By: Vlada Gelman
Next season, The CW will introduce LIFE UNEXPECTED, a heartfelt midseason entry that may remind some viewers of the network’s predecessor, The WB.
The resemblance to the shows that defined the WB is not unjustified. Creator Liz Tigelaar’s college internship at DAWSON’S CREEK turned into a staff job, where she worked alongside Greg Berlanti. She later went on to write for Berlanti’s ABC drama BROTHERS & SISTERS.
LIFE UNEXPECTED stars Britt Robertson as Lux, a teenage girl searching for her biological parents after being bounced around in the foster care system for fifteen years. The subject is close to Tigelaar’s heart, who was briefly in foster care as a baby before being adopted.
“One thing that came to light when I was meeting with the writers was just how much of this story was something that had been with me my whole life,” Tigelaar said during a Q&A on Wednesday. “This idea of, ‘Where are my young, cool parents?’ No matter how great your own family is and my parents are wonderful, you can’t help but when you’re sixteen be in a fight with your mom and be like, ‘My real, cool, young, hot mom would totally understand! She would buy me beer!’”
During the two years that “Life” was in development, Tigelaar found out who her birth parents were, but growing up, she had her own wild ideas about who her mother was.
“I was born in D.C. That was one of the only things I knew. I was born in the ’70s. I really thought Nancy Reagan was my birth mom. In a really profound way, I believed it,” Tigelaar said. “As I got older, I obviously was able to do basic math and realize this was not possible. And as I became more of a liberal democrat, I realized this was not my preference.”
In the series, Lux’s young, cool mom and morning radio show host Cate is played by Shiri Appleby, who’s torn between co-host/fiancé Ryan (Kerr Smith) and Lux’s dad/bar owner Baze (Kristoffer Polaha), who’s suddenly reentered Cate’s life. Both workplaces will provide plenty of opportunities to incorporate music into the series.
Smith starred on DAWSON’S CREEK, but Tigelaar insists his casting is pure coincidence.
“He literally came in to audition and I was like, “Jack! It’s Jack McPhee. Why is Jack McPhee wanting to be Ryan Thomas?’ He read and he was amazing,” Tigelaar explained. “I hadn’t seen him since ‘Dawson’s.’ We didn’t know each other really well because the writers were here [in LA] and they were in Wilmington.”
Appleby’s WB past may make things difficult if the show should ever want to do flashbacks of Cate and Baze’s high school years.
“Shiri was on ROSWELL when she was 19 or 20, so I feel like we know what little Shiri looks like whereas with other people, we would be able to cast somebody else. I don’t know if we’ll be able to do that,” Tigelaar said of possible flashbacks. However, she kept some hope alive, saying it would be “hilarious” if production could figure out a way to make it work.
While the pilot focuses mainly on Lux and the adult characters, future episodes will open up Lux’s world as Cate and Baze enroll her in their old high school. In episode two, we’ll find out Lux wasn’t being entirely truthful about her emancipation.
“Lux had other plans. We find out she has a 18-year-old boyfriend named Bug,” Tigelaar teased. “Her best friend, Vanessa, was planning on getting emancipated, as well, and now Lux has screwed everything up.” There will be tension between her foster care friends, who feel ditched, and Lux, who doesn’t really want to give up her new family.
LIFE UNEXPECTED begins filming in Vancouver, B.C., Sept. 28, but is set in Portland, Oregon. Tigelaar dabbled with the idea of setting the show in Seattle (too many doctors), San Francisco (too glitzy), but finally settled on Portland because it “felt really unexplored” and gave the show a “Juno”-esque “indie feel for television.”
Vlada resides in Los Angeles, where there are stars in the sky and on the ground. She has worked for TVWeek, Starpulse.com, SignOnSanDiego.com and The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, CA. She runs the TV blog Staying In and can be found on Twitter: @stayingin.