Babies having babies is never a good idea, and it's worse when the babies having the babies are actually 32 and the babies being had are 16. As a society, it seems, we have extended adolescence until some point in people's mid-30s, and while people are – of course – free to lead their own lives in a way that they see fit (provided that they don't hurt others), it does seem wrong for people who act like adolescents to try and raise one. And it may be even worse for us to have to watch the entire thing take place.
The CW's latest drama, Life Unexpected, features just such a scenario. The show opens with Lux (Brittany Robertson) doing her best to become an emancipated minor. Lux has lived in foster care (either with families or in a group setting) for her entire life, and at age 16 has decided that she has had enough. The only snag is that in order to get the judge to consider the petition, Lux needs the signatures of her biological parents. A little bit of sly investigative work has led Lux to her father, Nate "Baze" Bazile (Kristoffer Polaha). Nate lives in the building his father has given him, the bottom floor of which he's turned into a bar. Though he didn't know she even existed, Nate is aware of who the mother has to be, Cate Cassidy (Shiri Appleby). Over the course of the pilot, things don't go quite as Lux expects, and the judge ends up putting Lux into the care of Cate and Nate.
It is easy enough to separate some of the reality of what would happen in Lux's situation from what the show has happen. One's suspension of disbelief – and the potential the show seems to exhibit early on – more than allows for the seemingly impossible premise of the rest of the series to exist.
The problems in the series really begin to crop up in the second episode. Neither Cate – who is a morning drive-time radio show host – nor Baze, even in though they're in their early 30s, seem to exhibit any of the sort of life skills one would hope they would show. Cate certainly gives the responsibility thing a better shot than Baze, but is so overly wrapped up in her own emotional and personal issues that she rarely is capable of putting Lux and her needs first.
The show does acknowledge that the adults act like children, but that doesn't make it better. It is wholly understandable that people who just get thrown into the middle of parenting a teenager would be unready for the experience, but that isn't the problem with Cate and Baze. Baze goes as far as letting Lux, who though she is 16 doesn't even have a learner's permit, drive. Cate can't be bothered to realize that if her daughter goes to school across town, Cate has to help figure out how the girl is going to get to school until Lux points it out… right before she has to go to school and Cate is already halfway out the door.
Life Unexpected is certainly not without good points, or the potential to become a far better show. Kerr Smith, who plays Cate's on-air co-host and real-life boyfriend, Ryan, is one of the show's bright spots. Smith's Ryan is stuck in an incredibly difficult situation, having to watch Cate flail about with Lux and her high school hookup. It is the sort of thing that would be enough to make anyone run for the hills, but Ryan not only sticks around, he does his best to actually help without stepping over any lines. In fact, he acts as we would hope 30-something year-old people would act.
The only other person who, perhaps, acts her age is Lux. At one moment she is virtually an adult, able to take care of herself and make her way in the world, and the next she is hanging out with a boyfriend and two other kids her age who, from what the audience is shown, are clearly a whole lot of trouble waiting to happen. Lux may be terribly frustrating to much of the audience because the trouble she gets into is so incredibly easy to steer clear of, but when were teenagers the brightest creatures on the face of the planet?
The writing, much like everything else, is a mixed bag. Individual moments of banter between characters are clever and funny, but the plot points tend to make little sense. In one episode, Cate reads something on the air about her relationship with Lux, knowing that Lux listens to her show and has for years, but then can't figure out why Lux might be unhappy with her later in the day. Rather than that moment simply being Cate being too wrapped up in her own life to think about those around her, this feels more like someone wasn't paying attention to the already established facts of the series when they wrote the story.
For all its faults, there is something enjoyable about the series, and it is certainly not one where the faults are unfixable. If the two main adult characters start acting their age, that by itself will go a long way towards fixing the show's issues.
Life Unexpected premieres January 18th at 9pm on The CW.