“I Hear You, I See You”
September 14th, 2010
Life Unexpected and Parenthood have a lot in common, industrially speaking: while their thematic similarities don’t go beyond “family” being a central component of each, their most important connection is that they are both midseason shows which were renewed for a second season.
This is important because it means that they, compared with other sophomore series, didn’t get as much time to tell their stories. Without full 22-episode seasons, we never really got to see everything that Liz Tigelaar and Jason Katims had to offer, which makes these debuts especially important. We’re not as committed as we would have been after a “full” season, and therefore each series goes into its second year looking to prove that they are going to make the most of this opportunity and that we should continue watching.
I want to discuss the two series together because they take two very divergent paths (and because I’m short on time): while Life Unexpected presents entirely new scenarios which complicate the series’ existing premise, Parenthood seems entirely comfortable in the rhythms it developed last season. Neither decision is necessarily better than the other, but I do think that one premiere was more effective than the other as a result of their strategy.
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.
February 15th, 2010
Considering that Life Unexpected has been repeating its pilot pretty consistently since it began, I’m tempted to just repost my review of the pilot here and see if anyone notices the difference.
This seems harsh, and I really don’t mean that in a negative way: after all, I liked the pilot, so my willingness to repeat those thoughts indicates that I still believe them to be true. Similarly, Liz Tigelaar and Co. are repeating the pilot because it was a good pilot, and because the brand of sweetness that this type of story brings to the table is clearly what they’re trying to tap into.
However, because we know going into an episode how it is eventually going to end (with Lux struggling to straddle her old life and her new one, and Cate and Baze realizing they’re not perfect parents but they nonetheless fill important roles in Lux’s life), we’re sort of able to fill in the gaps more easily than might be advantageous for the show. Every time a character is faced with a difficult decision mid-episode, they’re definitely going to make the wrong choice, whereas if the same decision is presented towards the end of the episode they’re inevitably going to come around.
What the show lives or dies on, then, is whether the show that happens in between the initial setup and the inevitable sweetness is compelling enough to keep watching, with enough shades of something deeper than this nearly procedural structure that the show is operating under. And “Turtle Undefeated,” like most episodes before it, makes me glad that I didn’t just watch the beginning and the end of the episode and chalk it up as one more life lesson for everyone involved.
And yes, that’s praise.
February 8th, 2010
Ahead of the show’s premiere, Liz Tigelaar warned that Life Unexpected was going to suffer from “Pilot-itis,” in that most of its early episodes would play as restatements of the show’s premise in order to appeal to potential new viewers who might be tuning in for the first time. Her argument was that, while it’s a bit frustrating in that some viewers could get impatient, it at least makes creative sense in this instance: considering the complexity of the premise, and the emotions tangled up between these characters, the “plot” would continue to have an impact beyond a single hour. In fact, it might have been more problematic if the show had moved on too quickly without first plumbing the depths of the complications at play here.
The problem is that, with “Bong Intercepted,” we’re reaching that point where the show is staging some engaging scenes but keeps coming to the same conclusion, and the premise is starting to wear extremely thin. It’s job has been done: the show has some engaging characters, and I want to be able to see them grow and move on. Instead, the show is hitting the same beats over and over again, proving itself capable of creating some interesting dynamics but wasting them on stories that are doing little to help the show moving forward.
There’s a couple of things here that signal some momentum, but for the most part things are pretty darn predictable rather than unexpected around these here parts.
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.
January 18th, 2010
When a network attempts to change its brand identity, it’s always an interesting balancing act. On the one hand, the network wants to be able to sell advertisers and viewers on the fact that they are new and exciting, charting a progressive path into the future. However, on the other hand, no network can entirely rebrand, so there will be remnants of the former identity kicking around both in order to provide a sense of stability for both advertisers and viewers alike.
Life Unexpected won’t be the last time I talk about this particular phenomenon this week (Hint: the other will be on Friday), but it’s definitely a show that hearkens back to The WB more than anything else in The CW’s lineup. It’s created a really interesting critical reaction to this show, where everyone points out how much it doesn’t fit the current CW brand and that, considering the critical opinion of said brand, it is better off for it. And I’m not going to deviate from this script: the show evokes Everwood and Gilmore Girls far more than Gossip Girl or Melrose Place, and I’m certainly not going to complain about that.
I do wonder, though, where the audience that watches a show as sweet and heartwarming as this one is currently located. I appreciate what the show has to offer, and I would certainly suggest that you check it out if The WB’s brand of charming drama series were up your alley, but I can’t help but wonder if the WB brand has become so stratified that the people who were silently sitting in their living rooms thinking to themselves “I wish there were shows like the WB used to have” have moved onto other networks (like ABC Family) and aren’t going to look past the network’s new brand.
I want to be wrong, though: I quite liked Life Unexpected, and I’d like to think shows like this could still succeed in this day and age.