January 25th, 2010
Alan Sepinwall has a good review of this week’s second episode of Life Unexpected where he discusses the curse that is the never-ending pilot, where a network puts pressure on a show to restate/revisit its premise in early episodes in order to hook in new viewers (like, for instance, those who tuned in tonight when they found out the CBS comedies were in repeats). He points out that, at TCA, Liz Tigelaar argued this actually made sense for this show, as a situation this complicated would actually be quite unstable, and it would be unrealistic for it not to in some way repeat the initial tension we saw in week one.
I think she’s right, but I think that “Home Inspected” also manages to find a couple of intelligent shortcuts to navigate its way through the challenges of this process. I wouldn’t argue that the episode is perfect, or that some of those shortcuts aren’t a bit overstated/melodramatic, but the episode manages to maintain the show’s pilot momentum even in its redundancy, which is something any show in its position should strive for.
The episode centres around the evaluation of Cate and Baze’s ability to serve as foster parents, which at first seems like something new but is instead just a necessary step in enacting the judge’s order from the pilot. It’s one of many things in the episode that felt like there was a scene we didn’t see, that in an effort to be focused and streamlined scenes were cut that would have otherwise indicated these things. It’s basically revisionist history, but I think I’m okay with that: the show’s world was probably a bit too small for the sake of the pilot, especially in terms of Lux having no friends or acquaintances of her own, so any any attempt to flesh out her past is in the show’s best interest even if it feels a bit forced in the earlygoing.
The introduction of Lux’s friends is fine, really – the characters aren’t particularly realistic, or overly complicated, but they offer a good lens through which both Lux and Cate are able to view their opportunity. The idea that Lux had this whole other life planned, and that she would in some way feel obligated to reconnect with them, is something that speaks to the character, and learning that she was effectively the other girl’s “guardian angel” keeps the character from seeming too bitter or resentful. I do wonder whether or not the show is perhaps overvilifying Girls homes, and whether its street kids were “street” enough all things considered, but the story seemed to give Lux some perspective, and that’s an important part of the show’s identity moving forward.
More problematic was the journey of Cate Cassidy, who had to jump through a few too many hoops. The idea that she would be forced to read that statement on the air is going a bit too far to create melodrama, and I thought the storyline only clicked when it brought Ryan (Kerr Smith, obviously the least “central” of the parental-like figures) into the picture. The idea that Cate would lie about her existence on the radio, and then tell the truth again, shows that they’re willing to sacrifice logic (as in, that would not go over well at all) for the sake of sentiment, which fits with where the show is going but which seemed a bit too stretched here. However, once the show put Ryan and Lux together discussing Cate, and the Attic room came into play, the “bizarre sort of family” theme came back with a vengeance and shed light on Cate’s behaviour.
With Baze, the show basically plays out like one big cliche, but it actually plays out like a pretty fun one. Yes, the episode makes him out to be even more of a drunk than he was before for the sake of placing more pressure on the evaluations, and yes he again questions whether he wants this before his intelligent friend convinces him of the opportunity at hand, but the way the episode ends actually makes the Groundhog Day-esque narrative a bit tragic: Baze, having come to terms with what he needs to do to make this work, is relegated to glorified babysitter after the social worker refuses to allow Lux to live at his apartment. It’s a blow, and you can see it on his face, but he and Lux only share a look about it. It’s a nice moment of subtlety, and it reinforces that to some degree everyone doubts Baze, and he might never be able to overcome peaking in high school and the mistakes he made. The episode doesn’t bash us over the head with it, but it was there, and it helped flesh out the episode’s stories.
So long as there remain such nuances, and as long as the show investigates some new character angles (let’s see more of Baze’s friends, for example) in the process, the show can be as repetitive as it wants for a while. I just hope they don’t need to go “too far” in doing it, as we saw to some extent with Cate here.
- I was watching (500) Days of Summer this past week, and this continued the attention to detail when characters are playing Wii Sports in film or television: they always have Miis that match their character. I don’t know if this is in some way mandated by Nintendo, or if the producers/actors just have a lot of fun with it, but it’s just something I’ve been noticing.
- Bit of a writing snafu: Cate refers to what Lux’s friend “lost” in the same way that the friend referred to it in a conversation with Lux, not with Cate. It was meaningful to us, but for Cate to use that exact term is a stretch, as it’s not something one would normally say.
- I have to presume that we’ll eventually see Lux actually go into her school, which to me would be a logical place for her to meet new friends, and to potentially meet other adult role models in her life. The question is, though, whether the show has time to really delve into Lux’s life separate from her parents or her past right now. The sooner it happens, the better, in my eyes.
- The Spin Doctors poster on the wall was perhaps T.M.I., but the Sarah McLachlan poster was more confusing: did Lux go to Lilith Fair at the age of 4?
- The show got a real title sequence this work, a short little collection of clips with a short theme song about a family tree. I thought there was some cool stuff in the clips (some actually interacting with other clips adjacent to them, if my eyes weren’t deceiving me), but it was too slight to make a real impact.