Life Unexpected Doesn’t Deliver Enough Drama (or Ratings) For The CW

The two-hour Life Unexpected finale is on tonight. Whether you want to put ‘season’ or ‘series’ in front of that sentence is up to you, but I am more than willing to bet that this is it for the little CW show that could.

Its second season pick-up last May was practically a miracle in of itself, and it’s also this year’s least watched show on network television, so you do the math. But despite being un-incredible in terms of ratings and overall storytelling, I’ve still come to enjoy this CW series about a foster kid who finally finds a home with her dysfunctional birthparents sixteen years after they gave her up for adoption.Life Unexpected

The plot is pretty standard TV stuff – an angsty teenager, an unconventional family, lots of love triangles, plenty of lies, and some forced drama, but overall it’s unlike many of its other CW siblings. On Life Unexpected the characters get by without superpowers, they don’t live on the Upper East Side or in another famous zip code, and vampires and demons don’t exist. For a television drama it’s actually rather mellow and has so far resisted the temptation to employ fantastical plotlines (although it’s only season two). Rather, Life Unexpected has a very WB vibe.

For anyone who grew up on a steady WB diet, this show evokes a pretty high nostalgia factor. Life Unexpected has a lot more in common, on a thematic level, with shows like Everwood, Charmed, Rosewell, Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, 7th Heaven, Gilmore Girls, and Jack & Bobby than say Hellcats, Gossip Girl, The Beautiful Life, The Vampire Diaries, or Nikita. Not only does Life Unexpected tackle many of the same topics as past WB shows, but it also stars Shiri Appleby, who played Liz Parker on Rosewell and Kerr Smith, who was Jack McPhee on Dawson’s Creek.

But back to its plot point similarities, many shows on The WB revolved around the family unit and how their various characters negotiated the often-complicated relationships portrayed on them.

Okay, hold up, I know you’re thinking all shows do that, but just hear me out…

Overall, most of their shows stayed grounded and presented relatable storylines of characters struggling to belong, seeking acceptance and love, or simply trying to figure out who they were. A teenager often took center stage and consequently the feeling of being an outsider was quite prevalent. In most of the shows the characters felt as if they were different from everyone else figuratively and literally depending on the show’s genre.

In Life Unexpected’s two short seasons, its storylines have encompassed all of these sentiments, perhaps even more overtly. Think about it, the show is about a girl who was given up and is now trying to figure out how she fits in to this makeshift family of hers, while starting at a new school, and running from her past. Abandonment, exclusion, parental bonds, life lessons, and a fresh start are all laid out in its premise. There’s really no need for metaphors here.

Life Unexpected and Gilmore Girls could be two sides of the same coin, the same story with two very different paths. Although Cate and Lux have an incredibly tenuous relationship, they’re working on it and like Gilmore Girls, the mother daughter relationship – at its core – helps define who they are, also both got knocked up in high school. But for example, Lorelai would not have been who she was if she hadn’t had Rory and left home. Likewise, Rory was like a changed person when her and her mom had a falling out and she left home to live with her Grandparents. The same can be said for Lux and Cate. Not only has it immediately forced Cate to grow up, but also becoming a mom has forced her to confront many of her shortcomings and insecurities. Likewise, Lux is finally learning to rely and trust others, kind of crucial life skills. Together they are better, separate they are a mess.

Like Everwood’s Ephram, Life Unexpected’s main character Lux has some series parental blame issues and even more trouble fitting in. Feeling unwanted and like an outsider she often rebels and relies on sarcasm or silence. Both shows tackle realistic and relatable journeys of a family’s road to redemption and forgiveness.

Similar to the main characters on Rosewell, Lux feels different, not unlike an alien. Growing up in foster homes and living on the streets she can’t always relate to the average teenagers she matriculates with. She also goes to great lengths to keep her past a secret. The same can be said for Clark Kent on Smallville, Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the Halliwell sisters on Charmed.

