Well, they finally did it. They used Portland, Oregon as the setting for a fictional TV series. All my life, every TV show I've ever seen has been set in either Los Angeles, New York City or Chicago, Illinois. If aliens are truly receiving our TV waves, these are the only places they'll ever know about. I figured Jimmy Hoffa would be found, flame-broiled ice cream would be invented, and Samy would actually start her webcomic before I ever saw a TV series base itself in Portland.
So how is it? Uhm, put simply, it's the worst show I've suffered through in a decade, but for the details, read on.
The theme song is ten seconds long, set to a collage of scenes from the first season and shots of Portland landmarks like the "Made in Oregon" sign (which'll be changed to say "Cesar Chavez" soon enough).
Bent, or broken, is the family tree
Each branch a part of, a part of me
And this is my treat, and it's a beautiful treat
I don't know what that means either. But it's too short. The length of TV theme songs should be judged not on how quickly you want to get to the show itself, but on how catchy the tune is. If a song is good enough, I don't mind hearing it every week -- and I want to hear the rest of this one.
One thing I was certain I would get good mileage out of is how inaccurate the portrayal of Portland was. It's very difficult to write a spot-on depiction of life in a certain region if you've never lived there yourself. These things are always written in LA, and they can't even portray LA accurately. Mocking a TV show set in Portland should be like shooting fish in a barrel, right?
Well, I'm sorry, because I've got nothing.
I'm being honest. I don't know how they did it -- maybe through local consultants approving every script and set piece -- but they never screwed up, not once. They got everything right. They didn't make up fictional town names, they didn't portray the city as a sunless wilderness. The police showed up in one episode and they had the correct cars. There was even a "Keep Portland Weird" bumper sticker in Cate's office, though it's hard to see.
So....I have to say I'm impressed with the effort. Where this show fails is in all other areas.
This is Cate Cassidy. Cate is a local celebrity, co-hostess of the popular morning show on (K)100. I'm just assuming legal technicalities kept them from using a "Z." She hosts this show with someone named Ryan, they're both terrible at it, and everybody loves them somehow. Maybe it's not so easy to write natural radio dialogue in script form, but this is the dumbest radio show I've ever heard, and I actually listened to "Daria and Mitch" for a couple months. Compounding matters is the fact that radio jockeys don't have the clout they held back before the invention of the "Random" button on the iPod. Now that no one has to rely on the single-digit playlists of corporate FM, the domination of the Morning Zoo is long gone.
Just wait until the station changes management overnight and Cate walks into work the next day to find she's been replaced by a computer program, all traces of her existence have been scrubbed from the building and its website, and she's contractually forbidden from finding work elsewhere for the next six months. If they want to be Portland-accurate, it'll happen.
Unbeknownst to Portland, Cate is secretly dating her co-host. No one can ever know about this because....insert reason here. It's so serious that she accepts his proposal of marriage in the pilot, but even despite this, they feel they have to hide it.
Naturally, these plans are soon complicated by the appearance of Lux, her daughter. Like all CW mothers, Cate got herself Juno'd at age 16, and now the baby has returned because she doesn't like getting tossed around crummy foster homes anymore. This also means the reappearance of the daddy, who's grown up to be a loser who wears tasteless T-shirts and runs a bar nobody goes to. His name is Mr. Nathaniel Basil but everybody calls him "Baze." ...Yeah.
Actually, "Baze" does get customers, but only two, and they're even bigger losers than him. One afternoon "Baze" is trying to brainstorm special events to boost traffic into his bar and save it from foreclosure. One of his friends, the fat one in the glasses, says "How about a turtle race?" Yeah, ha ha, next idea....well, they can't think of any other ideas, so they actually have the turtle race. That's just sad.
Just like the daughter in Uncle Buck, Lux has a thuggish boyfriend named "Bug." She's got two impoverished street friends from her foster-bouncing days: Bug is one, and her best friend Natasha is another (whom she calls "Tosh" because her name isn't weird enough). This part of the show, I liked. It was different for the usual lily-white manicured CW pretty girl to have adventures with rough urban street-rats who DIDN'T look like underwear models. It was interesting and had potential. It didn't last, though.
Within five episodes they had moved "Tosh" three hours away from Lux and driven Bug off in a babyish hissy fit. Bug was briefly replaced by Generic CW Test-Tube Hunk #557.8, but they brought him back to complicate things on that end. Duhh, didn't exepect daaat...
Each episode from #3 onward has the same "previously on" segment attached. I guess if you didn't know the premise eight episodes in, that might be useful, but I got sick of the same expository clips popping up every time the show started. Actually, if you have to repeatedly subject yourself to Life Unexpected, it's a bad idea to miss an episode, because the only place it's legally streamed online is The CW.com. Their video streams are buggy, laggy, frequently quit on you, and are surrounded by ads. Recently, the CW became the first network to shove more than one ad per break into their online videos -- sometimes up to four. The day CW president Dawn Ostroff announced this, she looked so happy she could swallow a turkey whole.
