Sunday, March 14, 2010

Life Unexpected

Life Unexpected. CW. TV series. Monday nights. On TV now, I'm sure there will be DVD this summer.

The Plot: Lux, 15, is a foster child who wants to emancipate herself so seeks out her birth parents. They turn out to be young thirtysomethings who haven't seen each other since high school: Baze, now a struggling bar owner, Cate, a radio personality. Instead of emancipating Lux, the judge awards custody to Baze and Cate.

The Good: First, put aside the "but wait! would a white infant, even one with health issues, really be left in foster care her whole life? but wait! is it really that easy to track down your birth parents? but wait! everyone still lives in the same town?" Also put aside that even a regular name like Cate is spelled, well, in a unique way.

These three struggle with their new, unwanted yet welcomed, roles: Lux as wanted child, Baze as father, Cate as mother. Welcomed, but with absolutely no preparation, no training, no anything. Imagine becoming not just a parent, but a parent of a seemingly independent teen. Imagine yearning for independence (in part because no one ever wanted you) to being a dependent teen with the first two people who didn't want you. Add to it that these two parents are constantly fighting with each other and now in the mix is who can be your "better" parent. That is enough to watch this show, to see Baze, Cate and Lux work through these issues with a mixture of maturity and immaturity, selfishness and grace, wisdom and naivete.

The reason I watch it, though, is I'm fascinated by the road Cate is traveling. The smart, nerdy high school girl at the school dance who ends up losing her virginity to the popular football star. Of course she ends up pregnant. And of course he refuses to do anything, refuses to even to acknowledge a relationship. Fast forward these fifteen or so years and guess what? Baze is still a total asshole to her about it! In talking about that encounter -- about their time in high school -- he paints her as the ugly girl.

Cate is now outwardly successful but with issues. Issues of trust, and self confidence, and what it means to love and be loved. Cate had managed to live with (and ignore) these issues because she had confidently left the past in the past. The boy who had hurt her terribly? Never to be seen again. The child she carried? Given up for adoption and a better life. Except now she discovers that not only did Lux not get a better life -- Cate now has to have Baze back in her life. Reminding her every day of her mistakes and her past.

Part of Cate's success is her engagement to Ryan, her radio co-host. Problem is, when Baze reappeared, there was a night after a fight with Ryan when Baze and Cate slept together. While I understand why Cate did this, Ryan cannot.

What I don't like about the show, and am struggling with: part of the radio-persona for Cate and Ryan was that Ryan was the good guy and Cate the whiny, insecure single gal. Every possible worst stereotype of desperate slutty girl was thrown at her for a while.

Also? Baze is a good father under the traditional requirements of good fatherhood: he breathes, shows up half the time, and has good intentions. For all these, he, his daughter, his friends, society, applaud him. Cate is measured also by the traditional requirements of good motherhood. I'm sure you can all guess what they are and how she fails.

Frankly, those gender stereotypes are enough to almost make me give up on the show. Even if they are real, and we see and hear and read them every day.

But... But Lux is so engaging, so smart and hopeful, I want more of her story. Cate is so real, and my heart bleeds for her, and I want her to go to a therapist and work out how just because people hurt her doesn't mean she always have to be damaged. Ryan plays the role of Good Guy and I want to see him become more nuanced, more understanding, and less a white knight. And Baze? I want to see someone call Baze on his immaturity and hurtful actions and for him to actually listen.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Jen Robinson said...

I'm hooked too, Liz, though I hadn't put the thought that you did into figuring out why. I think it's mostly Lux. She's adorable. Plus I like seeing Shiri Appleby (sp?) in a post-Roswell role.

Liz B said...

What, me overthink something? LOL!

I love Lux. How could she have not been adopted? I really think there should be PSAs during this show for foster parents/ older children adoptions. Because man...Lux! Tosh! Bug!

And I get the giggles thinking "Liz left Roswell for Portland... Lux is secretly Max's child..."

Emma (the Expat) said...

I saw the previews for this show. It looks interesting, but I'm still not sure about it. Lux seems like the best reason to watch it, but the whole thing sounds so unrealistic. Then again, I do watch Lost...
Anyway, this review helped!

Donna Gambale said...

Despite its imperfections, this show has totally charmed me. And how could I resist a post-Roswell Shiri?