"Life Unexpected," which debuts tonight on The CW, is way better than most CW fare of late. In fact -- and this is the ultimate compliment -- it's a little reminiscent of "Gilmore Girls" (but darker and without the distractingly wacky townfolk).
It's about a fifteen-year-old girl in Portland, Oregon, the product of a high school one night stand who has been cruelly bounced around the foster care system her entire life. Lux (played by Brittany Robertson, who is from Charlotte) is about to turn 16 and wants to be emancipated from the system, so she finds her real father to ask him to officially sign away his rights.
Her father, Nate Basil (Baze), is a likable slacker who runs a bar, works all night, and hangs out with his slacker friends all day. Lux explains her situation and he agrees to sign, but they also have to find the girl's mother, who happens to be a local radio personality with a serious boyfriend and serious commitment issues.
(There's a sweet moment before they find Cate where Lux and Baze bond watching youtube videos, crying over the one where the lion is reunited with its previous owners, but never getting to the one where the panda sneezes.)
Cate is naturally stunned to meet her daughter, and like me, stunned to learn that Lux was never adopted -- a gap in logic that is bothersome at first, but the reason is sufficiently explained later.
In short, Lux has had a terrible life, which has made her independent and strong (she's more mature than Cate and Baze put together), but despite her desire to be emancipated, she absolutely glows during her first meeting with Cate. Her longing for even a temporary connection with any kind of mother is heartbreaking. And there's an unexpected and similarly heartbreaking moment in the first episode when Lux asks Cate about her decision to give her up.
Naturally, there are kinks in Lux's plan to rent an apartment and live on her own, or else there wouldn't be much of a show. And it's not all "smiley happy people" just because Lux found her real parents, but the show offers a good balance of light and dark.
They all have a lot of growing up to do, but there's hope.