When The CW held a preliminary panel during the summer 2009 TCA tour for its yet-to-be-scheduled series, “Life UneXpected” (the “X” has since been de-capitalized), one of the critics posed this question to the show’s creator, Liz Tigelaar:
“Is there any concern that you may have made this pilot for a network than doesn’t exactly exist? Because this is sort of a warm, fuzzy, family, everybody-together pilot, and if you look at The CW’s shows for the Fall, they’re less that.”
It’s true: when compared to shows like “Melrose Place” and the late, apparently-not-all-that-great “The Beautiful Life,” “Life Unexpected” stands out in a big way simply by offering some semblance of a proper family dynamic. It’s the story of 15-year-old Lux (Britt Robertson), who, after spending her life bouncing from one foster family to another, has decided it’s time to become an emancipated minor. Her journey through the legal maze leads Lux to her biological parents, Nate “Baze” Bazile (Kristoffer Polaha) and Cate Cassidy (Shiri Appleby). When a judge unexpectedly grants temporary joint custody to Baze and Cate, they agree to make a belated attempt to give Lux the family she deserves. A series on The CW that not only doesn’t immediately make parents flip out at the effect it might have on their children…? Talk about unconventional.
When The CW held the panel for “Life Unexpected” during the winter 2010 TCA tour, things once again kicked off with a question for Ms. Tigelaar, but it was a bit of a left-field query this time around…or, at least, it was to me, as I’d ever heard the rumor that her birth mother was Nancy Reagan. She’s not, as it turns out, and the question was a bit tongue-in-cheek to begin with, but the story of its origins was certainly a funny one.
“I’m adopted,” she explained, “and there’s a big kind of fantasy element of the show of being an adopted kid: you imagine who your birth mom, especially, might be. When I was little, I didn’t know that much, but I knew I was born in D.C., so I was always, like, ‘I think Nancy Reagan’s my birth mom, and this really sucks. I should be living in the White House, and I should have a $100-a-month allowance.’ It started when I was little and, weirdly, it lasted for a long time, until finally, when I was eight, my mom was, like, ‘You’re an idiot. You’re not doing basic math. There’s no way that Nancy Reagan could be your birth mom.’ But the idea of it was definitely what I brought into the series, which is, again, that fantasy of who your parents might be. I think when you have no idea and you really have nothing to go on, you really create something in your head, so this story is very much a story of Lux having this fantasy and in some ways it really coming true: her mom is this super successful, glamorous radio DJ, and her dad is this pretty cool guy who owns a bar and lives with friends and lives in a sweet loft. The idea is that just because people are kind of cool fantasy people doesn’t actually make them fantasy parents.”
On the flip side of the coin, however, “Life Unexpected” also explore how different things are today for individuals in their thirties than they were when, say, “thirtysomething” was on.
“In our parents’ generation, maybe thirtysomething means maybe 401(k) plans and mortgages and suburbs and dogs,” Tigelaar said. “And for me – and maybe some other people – thirtysomething can mean a person who really has prioritized their professional life over relationships or whatever. Or a guy who still lives like a frat guy and lives with his buddies and plays video games and drinks Coors Light. So what happens when you make it a coming-of-age story, instead of the one person who is the age of a person that would need to grow up, the grownups are the people that need to come of age, and Lux is the catalyst for them to do that. I think that was the impetus of the idea.”
The thing that I love about the show so much – and the CW has been so great and really believing in these characters – is that all these characters get to be flawed, damaged, real people who grapple and struggle, and things aren’t easy and they don’t do things right,” she explained. “They often do the right things for the wrong reasons and the wrong things for the right reasons…and it’s kind of fun to live in that world every day.”