Lookadat. Nothing could spoil her day now.
When this show first premiered, there was a lot of ballyhoo about how different it was from most CW programming, but the truth is, there's not much to set it apart other than the Portland setting. It has the same CW mandate every other show of theirs has: that in every episode, there must be at least one scene where two guys fight over a girl. Teen girls love it when guys fight over them, and since most will never see it happen, they want to live vicariously through their TVs. For everyone else, these bits are eye-rolling and uncomfortable to sit through. This is part of the reason I usually avoid The CW.
"Baze" has feelings for Cate, but you knew that. He expresses these feelings by being a complete heel to her and then standing there dumbfounded when she gets ticked off at him. He really doesn't like her fiance, and Ryan doesn't like him either, and whenever they wind up in the same room, watch out, because they'll stand still facing each other and coldly drag out lines like "Excuse me, but did it suddenly get less awesome in here?" Bug and Test-Tube-Baby also do battle in the same way, but thankfully less frequently.
But that's not all: Lux frequently bickers with Cate, as well as with "Baze," and switches her loyalties between them every episode depending on which one of them will obey her orders. Everybody fights! Isn't it beautiful how these people were destined to come together?
What they teach you in Fiction 101 is that conflict is the core of all decent plot work. Life Unexpected certainly has conflict, but they didn't stick around for the second lesson: there has to be some logic to it. It can't be just conflict for conflict's sake, or things turn sour really quick. Why Lux hangs around her mom and dad, and why they hang around each other, is a mystery. These people hate each other, and with each passing episode, they hate each other even more, and I hate them even more. They take any excuse they can find to argue and bicker and scream and whine and cry.
Normal social behavior in this show occurs like
this: say Cate goes to the meat market and asks the butcher for
Butcher: We're out of ham.
Cate: WHAT??!? How could you DO that to me?
Butcher: Oh, I'm sorry if I'm not PERFECT for you.
Cate: And Alexandra is?
Butcher: I'm sorry? Alexandra actually APPRECIATES her ham.
Cate: Appreciates your money is what you mean!
Butcher: Get out! You're not welcome here!
Cate: HOW CAN YOU BE SO CRUEL TO MEEE??!??!?
*they suddenly have sex*
In one episode, Lux complains to Cate that Cate isn't doing anything to help her dear Bug find work and get off the street, because what good is Cate if she won't do Bug's work for him? Cate thinks and says "well, being the star of the radio station, I'm sure my influence could persuade my manager to open up something for Bug." That's a nice gesture, and more than Lux deserves, but it goes nowhere. That manager takes one look at Bug and absolutely refuses.
Guess whose fault that is? It's Cate's fault. Lux immediately blows up at Cate right there in the studio lobby, screaming "YOU PROMISED IT WOULD HAPPEN! YOU HORRIBLE PERSON!!" This wasn't the first time Lux had treated her mother like garbage. It wasn't even the 50th time. It was the time when, by all rights, Cate should have lost her last nerve and roundhouse-kicked Lux into orbit on instinct. Instead, as Lux noisily slams open the entry doors, Cate stands around and sobs over how she failed her daughter.
This is the most irritating show I've ever watched.
Why is Lux such a brat and why is she never called out on it? Is it because Dawn Ostroff thinks her demographic is nothing but brats, and her shows have to portray instant gratification to brats in order to get them to watch? I hope that strategy is at least lucrative, because it sure isn't moral.
I really had to struggle to make it through this season, for the sake of this review. I missed a few later episodes, though, because they put it on opposite Chuck, and there was no way I was skipping Chuck for this. But I tuned back in to the last episode. The season finale gets an F for originality -- you can guess the contents of the entire episode based on the above image, so I don't need to tell you anything. Life Completely Expected. Except for the very end: Cate actually does kiss the bride. Lux screams, "Nooooo!" and "Baze" thinks, "What did I ever do to chase her away?"
Obvious Answer: He slept with her sister the day before. Folks, I wish I was making that up. Head, meet wall.
Let me wrap up my thoughts with this: unlike some unmentioned internet people, I don't usually pick subjects with the intent of ripping them apart for lulz, just because insults are funny. I planned to review Life Unexpected for my site before it came out. It just happened to be this bad. Television Without Pity hates everything, but it has a valid reason to hate Life Unexpected:
|The very first episode was practically perfect: sweet, romantic and utterly charming. We instantly fell for the little abandoned teen that had reunited with her birth parents and wormed her way into their lives. But then a mere week later, we realized what a brat she was, how grating her mother was, how dopey her dad was and how very much we hated everything to do with this town and its mysteriously popular morning radio program.|
Did you hear that? This show makes people HATE PORTLAND. We can't have that! Get it off!
RETURN TO F.P.O.