April 5th, 2010
While Life Unexpected is effectively a romantic story, as a young girl’s life struggles to find a family after being given up for adoption lead her back to the family she was meant to have, it doesn’t necessarily take place in a romantic world. There are times, of course, when the show steps towards the saccharine, and everything works out a little bit too easily, but Lux still went through a pretty hellish time in foster care (as we saw in last week’s episode), and I have always had faith that the show knows that what happened with Lux, Cate and Baze becoming a sort of family isn’t something that can happen every day.
“Father Unfigured” is the show dealing with that particularly reality, using Cate’s father (who she presumed abandoned the family) as a test to gauge the probability of this sort of situation ever happening again. And as I expected, it is very clear that the show’s premise is more than a bit romantic, but it’s a romanticism that manifests itself as a legitimate connection between these three human beings as opposed to some sort of simple or traditional notion of love. Essentially, Life Unexpected is like the television drama version of Lilo & Stitch, where “family” has its own unique meaning that no other family could entirely understand but which nonetheless connects with audiences.
The show often forces this “family” through a few more hoops than may be ideal in order to get to that stage, but they’ve nicely set things up heading into next week’s finale.
With only thirteen episodes, Tigelaar and Co. are very clearly interested in parallels. And while I understand the value of these parallels, and it ends up creating some effective scenes and character moments later in the episode, it can often end up with anvil-like speeches like Baze too explicitly evoking the “you need to keep the past in the past” lede in his initial warning to Bug and it can lead to huge leaps in logic. That Cate would be willing to jump in the car without calling ahead to visit her father is perhaps something we believe the character would do, and the show gave reasons for Baze (to spend time with Cate and Lux) and Lux (to help pull Baze away from the bar to let Bug clean things up) to go along with it. But that Ryan, who seems like an intelligent human being, wouldn’t once point out that Cate had no idea what she was walking into, or that she shouldn’t perhaps temper her expectations, seems like a pretty big stretch in order for Cate to get in over her head so Baze could help bail her out and they could handle this crisis together as one happy family of three.
Peter Horton was fine as Cate’s absentee father, giving off just the right level of support while clearly being unwilling to actually take part in Cate’s life. And it made sense that Baze would pick up on it first, recognizing his own initial reluctance in the guy, and it also makes sense that there’s a certain sadness in that Cate is far more needy when it comes to having a father figure in her life than was Lux when she first arrived. Throw in the fact that Cate realizes that she has been blaming Baze for her childhood troubles when it was her father’s abandonment – silly Cate, it’s always Daddy issues – that really started it all, and you have a really interesting thematic cocktail, but you also can very clearly see the writer pouring the various parts of the drink in a mechanical fashion. The show might wear its heart on its sleeve, but it also wears its plot mechanisms there at the same time, and while it all usually balances out in the end it’s hard to ignore sometimes.
But what hold the series together during those moments is the fact that there is a legitimately interesting and unique bond between these characters. “Father Unfigured” raises some important questions now that Lux is decidedly aware that Baze has feelings for Cate: are we rooting for Ryan to get stood up at the altar and for Lux’s parents to fall completely in love, or is romantic love not a necessary component to their family dynamic? When Cate was talking about people who are there for her late in the episode, and she’s discussing who she wants to walk her down the aisle, there was every chance that she could have answered Baze, and I would have believed her; the show has created a connection between Cate and Baze that is decidedly non-romantic but which has its own sort of chemistry, and I think the show could argue that their sort of bizarre parental unit could really work.
The problem is that Baze doesn’t see it the same way, and to some degree the show is forcing this to the surface to bring the always loved “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace” cliché into play. Tigelaar has very clearly stated that “soul mates” is not a term she would use, so this isn’t some sort of fated coupling or anything. Rather, it’s a romantic idea that Baze and the show can’t avoid, and so I’m curious how they try to make the family unit they’ve created and the unique situation involved jive with any sort of romantic action on Baze’s part in the finale. At the end of the day, the ability for Robertson/Polaha/Appleby to sell that chemistry has nothing to do with romance and something more to do with a corn dog-hoodie version of love and family, and I guess there’s two schools of thought: you don’t bring up romance at all, or you bring it up now and grow from there.
As Lilo & Stitch taught me, “Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind.” And so Lux is officially adopted (humorously after learning Baze is in love with Cate, not with her), and so they are all set to start their lives together but apart. That Baze would want a more traditional family, or that Lux would desire one, is something I wish the show would have had more time to sort of develop, but so long as the finale maintains a close connection to the importance of that value of family independent of any romantic notions I think that the show remains on a strong creative track that earns its predictability and its romanticism.
- I have no idea why I know all the words to Starship’s “Nothing’s Going to Stop Us Now,” but I totally did. On a related note, I am curious to know whether the three actors are really tone deaf, or if that was just some fine acting.
- The show has a lot of fun with very sitcom-like circumstances, so Lux’s kicking pushing Cate into Baze’s bed and then Cate and Baze waking up with a deconstructed pillow wall was nicely played by all involved.
- Since Fienberg asked for it, I figure I have to prove my Twitter claim that I was wearing the same shirt that Baze wore the morning of the road trip today. As such, below you’ll find a nice comparison image: I have no romantic notions of winning the “Who Wore It Better?” Poll. I also included a random piece of slightly obscured childhood memorabilia, as I currently occupy my childhood bedroom, so see if you can figure out what it is.