If you’re looking for more examples I could keep going but I think you catch my drift. Although Life Unexpected certainly would have benefitted from more viewers, it also seemed like The CW’s own orphan.

This video is another reason I love the show – watch here.

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Coming Soon: Off the Map

If you were to look at a list of all the TV shows I love, or at the very least watch on a regular basis you would be able to pick up on two major trends in my viewership – 1) I have an affinity for medical shows of all kinds and 2) I’m easily entranced by dramas regardless of quality. Off the Map seems like the perfect blend of the two.

Off the Map Is On The Schedule

So for the un-addicts that happen upon this posting, Off the Map is the newest series from medical drama extraordinaire Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. Although I’ve never personally seen more than an episode of either, both shows seem to attract a dedicated audience and do well in ratings – two characteristics I can feel hopeful about. I don’t regret watching shows that are quickly cancelled, many are really phenomenal, but it would certainly be nice to get involved in a show with staying power.

Not that I need a show to be good to watch, I have a lot of guilty pleasures on my TV schedule, it would be an added bonus. And from what I hear neither of her other shows jumped the shark until a few seasons in, something about ghost sex… Regardless, I’m pretty psyched for the premier and I just really hope that this isn’t the unlucky one. Do audiences really need another medical drama, probably not but hell people watch a lot of stuff I think is unnecessary and ridiculous so one can only hope.Off the Map

Another reason I intend to watch, and why I want to encourage others to do the same is because of a few of the actors involved. Off the Map stars Caroline Dhavernas from the short-lived and super awesome series Wonderfalls and Zach Gilford, former QB1 from the outstanding show Friday Night Lights. I loved both of their characters on their other series and I really do hope that these two talented actors can find success on TV so I can keep watching them do their thing.

So bring on the blood, guts, relationships, and tropical scenery, Off the Map premiers this Wednesday – January 12th on ABC at 10pm.

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Community: “Christmas…it can mean whatever we want.”

“You do, of course, have a constitutional right to lend this season the significance of your choosing in any of our designated holiday zones.”

Last year Community celebrated a few holidays throughout their first season, including Christmas / Hanukkah. But in terms of holiday-centric episodes nothing quite compares to their most recent installment, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (2.11). Although this episode garnered a lot of attention and hype before it even aired, mostly because its use of stop-motion animation, the episode still easily exceeded all expectations.

Christmas and other holiday episodes are so common throughout the TV landscape that it’s often difficult to stand out, avoid clichés, or even be original, but Community managed to do all of the above. “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (2.11) wasn’t just a classic retelling of some Christmas story we’ve already heard. Rather, it was a story about finding out what Christmas means to you on a more personal secular level.

Already having tackled the religious side of the holidays last season, Community was free to move the plot along with only a small nod to each of the characters beliefs. The simple act of acknowledging Christmas and Hanukkah’s spiritual and commercial connections prevented the audience from feeling cheated but it also set the set the stage for the deeper exploration into Abed’s quest to find the real meaning of Christmas.

I’ve seen my fair share of holiday special episodes over the years, including Hanukkah and Christmas-ish episodes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, House M.D., Glee, The O.C., Lie to Me, Chuck, Gilmore Girls, Gossip Girl, Saved by the Bell and more, but “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (2.11) from Community is by far my favorite kind of holiday storytelling. If I want the Christian version of Christmas I’ll watch Charlie Brown, but episodes from Community and even The O.C. don’t passively put holiday decorations in the background, complain about the commercialism of the season, rip off It’s A Wonderful Life, and most importantly don’t force one specific view of the holidays down viewers’ throats.

Instead, they encourage us to make our own meaning. Spoiler alert – at the end of the episode Abed explains, “The meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning. And it can mean whatever we want.” For Abed, Christmas used to mean time with his Mom but after this year’s letdown the rest of the study group suggest in song that “Hanging out with the people you love and saying I love you is what Christmas is for”. And in The O.C., Christmas meant the melding of family traditions and the celebration of two heritages in one super holiday Seth liked to call Chrismukkah.

