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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2009-2010 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on either a cut screened to us privately or a copy supplied by a third party NOT a screener provided by the network in question. All were received or screened prior to the networks' official mailings that went out in mid-June.]
LIFE UNEXPECTED (The CW)
(TBA at midseason; TRT: 42:15)
The network's description: "After spending all of her 15 years bouncing from one foster family to another in Portland, Oregon, Lux (Britt Robertson, "Swingtown") has decided it's time to take control of her life and become an emancipated minor. Her journey through the legal maze leads Lux to her biological father, 30-something Nate "Baze" Bazile (Kristoffer Polaha, "Mad Men"), who owns a bar, lives like an aging frat-boy with two slacker roommates, and is astonished to learn that he has a teenage daughter. Lux is equally astonished when Baze reveals that her mother is Cate Cassidy (Shiri Appleby, "E.R."), a star on the local "Morning Madness" radio show, along with her on-air partner and real-life boyfriend, Ryan Thomas (Kerr Smith, "Eli Stone"). Lux has been listening to Cate's voice on the radio as long as she can remember, so she feels an instant connection with the mom she's never met. Baze takes Lux to meet Cate, who is shocked and saddened to learn that Lux has grown up in foster care, but thrilled to finally meet her beautiful daughter. When a judge decides that Lux isn't ready for emancipation and unexpectedly grants temporary joint custody to Baze and Cate, they agree to try to get past the awkwardness and make a belated attempt to give Lux the family she deserves. LIFE UNEXPECTED is produced by Mojo Films in association with CBS Television Studios and Warner Bros. Television with executive producers Liz Tigelaar ("Brothers and Sisters," "What About Brian") and Gary Fleder ("October Road"). Gary Fleder directed the pilot."
What did they leave out? "Life," originally known as "Light Years" and "Parental Discretion Advised," was the first pilot ordered for the 2009-10 season and the last pilot picked up to series.
The plot in a nutshell: Just two days before her 16th birthday, perennial foster child Lux (Britt Robertson) wants just one thing: to be emancipated. And she'll get her wish too, if she can track down her birth parents and have them sign away their rights to her. Up first: manchild Nate "Baze" Bazile (Kristoffer Polaha), whose aspirations don't involve much beyond sleeping above/drinking at his bar alongside roommates/fellow slackers Math (Austin Basis) and Jamie (Reggie Austin). Shocked to have the product of a Spin Doctors/Zima-fueled tryst from high school suddenly appear on his doorstep, Baze nevertheless agrees to help Lux in her quest. "Mom," much to Lux and his pals' surprise, then turns out to be Cate Cassidy (Shiri Appleby), host of Portland's popular K100 "Morning Madness" radio show. Billed as the city's tough-talking, unlucky-in-love sidekick to co-host Ryan Thomas (Kerr Smith), she nevertheless may have found "the one" in nice guy Ryan. Their relationship however hits the skids with the return of Baze/arrival of Lux as the pair open up all sorts of old wounds from the past. Lux however will have none of Baze and Cate's bickering as she deftly proclaims, in a sure-to-be-promoted quote, "You both can't be parents, you both need parents!" And despite their signatures, the judge shoots down Lux's emancipation petition, instead ordering her into the temporary joint custody of Baze and Cate. Thankfully, they just might be right people for the job.
What works: Old school WB in the best possible way, "Life" may be both the sappiest and the smartest show to come out the netlet to date. It all begins with the collective awesomeness that is Britt Robertson, Kristoffer Polaha, Shiri Appleby and Kerr Smith. Effortlessly charming, stunningly empathetic and an all around a joy to watch, our central quartet make what could be written off as a silly premise - two opposites must now raise the precocious product of their one night stand from high school! - into a surprisingly poignant tale about love and forgiveness. Britt Robertson will break your heart at least once in the pilot as her wise-beyond-her years, "Juno"-esque Lux simply asks the world why no one loves her. Credit writer Liz Tigelaar and director Gary Fleder for answering that question with two very real responses. In Baze's case, he didn't know about her but now that she's here, she's somehow unlocked an - for the lack of a better word - unexpectedly paternal part of himself. For Cate, it's the full grown reminder of a decade and a half of shame and mistrust as a result of her decision to give Lux up for adoption, one that becomes all the more soul crushing after learning she never got adopted. Now in order to take care of Lux she'll have to do the previously unthinkable - fix herself. In other words, both Baze and Cate definitely need some growing up - and Lux is the kick they need to do it. It's a wonderfully adult take on your typical quarterlife crisis as I genuinely want to know what made these people who they are and see what they become.
What doesn't: The show admittedly can get a little too saccharine at times. For instance, Lux wasn't adopted because of congenital heart defect - she literally had a hole in her heart; while Lux also reveals that she's been a lifelong "Morning Madness" fan, meaning her mother had in effect been a part of her life all along. These types of blatant tugs on the heartstrings, while forgivable, still feel kind of unnecessary. All in all though...
The bottom line: ...it's the start of a beautifully charming series.