The C(riminally) W(asteful): The Case for Saving Life Unexpected

The Case for Saving Life Unexpected

May 14th, 2010

This year, it seems like everything is getting renewed before I can talk about saving it.

Upfronts season is usually about sweating it out until the eleventh hour waiting to see if your favourite shows are going to get canceled, which means it’s a good opportunity to write pieces about why they deserve a second/third/fourth/etc. season. Last year it was NBC’s Chuck, but this year the show has been a safe bet for renewal for months and officially got the pick up earlier tonight, which is good (as I like the show) but considerably less exciting.

One show I was ready to write about was Human Target, one of very few “bubble” shows that I watched and was quite passionate about continuing. I was going to talk about how the show had a strong season finale (which I was late watching and never blogged about), and how there’s a lot of potential in both the premise and the cast, and I was going to lecture FOX on how they need to show faith in series with that sort of potential when they have Bones in their lineup holding its own on Thursdays despite early struggles. However, FOX took all the wind out of my sails by, you know, picking up Human Target without much fanfare earlier in the week.

Perhaps it’s for the best, though, as I can focus on the one bubble show that I’d say I’d be legitimately angry to see canceled early next week. It isn’t that Life Unexpected is my favourite show on television, or even that it had a particularly spectacular first season (it was good, not great); rather, it’s that it’s a young show with a strong cast that grew beyond its premise to become a solid drama series, and it has a great deal of creative and commercial potential yet untapped. And while The CW has been trapped within an identity crisis since its inception, that’s no excuse to turn away a show with the potential to grow into something which complements their brand just so that they can focus on “hype.”

The CW doesn’t need hype at this point, they need something capable of being fresh and standing out from their lineup marked by vapidity, nostalgia marketed to teenagers, and genre programs being run into the ground (exceptions made for Vampire Diaries and Supernatural within this description of their lineup). Life Unexpected is that show, and I really hope they come around to this fact before they make the same mistake they made last year.

Last year, if you remember, the network canceled Privileged, which was actually remarkably similar to Life Unexpected: both focus on teen girls (the network’s target demographic) while telling stories about an older generation, and both shows feature some fairly substantial issues surrounding parenting or the lack thereof. They also have something else in common, which is lower ratings in The CW’s target demographics than shows like Gossip Girl or One Tree Hill. For Privileged, this led to the show’s cancellation, which wasn’t the worst loss in the world (the show was a bit all over the place at times) but which indicated the direction the network was heading in with its brand identity (choosing the Melrose Place remake over the series).

However, Melrose Place bombed, and now with Life Unexpected the network has a chance for a do-over. I’m not going to go through and list reasons for the show to return, because I really don’t think it’s that simple: while all of the performances have been good, and the show’s finale did a great job at avoiding the traditional dramatic cliffhangers while still creating tension which will carryover into next year, the show deserves to return because of the abstract potential which lies in its premise. The show spent a lot of this season checking off boxes, going through logical stories that would emerge from the story of a daughter, given up for adoption, getting the birth parents she never had and the conflict which ensues. By the end of the season, rather than feeling like they’d run out of stories, it seemed like they had evolved beyond the initial struggles of Lux, Cate and Baze feeling their way through the awkwardness of it all. The conclusion didn’t introduce some new character, or reveal some sort of shocking twist that shook the show to its very foundation: rather, it made the argument that what we’ve seen so far is the show’s foundation, and gave us a hint at the sort of complex interpersonal storylines the show is capable of telling in the seasons ahead.

A good show shouldn’t feel like it has to reinvent itself, or present itself as a reinvention of another series, to be considered buzzworthy. One Tree Hill, which has already been “rescued” from cancellation once or twice before through gimmicks like a leap forward in time, has had seven seasons, and its potential to grow creatively is more or less nil. The chances of someone jumping on the One Tree Hill bandwagon at this point is extremely unlikely, and yet The CW is the kind of network who would keep a show like that around because it’s familiar; Smallville’s ratings have been abysmal, but the show is getting a tenth season despite having to constantly reinvent itself to give the appearance of freshness. The show renewed 90210 not because its ratings are strong (they’re lower than Life Unexpected, albeit with tougher competition) but because they don’t want to admit defeat on their plans to reinvent the 90s primetime soap opera for a new audience. They’re a network with fetishizes the new and yet refuses to let go of the old, resulting in a lineup filled with series which have been taken apart and haphazardly reassembled into Frankenstein monsters that lurch their way through primetime with no signs of life.

Life Unexpected, fitting considering the title, is full of life: regardless of whether that life perfectly fits The CW’s brand (which is impossible considering how scattered that brand has become), and regardless of whether the show’s demographic ratings were up to par with some of the network’s other series (which isn’t surprising considering the maturity the show demonstrated), the show feels like it has earned the opportunity to use its momentum to tell more stories with these characters. While I know that there are various other factors which indicate whether a series will be renewed, there comes a point where a network shows enough contempt for good television that I’ll throw my knowledge of economics out the window and go on blind appreciation.

