Tuned In: 'Life Unexpected'

Predictable show brings a slight delight to The CW

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Expectations have a funny way of altering perception.

Take, for instance, The CW's "Life Unexpected." If you go into it expecting another sleazy show of the "Gossip Girl" or "Melrose Place" variety, you might be shocked to discover the series' tone is more similar to a middling series on predecessor network The WB. To some, the fact that it's WB-worthy -- automatically an improvement on the CW template -- somehow elevates it beyond middle-of-the-road status to something better.

That's certainly how the tweeting class is greeting "Life Unexpected" (9 p.m. Monday, WPCW), which has already been declared a winner by fanboys and fangirls posting their impressions to their Twitter feeds. It's an understandable reaction because, I, too, miss the old WB, which created a brand that managed to meld quality and youth-appeal in early seasons of series such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Dawson's Creek," "Smallville" and "Gilmore Girls."

In those shows, even among the risque, look-at-me plots (Pacey beds a teacher!), there was a kernel of innocence that gave the shows varying degrees of heart. "Life Unexpected" has that, too, but it's also a little bit of a paint-by-numbers show that offers few surprises as it runs a predictable, WB-esque course.

On the cusp of 16 and a chance to become an emancipated minor, Lux (Britt Robertson) decides she's done with foster families and ready to strike out on her own. Her biggest legal hurdle: Getting her biological parents to sign off on it.

Her mom, Cate Cassidy (Shiri Appleby, "Roswell"), is a Portland, Ore., morning drive deejay who specializes in bitter, man-hating generally and dating her co-host, Ryan (Kerr Smith, "Dawson's Creek"), specifically.

Lux's father is Nate "Baze" Bazile (Kristoffer Polaha), a guy who never totally grew up and runs a bar because his father told him "to do what you love and I love to drink free beer."

Cate never told Baze he got her pregnant, so he's shocked when Lux shows up on his doorstep. For her part, Cate was assured by a social worker that her baby daughter would easily find a family.

With the arrival of Lux in their lives, Cate feels remorse, Baze is astounded. Attempts at "Gilmore Girls"-style bonding between a teen and her thirtysomething parents ensues.

As created and written by Liz Tigelaar ("Brothers and Sisters," "What About Brian"), Lux is an adorably scruffy, Little Orphan Annie-like innocent in the pilot. Beginning in episode two, she's more rough-edged, gaining a tattooed boyfriend and passel of gutterpunk orphan friends. By episode three, she's having a forced dinner with her parents and grandparents (generically patrician, not as interesting as Richard and Emily Gilmore), who invite Cate's mom (Cynthia Stevenson, "Men in Trees") and sister.

The presence of one-time WB stars Appleby and Smith adds to the old-school vibe. Frustratingly, Appleby has not yet learned how to pronounce words that end in "-ing," which she still makes soung like "-ink" (e.g. "thinking" becomes "thinkink").

As Lux, Robertson is a find. She capably plays both Lux's world-weary, snarky attitude and her vulnerability. She's a large part of what makes "Life Unexpected" a minor delight, even if its charms are entirely expected.

Contact TV editor Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. First Published January 17, 2010 5:00 AM


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