While it’s true that for many people Christmas and Hanukkah means presents and perhaps even has a religious significance, holidays also evoke more personal traditions and rituals. It’s not always about spending time with your actual family or decorating a Christmas tree; sometimes it’s just about calling on the Christmas pterodactyl to save the Christmas spirit.

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Lie to Me: “Truth or happiness, never both.”

It’s not a shocker and perhaps not the final nail in the coffin, but yesterday James Hibbard broke the news that FOX denied Lie to Me a back nine for its third season.

Lie to Me

With such dismal ratings many may ask themselves, how has Lie to Me even remained on the air and in such a prime Monday slot. I for one figured that when Lie to Me was relegated to burn off its season two episodes during the summer doldrums the show was done for, but FOX never ceases to surprise me.

So often they are the first network to drop the ax, but lately they’ve seemed a bit slow on the uptake. Perhaps there isn’t much on the shelf ready to go or the majority of FOX’s schedule is kind of a holding pattern until MLB playoffs begin or until American Idol comes back to fill so many unnecessary hours of programming. Either way, FOX has broken my heart so many times (see Firefly, Wonderfalls, Dollhouse, etc…) that I may be getting used to it by now.

Loving and Losing Lie to Me

Although I enjoy Lie to Me and it’s weekly scientific not-by-the-books crime solving adventures, it is a procedural at its core and that may make the end that much less painful. We won’t be left hanging, there isn’t some deep mythology waiting to be explored, and I have a fairly good feeling that the last episode won’t end on some big cliffhanger.

In the end, like all other crime procedurals that have ended (weirdly I can’t actually think of any, they never seem to end) I’d like to think that Lie to Me will finish with the characters just going on with their daily lives. Working at the Lightman Group, uncovering the truth through more lies, the occasional illegal act, trickery, and maybe a side of violence.

When will FOX tell us the truth about Lie To Me? Maybe after they burn though the third season order or maybe in the spring during upfronts, either way I’ll be waiting for the answer.

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Internet Essentials for a TV Fan

Not only do I watch a lot of television but I also spend a significant time online reading, watching, investigating, and discussing television. Although there are tons of sites that feature similar information or can revolve around the television industry I have a core few that I am loyal to.

Find TV Online

If you’re like me and still live in the television “stone age”, getting by without digital cable or some kind of DVR then the TV Guide is still your best option to figure out what is on when you’re not already locked into an overbooked evening of programming. Unfortunately for me my cable subscriber, the always evil, Comcast has continually made the TV Guide channel more and more useless. It only shows like one channel at a time and proceeds to run through many of the higher channels we don’t even have.

  • Solution: http://www.tvguide.com/ Maybe this is a no brainer but the same information from the channel is available in a much quicker and easier to scroll through format. Although the website also provides recaps and some other new items I find the recaps to be barely more than the episode summary found on the listings and the news items usually appear on other websites first.

I also enjoy reading news pertaining to TV and other entertainment genres such as literature, film and music.  Mostly I like reading about industry or behind the scenes matters but the occasional celebrity interview, film review, or miscellaneous new item can be a fun read too.

Yes I actually read recaps for episodes and shows that I have already watched. Why you might ask, because it can be fun and can unveil new layers of meaning.

  • Solution: Television Without Pity http://www.televisionwithoutpity.com/ is hilarious and provides more than just a detailed recap but a whole new life to an episode regardless of whether it was good or bad upon initial viewing. Full of snark and cynicism or praise, the recaps fulfill my daily need for sarcasm and have actually made me laugh at loud which may look a bit insane when you are just sitting down reading something on your computer.

Spoilers anyone? If you are dying to know what happens next or become an addict like myself then hours can easily be lost google-ing anything you can think of related to the show or episode in question. Thankfully I found a site that complies all of these spoilers for many current popular shows and provides the goods.

