education is hastened when a judge decides the jobless and homeless Lux cannot be emancipated, but instead will be assigned to her parents' joint custody. Baz and Cate both welcome and dread this opportunity to be grown-ups, acting out in predictable ways. Lux helps Cate along, by revealing that she has in fact been listening to her on the radio for years. "When everything else in my life kept changing," Lux says, "I could count on you every day." Beyond just "being there," according to Lux, Cate also served as a role model. "People are so scared to tell the truth. Instead, they're like, 'Don’t worry, it'll all work out.' You just put it all out there. You say the truth."

Of course, Cate's not so honest as her daughter imagines, and so the show sets up for revelations and reaffirmations, betrayals and confessions. Being a series on The CW, Life Unexpected offers mostly what's expected, with alt-rocky song cues (Bright Eyes' "First Day of My Life") and pop-topical references: Baze and Lux bond over a shared affection for the YouTube clips featuring Christian the lion; Ryan loves that Cate "eats Cookie Crisps for breakfast," and -- anticipating the obvious comparisons -- calls her "Juno" and "Jamie Lynn." The connections are sudden, relationships shallow, and dialogue glib. And in the end, the Weepies tell us, "The only steps that matter are the ones you take all by yourself."


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.