It’s not my favourite show on television, and it may never reach the heights of Gilmore Girls or Everwood, but if The CW cancels Life Unexpected now they will be spitting in the face of a show which has the potential to grow into something quite spectacular in the years ahead. And while I’m not a 15-year old girl, and while my tiny corner of the world of television criticism doesn’t have any sort of impact, I feel like it nonetheless needs to be said that there would be no larger disservice in the world of television should The CW make this critical, and criminal, error and waste Life Unexpected’s potential before it ever really had a chance to show it.

[Life Unexpected’s fate will be decided sometime between now and May 20th, when The CW will announce their full schedule. In this age of leaks, though, chances are it will break earlier rather than later, so stay tuned to Twitter.]

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19 Comments

Filed under Life Unexpected

19 responses to “The C(riminally) W(asteful): The Case for Saving Life Unexpected

  1. James

    This piece pretty much completely capsulates how I feel towards the situation.

    The network ordering a show like lux was in itself somewhat surprising considering the direction the CW was concieved to go. I hope to see them branch out further and pick up some of the more interesting pilots ordered though it likely won’t happen.

  2. Brandy

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write this article. I really agree with every single word. They need to give this show a real chance, because it does have the potential to grow and gain a strong fan base. The fact that it consistently had more viewers then 90210 and Gossip Girl speaks volumes. I know it doesn’t do spectacular in the women 18-34 demo, but I wish The CW didn’t focus so heavily on that demo. After all Smallville and Supernatural don’t do that great in that demo either, because they tend to bring in a large male audience. Hopefully with time more viewers will find out about the show.

    I really want the writers to work on Lux’s story line more next season, because the adult story lines are at times more interesting.If they start giving her stronger story lines, then more young females will tune into the show. Another thing I want is a better time slot, and to be paired with a better show. Mondays are so crowded, and it needs to be paired with a better show then Gossip Girl. They appeal to different viewers, and Gossip Girl is definitely not the hit it once was. Anyway, I’m really hoping The CW gives this show a chance.

  3. Tim

    Again, thank you for writing this article. I’m a regular lurker on the website, and yours is always the first I go to after watching the show. It’s a cute concept, and I found myself somehow making the time to watch it. I really hope it continues for a second season. It has a lot of potential.

  4. Sam

    totally agree. LUX really hit it’s stride by the end of the season. the story has also reached a good “new beginning” point that’s not going to alienate new viewers next year who didn’t see S1.

  5. fivexfive

    This piece totally puts to words what I couldn’t about this show. LUX is actually one of my favorite shows to watch on television right now, even though it’s not the best show, and I never realized it’s because of it’s potential. I also kind of like it’s inconsistency, because one week it will make me bawl my eyes out and the next it will make me laugh my ass off, although a better show would make you do those both those things every episode.

    Anyway, I do hope they renew it. I only watch 2 CW shows, and the other is Supernatural. This is the first time they had a show that I think makes sense for the network. It hearkens back to the days when the WB first started and had Dawson’s Creek, then Gilmore Girls. If it gives a show like LUX a chance, then maybe we can get something even better the next pilot season.

  6. Hear! hear! 🙂

    LUX and Vampire Diaries are pretty much the only shows I find interesting on the CW, (although I keep up with Smallville as well since it’s gotten better and am curious as to how they’ll wrap it up).

    It would be a pity to lose such a fun and original show! 😦

  7. Julia

    I hate the CW. I really hoped Life Unexpected would have been aired on other channel.

  8. CC

    Excellent piece, I could not agree more, and I could not have said it better myself!

  9. Trey Costner

    They need to give Life Unexpected some more seasons on the air that’s to good of a show to just cancel!! I enjoy watching the show never missed one episode it was a great family show to have on Tv.

  10. Madi-Emma

    Wonderful article and I couldn’t agree more. The acting in this show is quite superior and very heartfelt, the writing is perfectly paced and the stories are well explored. As a mother of 2 toddlers, I think this is the kind of show that deserves to be seen and enjoyed for many seasons.

  11. I TiVoed Lux on a whim when it first aired and fell in love with it. It could have been overly dramatised, it could have been sappy, it could have been unrealistic, but it wasn’t. It was like your life but just a little bit sweeter, it was totally worth it. Best whim I ever had.

  12. Great article Miles! Perfectly stated!

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  14. Yvonne

    A really good article. As other comments have pointed out, it was interesting to read because it voiced feelings viewers had had about the show themselves – but weren’t really aware of it. I, too have wondered why I loved this show so much when not all the episodes were THAT exciting. Now I know 🙂

    The cast is wonderful indeed, the show is so modern in its approach that not all families need to be traditional to be great together. Please renew it!

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  16. Courtney

    Great article! I too was surprised to see this great show on CW, which seems as though it has been overrun with the likes of 90210, Gossip Girl and Melrose Place. Not since Gilmore Girls have I enjoyed a (non-genre) show so much or loved it so quickly. The cast is great (Shiri Appleby is the reason I started watching – loved her on Roswell), the writing is good and the “conclusions” realistic (not everything always gets resolved right away). It deserves more time to develop and it would be a horrible move on the network’s part to not give this show a second season.

  17. Mavi

    I Enjoyed LUX and is the only show on CW I do, I still watch OTH but the show is awful and i was hoping thing was the final season just because i really dont want to invest any more time in this show, but still sort of need to see it thro…. 90210 I stopped watching about 5 eps into season 2, and Gossip Girl I think was couple eps into this season…

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