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September 20, 2014

'Life Unexpected' Season 2 Review

by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 14th 2010 10:45AM
When it debuted last January, 'Life Unexpected,' the story of a foster kid who finds her biological parents, was cuter than a basket of puppies.

'Life Unexpected' (9PM ET, the CW) is still plenty adorable this year, and in its briskly paced, satisfying season 2 premiere, it makes a concerted attempt to shake up the elements that made the show's soapier elements increasingly tiresome in its first season.

The show tells the story of Lux (Brittany Robertson), a teenager who'd improbably stayed in the foster-care system despite being cuter than the aforementioned baby dogs. Her parents are the odd non-couple of Cate Cassidy (Shiri Appleby) and Nate Bazile (Kristoffer Polaha), a.k.a. Baze, who'd hooked up in high school but barely spoken since then.

Lux's arrival threw their lives into disarray -- though actually, as the slacker owner of a bar, there wasn't much to disturb in Baze's aimless life. Type A Cate, however, tried to mother the headstrong Lux, who'd spent years taking care of herself, and Cate also battled her lingering feelings for Baze, despite the fact that she was engaged to and eventually married Ryan Thomas (Kerr Smith).

Though I didn't see every first season episode, I saw enough to eventually grow irritated with the repetitive scenes of Cate and Baze talking or fighting over their feelings and of Cate, Baze or both having tearful reconciliations with Lux after various misunderstandings were sorted out. Though it bears in passing a resemblance to 'Gilmore Girls,' 'Life' didn't have that show's distinctive dialogue or deep bench of supporting characters, though the newer show always had a wry sense of humor and a core of admirable sweetness.

Perhaps I was a bit hard on 'Life Unexpected' because I'd very much wanted a replacement for 'Gilmore Girls' -- a show that could be both comedically flavored and emotionally meaningful -- and because 'Life' has an unusually strong cast. Robertson is capable as Lux, but Appleby and Polaha are especially excellent, and when they get material that truly engages their subtle skills, 'Life Unexpected' becomes more than the sum of its soaped-up parts.

The season 2 premiere introduces a few new characters, one of them an uptight, humorless author hired to serve as a third co-host of Cate and Ryan's morning radio show. To say more about the other new characters would ruin some twists, and it's too early to tell if they'll become fully fleshed out characters or mere plot devices. But it's good to see some new faces; 'Life' has to build up the characters' worlds more if it wants to avoid storytelling staleness.

It's hopeful, in any case, that 'Life Unexpected' appears willing to put the characters through real changes, some of which aren't undone by the end of the hour. The show has always had the makings of a pleasant, engaging family drama, and if continues to give the stories higher stakes, give the supporting characters more to do and provide the leads with richer journeys, then this 'Life' may have been worth saving.


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Galley

Shiri Appleby as the mother of a teenager? I don't see it.

September 16 2010 at 11:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mo Ryan

Thanks! Yeah, if they can stay away from recycling the same 2 plots 20 times, we'll be in luck :)

September 15 2010 at 10:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dani

I watched all of Season 1 and liked it, despite getting a bit irritated with it too... It's a show I'll continue watching, but it's far from being in my favorite's list, though this can always change, right? It's good to hear it's improving, and I wish them all lots of success.

Great review, as always.

September 14 2010 at 11:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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