So, 13 episodes gone already. My, how time flies. An unexpectedly edgy show for the network that gave us Privileged, Gossip Girl, America's Next Top Model, 90210 and Melrose Place, Life Unexpected has seen foster child Lux locate her birth parents in an attempt to get emancipated, only to be thrown into their care instead - thrusting radio show host Cate and bar-owning Baze into the scary world of parenting a 16-year-old daughter.
It's not been picked up for a second season yet or by a UK network, but just in case it does, let's talk about whether the first season was worth sitting through and whether a second season is going to be a much-watch.
The first season of the show was pretty much all over the place. After a first episode that was pretty self-contained, the show had to jump through hoops to remold Cate, Lux and Baze into people who could sustain 12 more episodes of drama at least. So Lux became bratty and got herself some street friends and a street boyfriend, Cate became stupid (who decides to change their kid's high school without talking to the kid about it first, for example?), Baze became more immature (and despite being 'from the wrong side of the tracks', the son of very wealthy parents) and Ryan, Cate's fiance/co-host, became a far more viable partner. Baze's girlfriend got dropped before the second episode.
And for the rest of the season, although the show's been interesting and entertaining, it's pretty much been doing the same thing to the characters in an effort to sustain the storylines, flipping them in odd directions as the plots have demanded. There have been efforts to justify and explain the strange character reversals, but few of them have been convincing.
Best additions to the show, however, were Alexandra Breckenridge (Family Guy, The Ex List) as Cate's sister, Abby, and Erin Karpluk (Being Erica) as Cate's best friend/producer. Abby seemed to be a character like Cate's mother and Baze's father brought in purely to give the two parents someone to fight against and look good next to. However, Breckenridge seems to have been interesting enough - more interesting than Shiri Appleby, certainly - to have been brought back to give Baze a viable girlfriend.
Indeed, for a little while there a few episodes ago, it looked like the writers had actually managed to make the series nice - Baze paired off with Abby, Cate happy with Ryan, Lux happy with everyone, including her reformed boyfriend - so naturally they had to reverse everything again, making Abby a rubbish girlfriend, giving Baze feelings for Cate again, etc. Implausibly - and because we couldn't have Baze look like a complete dick for treating Abby so badly - Abby seemed happy enough with the break-up.
For some reason, presumably budgetary, Karpluk and Breckenridge never meet, which is why, despite Abby and Cate having reconciled, Abby doesn't get to appear in the (spoiler) wedding in the final episode, not even to say she can't make it; Karpluk gets dropped midway through the season as the Abby storyline hots up, before showing up in the final episode as a stand-in for Abby. It's all very weird, and indeed there only appears to be about one or two guest stars per episode, with various members of the various entourages getting swapped out and never meeting.
The final episode also gives us character flip-flops, with Ryan suddenly getting coldish feet, and Baze's dad turning back into an arse after having reformed a few episodes previously. And the ending? Well, I won't say a word about what happened, but both Lovely Wife and I agreed that the character dynamics were what neither of us wanted. It was drama for pure drama's sake and to get a second season, rather than because that's the way the characters would have behaved.
What the show desperately needs if it comes back is consistency. It has good - if incredibly, soap-opera grade emotive - writing, a good cast, fun moments and more. But the overall story arcs have proved frustrating. It's as though the writers took the show's name to heart and though to themselves, "How can we keep doing unexpected things with these people's lives? How about if just get them to do things you'd never expect them to do?"
So, if you're planning to watch the first season, buckle yourself in but prepare to be frustrated. If a second season does get the green light, I hope it gets a bigger budget for the guest cast and learns a little consistency, because this could be a cracking show.
UPDATE: Liz Tigelaar, the creator/show-runner of Life Unexpected, gives an interview over here in which as well as confirming the low budget of the show, she explains:
- Alex Breckenridge was supposed to be in the final episode but actually did get sick so couldn't fly up from Los Angeles for filming
- Most of the problems with the supporting cast getting swapped out have been due to actor availability
- If the budget were bigger, Alex Breckenridge would be a series regular
- Looks like season three of Being Erica is a go since Erin Karpluk will only be available for the second half of season two at most if it gets the go-ahead