Life Unexpected – “Formal Reformed”

“Formal Reformed”

March 15th, 2010

I don’t have a whole lot to say about “Formal Reformed,” to be honest: by nature of its winter formal setting, it played into the show’s history exactly as one would expect, and its drama was pretty easy to predict based on the title alone.

However, I think it’s interesting to note that the show ended up being able to contain that rather humongous pile of drama without feeling too burdened, and there is a certain ease about the show which has allowed it to survive some narrative rough patches early in the season. This is the kind of show where we should be questioning how the characters can move so quickly between love and hate, between guy and other guy, or between sister and other sister, but there is something about the show which makes those sorts of transition seem almost natural even when we question the realism of the stories being told.

I’m not convinced that this could ever happen in real life, perhaps, but I totally buy the particular brand of television magic that Life Unexpected is deploying in order to keep thing breezy (but meaningful) as they march towards the end of their short first season.

What’s interesting about this show is that for all of the potential romantic couplings that it throws out, there is no single relationship that feels either necessary or impossible. In this hour, we’re shown all sorts of different relationships at various stages, and I didn’t find myself rooting for any of them: Lux could just as easily end up with Jones as she could end up with Bug, and Baze can just as quickly fall into bed with Abby as he could fall back in love with Cate as they start to reconcile their differences. There isn’t that sense of the inevitable weighing down the show, no definitive “will they, won’t they” couple that needs to be together. Heck, I even believed that Math and Cate had a chance in this hour, even though most other shows would have had Math make an awkward move and get rejected in the process. I kept waiting for that moment to come, for Cate’s unease with the corsage to explode into awkwardness, but the moment never came, and they got a charming little conclusion as friends (even if, eventually, Math might get shot down).

The show is highly dramatic, don’t get me wrong, but it never feels like the drama weighs down the characters, or makes it so that the stories only have one logical conclusion. The actual action of this episode was pretty predictable, but the show didn’t turn Jones into a complete jerk, and they didn’t have Cate discover Abby in Baze’s bed, and they didn’t have Ryan show up at Baze’s apartment to find Cate and Baze having a moment. Instead, the episode has all the drama without the headaches, all of the smoke without the fires. And while there are times when we want things to seem a bit more concrete, and there will be a point late in the season where we will need things to be a bit more concrete, I think the sort of loosey-goosey nature of the show to this point has helped ingratiate the show and its characters with audiences. It’s a world almost entirely open to shipping (as Todd points out, the Baze/Ryan slash fic potential is likely through the roof), and a world where fandom does not feel like they are being herded or led in a particular direction.

In some ways, the show is quite similar to ABC Family’s Greek, another show with a fairly “castcestuous” environment: over time, that show has paired up its characters in so many different variations that the potential awkwardness has been replaced by an openness. Exes are able to talk about their relationships freely, and overall the show feels less weighed down by the collective drama surrounding such circumstances. With Life Unexpected, it’s too early to get that comfortable, and there is still plenty of awkwardness surrounding Ryan and Cate which would actually seem to indicate that the chances of them staying apart are actually quite slim: the show can sustain (and flourish with) bickering and feuding, but the sort of tension that defined Cate and Ryan’s current relationship is less productive, and is likely to be resolved before long.

Yes, sometimes the looseness can seem a bit odd: I had forgotten that Abby existed, for example, and while they set up her crush on Baze enough for me to buy her involvement, I thought they fell into bed a little bit too quickly and easily. But at the end of the day, it’s sort of nice to see characters bouncing back quickly, to see the show (at this early stage, at least) avoiding the collective weight of its dramatics and focusing on creating characters we want to see succeed rather than characters we feel bad for as they wade through the mess of the show’s premise.

Cultural Observations

  • If I’m shipping one couple, it’s Alice and Jamie – they had some chemistry in scenes that had no other context, and I like the idea of even the side characters getting caught up in messy situations towards season’s end.
  • I really liked the tightrope they walked with Jones: he’s not a complete douchebag, but he did bring a flask, so there’s every chance that he could turn into the kind of guy that Baze was sixteen years ago. But the scene with Lux in the car showed that he does like her, even if she’s still in love with Bug. The entire situation seems like the show hired two actors they liked too much to turn into complete jerks, and so we got this quite interesting situation instead.
  • Next week seems to be a return to definitive melodrama, but within the “deep emotional release” category rather than the “plot-driven drama” category. This is something we haven’t seen for a while, really, but I think it’ll be a good reminder.
  • Ratings remain solid but not spectacular for the show – tonight’s will be telling. I’m hopeful the show can get a renewal, as we don’t need another Privileged on our hands.
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