  • Solution: http://www.spoilertv.com/ Unless your already a spoiler fiend don’t go there. Although it can be fun to find out what’s next it also can detract from the overall viewing experience.
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Marathoned: Fringe

A quick confession … I’ve never gotten into any series created by JJ Abrams. I know, I know, there must be something wrong with me to have never been a fan or at the very least a frequent viewer of Felicity, Alias, or Lost.

I did try, they just didn’t click for me and the same goes for Fringe when it first premiered. In fact, my distaste for Fringe ran so deep that I was excited when House moved to Monday nights just so I wouldn’t have to see the promos for Fringe throughout the hour.

Fringe – You Had Me at Alt World

I suppose I didn’t really have a solid reason to dislike the show, so when my roommate turned the second season premier of Fringe on last fall I was just lazy and interested enough to stay on the couch. She sort of filled me in during commercials breaks and I intended to keep watching but it soon became clear that I needed to see the first season first, but unfortunately I was rather busy with school. So my roommate and I made a deal. If she watched Firefly and Serenity I would watch Fringe. Well she held up her end of the bargain and I remained ‘busy’. Then the deal became if the show gets renewed for a third season I’ll watch. (I’ve been heartbroken by FOX before, a lot before.) So after May sweeps and the renewal announcement, I finally kept up my end of the bargain.

So let me first say, I was wrong.

I can admit that now and also that I’m addicted to this show. I’m eagerly awaiting its return this Thursday at 9pm. But just because I’m super excited for the new season and would classify myself as a fan doesn’t mean that Fringe is perfect by any means.

Honestly had I not know where the second season was headed when I finally put the season one disc one in my DVD player I don’t know if I would have been able to stick it out. Much of the first season reminded me of X-Files, a show I wasn’t entirely fond of, and Dark Angel, a show that had its own set of flaws. It was difficult for me to connect with any of the characters and each episode was so stand alone-y in a formulaic show kind of way. It’s not that I don’t like shows with formulas, I love House MD and still watch CSI but everyone kept talking about how awesome the mythology was and it just took a really long time for it to be built and become integral to the series and each episode’s plot.

I’m not going to go into episode details, plenty of other sites recap, but I do want to comment on what I perceive is the most fascinating aspect of the series – the threat of the two worlds colliding.

Maybe I’m a pessimist or a cynic but I’ve always enjoyed books, movies, and TV shows with a bleak outlook on the world. Not all need to involve an apocalypse of some sorts but it certainly can’t hurt to include one. Buffy and Angel’s world always ran the threat of one, Jericho started with one, Dollhouse failed to prevent one, and Fringe is facing one. It should be awesome. I think it was in one of San Diego Comic Con interviews that the cast members discussed how the goal of this season was to create two worlds, both dynamic and morally grey. The ambiguity created should make for a fascinating season three. I can’t wait!

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Glee: “The art of losing”

On the season finale of Glee, New Directions lost the regional glee club competition. In fact, they didn’t even place in the top two despite Sue Sylvester’s secret support. And to be honest prior to the episode airing I was kind of hoping, from a storytelling point of view, that they would lose. But just because I thought losing would be best for season 2 didn’t mean that I wasn’t rooting for them.

I like to support the underdog and especially after the fantastic Journey melody I really thought they had a shot at pulling off the upset. However, Vocal Adrenaline was awesome. Technically it seemed like Jesse did more of the singing then the rest of the club, but their entire performance was just better in terms of choreography and storytelling. Also Queen totally has the potential to trump Journey every time.

To my surprise though, when Sue announced Vocal Adrenaline as the winner, it was like a gut punch.

The Gleek in all of us

I really cared about the glee club kids, more than I thought. It’s not that I’m uncaring but I’ve tried to keep the show at an arm’s length and remain critical of it despite being a fan from the very beginning. I love TV but I try not to get too distracted by the exciting shiny things – like fun song and dance numbers when analyzing an episode, season, or series. I mean overall the first season has been all over the place in terms of storytelling, but the show is original and because it can’t be compared to anything on TV right now, or most anything at all, it seems like the show often gets a free pass for its plot inconsistencies. Glee

Despite my tendency to be critical of television, I can really relate to these characters though. I’ve never really been involved in the performing arts but as someone who grew up playing sports I know what it feels like to give it your all and still come up short. I’ve never been the MVP or part of a championship team, but that never stopped me from putting my heart and soul into every challenge despite repeatedly losing. And that’s why I think it hurt watching them come up short.

