When I interviewed Kris Polaha (Life Unexpected's Baze) a few weeks ago for my first installment of Wii with the Stars, I mentioned to him that his show makes me cry by the forty-minute mark every week. The intention was to tell him that on camera and get him to admit what makes him cry, too, but since we had already discussed it slightly off-screen first, I totally forgot to bring it up again when we were rolling. In a way, that's probably better, though, because the next time I see him (hopefully at the TCAs in August!) I can point out that there is a new record to beat. With last night's season finale episode, "Love Unexpected," Liz Tigelaar had me crying within the first three minutes!!
I was thinking about live-Tweeting the episode but because I so quickly became such an emotional mess I thought it would be best to distance myself over the course of a few hours and then put my thoughts out into the ether. So here goes-- and everything I am about to say here should be taken as evidence as to why this show needs a second season!
I have hinted before at the fact that I have a personal connection to the content within Life Unexpected, but in an attempt to keep things slightly professional, knowing that I would be interviewing a good chunk of the cast, I always refrained from explaining the details. But now that the show has come to an end (even if just for a few months), I find myself wondering just what I will do without my weekly dose of therapy.
I wasn't adopted, nor was I brought up in the foster care system, but I more than relate to the familial issues that run rampant within all of the characters on Life Unexpected. I grew uphoping I was adopted because I felt like I didn't fit in with my family-- and I found I didn't evenlike most of my family! More than anything, I wanted some stranger to swoop in and "save" me in many ways. And when there was no one in my life doing just that, I created stories about people who potentially could. It's not that different from Lux imagining her birth mother storming into her group home and whisking her off to some big house with a white picket fence and a Golden Retriever. So when Cate, Lux, and Baze stood in the courtroom, set to the soundtrack of a judge talking about how rare an occasion it is that he actually gets to bring a family together, the tears flowed.
Of course the fact that Cate and Baze were standing in a court of law, dressed in a white dress and monkey suit, respectively, conjured up the wedding imagery, and being that I'm Team Baze, there was a small part of me-- the same part that could hope and wish for some random stranger to come make everything magically okay-- that wanted to see them recognize their surroundings, turn to each other, and admit their true feelings. But that would be the shipper fantasy that can't happen so soon in a series-- if at all. As Tigelaar herself says, "The two you want to be together can't...in the first episode! You have to build up to that!"
What truly broke my heart, though, was Baze going to his father (Robin Thomas) on the campus and finally telling him off to his face. All season long we've seen Baze as this man-child, and we-- in all of our limited wisdom-- assumed he just suffers from being a kid who always had it all and assumed that meant the world would just bow to him. But tonight we finally saw the layers-- just how broken he really is. And more importantly, Baze himself saw how broken he really is. Acknowledging to his father that he can't fully love because he never learned how from his so-called role models caused Baze to finally grow up. And wake up.
Watching Polaha play that scene was amazing in itself because he comes from such a rich, loving family that what we saw was truly an immense talent of an artist. Lord only knows what he drew from, but it was truly heart-wrenching. Though Tigelaar said earlier that by the end of the season everyone is Team Ryan, I think Polaha might have converted some to his team with the emotional depth he pulled off.
To then take Baze on the emotional rollercoaster of not only still fighting feelings for Cate but also having his father actually come to him and effectively apologize-- even if it's years too late to fix all of the damage was heart-wrenching in a whole other way. That moment in the bar was exactly something I wrote in my head, for my own life, a million times. Only it never happened for me. And quite frankly, if it had, I probably wouldn't buy it anyway. Yet when I saw it play out in front of my on my television, I teared up once again.
Of course, Life Unexpected has as many laughs as it does deep emotional moments. Naturally Cynthia Stevenson as Cate's boozy mom hitting on Ryan's dad fit that bill. Abby (Alexandra Breckinridge)'s absence explained as "food poisoning," once you got over the initial "Oh God, please don't let food poisoning be slang for pregnant!" moment that anyone who grew up watching soaps would have, fit, as well. And then of course there was Math (Austin Basis)'s break into Paula Abdul's "Opposites Attract," which was pure comic gold, plain and simple, and felt so natural.
And that's the true reason Life Unexpected works so well and resonates so strongly with its audience: the characters all feel like they have been lifted from the life around you. They are relatable, grounded, and flawed but in a down-to-Earth way that still makes them lovable. You laugh with them; you cry with them; you root for them. You just want to see them happy-- like you should with your own family.