January 24, 2010

TV: Life Unexpected (CW, Mon 9)

A very pleasant surprise.

Lux (Britt Robertson) is 16, and wants to be legally emancipated from the foster care system. Because her birth parents never actually signed the documents relinquishing their parental rights -- her birth father doesn't even know that she exists -- she has to track them down and get those signatures in order to get that emancipation.

Her father, Baze (Kristoffer Polaha), owns a bar, and lives above it with a couple of other guys and a rotating cast of girlfriends; mother Cate (Shiri Appleby) is a successful morning radio talkshow host whose cohost (Kerr Smith) is also her boyfriend.

Lux's emancipation hearing doesn't go as she had hoped. The judge does take her out of foster care, but releases her into the temporary joint custody of Cate and Baze, forcing the three to figure out how to deal with their newfound existence as a family.

Neither Cate nor Baze has ever quite fully grown up, so the show has something of a Gilmore Girls vibe (though this is a far less whimsical show than Gilmore was), as parents and daughter take turns trying to get the other to be the responsible one.

The pilot tap-dances nimbly around the more implausible parts of its premise -- that an attractive white infant would never have been adopted, or that such dark brunettes as Appleby and Polaha would have so blond and fair a child as Robertson -- with writing that is reasonably intelligent, as this sort of teen soap goes, and is practically Shakespearean by CW standards.

The cast is extremely likable. Appleby and Smith have both done time in teen soaps (Roswell and Dawson's Creek, respectively), so they understand the style and tone very well; Polaha has been knocking around TV for several years now without ever finding the right combination of a good role in a good show. And Robertson is charming and smart, with a gift for delivering her dialogue in a way that downplays its occasional tendency to be too precocious by half.

This one is definitely worth keeping an eye on for a few weeks, and it could develop into something very good.

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