In fact, the one theme that has been consistent throughout the entire freshman season is that most of us are losers. Okay, so that might be a bit of an overstatement but since it’s not possible for everyone to be a winner, it’s more likely that many of us are far more familiar with the feeling of losing. The fact that we are not all winners is a true sentiment, but not one that is generally taught to us or even one that is so overtly perpetuated in entertainment. It’s not that Glee is the only fictional show on television to play with this theme, but the difference is in the delivery. The sad truth is sugarcoated in song and dance.

Hell, they even performed Beck’s “Loser” in the penultimate episode. Granted, the end of Glee‘s season finale veered dangerously close to an after-school special when the kids said they won because of Mr. Shue, but then again this is TV and at the end of the day I suppose its not the worst thing in the world to win a participation trophy. Plus, there’s always next season.

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Scrubs: “You know I’m hearing it now, it is kind of annoying when I talk.”

Scrubs has been really funny this season, even more so, when JD is not present. I just wanted to put that statement out there, before I get any further along, since this is where I am headed with this entry.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti JD and when I initially read that Scrubs was renewed for a ninth season, with a mostly new cast, I was less than thrilled. Sure Scrubs has had some great seasons and some less than great seasons, but overall I thought “My Finale Part I & II” (8.18 & 8.19) were a perfectly respectable way to go out. I wasn’t interested in a spin-off or a reboot with the same name and I wasn’t interested in seeing a new class of med students. After eight seasons I’ve gotten kind of attached to JD, Turk, Carla, Elliot, The Janitor, and Dr. Cox and I’ve also grown fond of the many colorful background characters that keep Sacred Heart Hospital so much fun to visit on a weekly basis.

Scrubs Reboot is Refreshing

So even though I had reservations, I wasn’t about to give up on Scrubs. Maybe it’s a personal weakness, but generally when I start a show—I finish it. To put that statement into perspective I watched all eight seasons of Charmed and I’m still watching Smallville on a weekly basis. Initially I was lukewarm to the new season even though the first few episodes heavily featured JD, Dr. Cox, and Turk. The changes made to the show just felt like too much too soon. I had difficultly wrapping my head around the fact that in Scrubs a few short months a new hospital / med school was built and most everyone was suddenly a professor or gone. (Yes, I understand that it’s a television show…just stay with me, I’m getting to the point.)

Surprisingly, I found myself liking the new characters and their quirks. And while there were certainly some laugh out loud moments in the first few episodes, it wasn’t until JD left that I started to really enjoy the new season.

Here is the main reason why: The character of JD walks a fine line between character and caricature. While I understand that this show is a comedy, unlike the other main characters he has been the most inconsistent in terms of growth. No, I don’t want, or expect him to stop the daydreams or tone down the bromance with Turk, but his constant need for approval and outlandish ‘real-life’ ideas just grow old after a while. What I find even more frustrating about the way his character has been written lately, is that it seems to be a regression from the level of maturity he reached last season, settling down with Elliot and choosing to leave Sacred Heard Hospital to be closer to his son.

Perhaps that is why I don’t mind the ridiculousness of the new characters. Lucy’s horse obsession has been a constant and Cole has always unnecessarily abbreviated words, but I don’t really expect anything else from them. The show is just now starting to develop the new crop of “murderers, butchers, slaughterers, and slayers” into three-dimensional characters. On the other hand, the same character that worried about being man enough for his son (7.8) and willingly postponed steak night to stay with a dying patient (8.2) also wore a hairnet rather than a helmet so as to not mess up his hairdo (3.4) and taught class from a tree (9.2).

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