Tuesday, January 18, 2011

'Life Unexpected': We're All A Little Bit Broken on the Inside...And It's Beautiful...

On the eve of the show's finale, I hope you will all join me in raising a glass to the Baziles, the Cassidys, and the amazing creative team behind the beautiful story-telling on Life Unexpected.



You all know how I feel about this show. During my final interview with Liz Tigelaar about the series, she thanked me for all of the kind reviews I gave over the show's year-long, two-season run, but it was she that really deserved the thanks. She gave me a show that I responded to on an emotional, guttural level, and that isn't something that happens every day. It's an understatement to say, but tonight's finale was extremely bittersweet and just as emotional.

Instead of Tweeting through the episode has I have been known to do, I did the opposite and fell social media silent so I could fully process. But I really don't pretend to believe I've fully processed. Like I said, it was an emotional night.

I love Lux. I don't care what recent criticisms have said about her lying and her behavior and her treatment of the ones who have been there for her. I understand her; I think in many ways, I was her when I was younger. Not exactly but almost, and enough to root for her to succeed through it all. I know how hard it is to finally believe you're going to be okay, even when those around you tell you it will be so. Words are futile, and when the majority of the actions have proven the opposite, well, you only know what you see. For me, the biggest deal was seeing Lux finally relax into her family, but it was something that had to happen when she would be realistically ready-- not just on TV time.

I loved how Lux was able to recognize that the truth will always come out when it was Emma in the hot seat but completely in denial when it came to herself. That is something so typical of teenagers I just wanted to grab her and say 'See? You ARE a normal girl now!' But more than that, I loved Lux and Eric in "Teacher Schooled." I loved that they acknowledged to each other what they were feeling; I loved Lux's attempt at domestication (it really reminded me of Rory's similar attempt for Dean in Gilmore Girls); I loved that he finally stopped leading her on, even if it was through another half-assed, have-someone-else-make-the-decision-for-me, wishy-washy way; I loved that we saw Lux exposed, with all of her flaws, and it crept to the "who the hell cares anymore" crescendo. I even loved that neither of them tried to smooth things over with Cate and Baze by pointing out they hadn't slept together; at least they were both mature enough to know that kind of grasping at straws never helps matters.

I also loved maternal Cate. She really grew into her role as time went on, although most notably and prominently because of her hormones. She was acting out of instinct now, and that was what was working. But more than that, I loved that for the first time we saw Cate and Lux act like a real mother and daughter duo. Each one thought they knew what was best for Lux, and each one had more than her share of commentary on the decisions of the other, but as in life, each one was still a bit blinded and therefore thwarted by bias.

And that was all just in the first hour!

"Affair Remembered" could have been about the truth about Lux and Eric, or the truth about Emma and Jack, but that would be too obvious, wouldn't it?? Reintroducing Julia into the mix, at quite literally the eleventh hour was just pure genius-- and maybe a little evil-- on Tigelaar's part. I'm sure many of you are still reeling from that discovery, but I would, however, just like to point out that way back when I interviewed Jamie Ray Newman in October of 2010, she mentioned she was going to be in a second episode before the thirteenth of the season (which turned out to be the finale). When she said it and then did not emerge-- when Cate found out she was pregnant or around the Thanksgiving table-- I thought perhaps there was a chance plans changed in order to wrap up story lines faster and happier. But then I saw a photo from the wrap party about a month and a half after our chat that seemed to say otherwise. And last week when I spoke to Tigelaar about whether or not she decided not to bring back certain characters, in order to give her core three (or four, depending on how invested you are in Ryan) their satisfying ending, she said that she didn't. Little things were tweaked along the way, most notably in Cate's character, Tigelaar shared, but ultimately she kept the same throughline and character arcs. And for that I am glad. Julia was always an interesting character to me, and not just because I was Team Baze from the pilot.

But by bringing her back, Tigelaar really forced her characters to put their money where their mouths were. They talked a good game about choosing each other, not being "stuck" with each other, but when push came to shove, they all stepped up. They all maned up. The show may not have made it as far as I would have liked, but the characters each took exponential strides, and when being done in such a short amount of time it is that much more special.

I usually don't like finales that end in a way to show it was all just a dream or jump around in time; I usually consider it a cop-out way to rush everyone toward an end. But unfortunately here, in order for these characters to finally get the happiness they have worked so hard for, there really wasn't another way. The season had taken such a divergence with the introduction of as many new characters as there were throughout the whole first season and even (or especially) as a writer myself, I couldn't imagine how to tie up all the loose ends and still give everyone (fans and characters alike) what they wanted, and what they needed. So kudos, Tigelaar, especially for managing to squeeze Alice back in. We missed her. Almost as much as Cate did!

I don't pretend to believe that everything is picture-perfect now for Lux or many of the others in the family. She spent her whole life feeling different, feeling screwed up, feeling broken, and I'm not sure that's a feeling that ever fully dissipates. I think Cate is proof that no matter how far you go in life, your own insecurities can creep up on you at the most inopportune times and penetrate your so-called "new" life. Cate and Lux are like two sides to the same coin: they self-destructively flip back and forth between which one is the child and which is the adult. It's a tough cross to bear, and it's not something that can ever be entirely forgotten, no matter how many times someone may tell you that you are good enough, but at least now they have each other.

And Baze. Baze, who finally did the mature thing, not just for his kid but for himself. So much of season two had been about Baze coming into his own, but the final two episodes pulled the focus back on Lux so she could have her own chance to grow up, get the closure on her old life that she needed, and realize she isn't so alone after all. But of course the finale couldn't close out without Baze breaking my heart one last time. And you know what? I'm totally okay with him keeping the pieces.

It was an absolute pleasure to get to write about Life Unexpected week after week and to get to know some very sweet, very passionate people in the process. I only write about shows I enjoy so that I shed light on ones I feel worthy of promotion; I prefer to build a show up rather than tear one down. After all, I know how much blood, sweat, tears, time, and soul goes into the production. Life Unexpected is the first show that I didn't work on directly that treated me as if I did-- maybe even better than some of the ones on which I did. I am going to miss hearing the behind-the-scenes stories and seeing all of the on-set photos and FlipCam videos. The cast and crew were extremely gracious in sharing those-- more than any other has ever really been, and more than they ever had to be-- and I eagerly await whatever they move onto next. There will never be another Life Unexpected, but that is something to be celebrated, not saddened by. The series and its characters' uniqueness can never be duplicated, and for that, it was most certainly a job well done. I hope Tigelaar and Co celebrated hard while screening; they more than deserve it!



PS Baze? It's not just "little dudes" that love you!

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