March 16, 2010

Mistakes Unrepeated, Writing Uneven

Back in 2003 when One Tree Hill first premiered, I had this really complicated relationship with the show. I liked it but I didn't love it and I couldn't wrap my head around who the writers expected me to root for on the show. Nathan was supposed to be the dick (and he kinda was) and Lucas was supposed to be the "hero" but he was a self-righteous, insufferable ass. The conflicts were stupid and boring and most of the characters were the worst kind of one-dimensional. Then Nathan started liking Haley and he became a lot more interesting and even though Lucas was still supposed to be our protagonist he sucked as a character but Haley got more screen time and Peyton became more than just the girl two boys fought over and Brooke arrived. I wasn't sure I even wanted to watch the show until about 3/4 of the way through that first season. Then the show found its footing and all the pieces came together to form the best guilty pleasure on television.

I'm struggling in a similar way with Life Unexpected. There is a good show in there, and there are parts of it that are really good every single week, ut there are other parts that are so uneven. In particular, it seems like the writers can't decide which characters are interesting and worth keeping and which characters add nothing at all to the story.

In the beginning, there existed the possibility that Lux's old life, specifically Bug and Tash, could play an important role in her new one. The inherent complexities of blending the two (or three, really) "families" and the dynamics between various members of the families if Lux is not always used as the buffer. But at some point, the writers nullified those possibilities by making Bug an emotionally manipulative, mentally abusive dickhead and by giving Tash exactly NO layers and insisting she remain merely a pissy little bitch. After they made that choice, they sent both characters packing (and rightly so, because if they have no redeeming qualities, what is the point of keeping them around to piss off the audience?) and turned their focus to "new life" stuff.

The new life people are far more complete and complex characters - Cate, Baze, Ryan, Math and even Jones are layered and interesting whereas Bug (the dickhead bad boy) and Tash (the pissy bitch) are nothing more than stereotypes - so I was happy enough that they went that way with it. But wouldn't you know, just when it seems they've committed to what this show is going to be, they up and change their minds again and we end up with another one of those ridiculously uneven episodes that sorta cheeses me off.

Jones asks Lux to go to the Winter Formal with him "as friends" even though it is perfectly obvious that he has very little interest in their relationship remaining in the friends classification. She obliges and acts like she's buying this "friends" nonsense because when it suits the story, the writers don't mind Lux being stupid.

Lux still hates Cate because Cate didn't adopt Tash when Lux told her to and therefore Cate is desperate for any opportunity to spend time with or speak to her daughter. So she drops by the bar and Baze and Math mention that Lux is going to the dance. Cate offers to buy her a dress and the two go shopping - which Lux only agreed to on the condition that Cate foots the bill but does not speak to her at all. Lux kind of needs to be slapped in the face.

While Cate is busy worrying about how she never gets to spend time with her daughter, Baze is worried that Lux will have sex with Jones. Because Jones is the quarterback and this is the Winter Formal and when Baze was the quarterback, he knocked up Cate at the Winter Formal. But while he's fretting about how to have the sex talk (or rather the "don't have sex" talk) with his little girl, Bug returns, says one (semi-)nice thing and then has sex with Lux. While the two snuggle post coitally on the couch in their skivvies (really? She has a bedroom!), they hear Baze on his way up so Lux throws her clothes on and shoves Bug under her bed so he can overhear the sex talk.

And oh the sex talk! Baze would apparently rather ask a homeless person to help him parent than the mother of his child because he brings in Cate's crazy sister for this occasion. She starts talking about vibrators and spin cycles and the whole thing flies off the rails until Baze says "don't have sex with Jones" and Lux promises not to. Then the "adults" leave and Lux and Bug have a fight where he treats her like shit some more and she calls him on not actually changing like he said he did and he walks away because if there are two things he's good at, it's treating her badly and walking away!

Math (who is still hella pissed at Baze for re-banging his life-long crush, btw) invites Cate to be his chaperon date for the dance so that she has the chance to be part of this moment with Lux. She jumps at the chance and somehow misses that Math is making goo-goo eyes at her even as he's putting the pink carnation wrist corsage on her. Once everyone is at the dance (and Lux has taken the opportunity to be terrible to her mother), Baze finds a condom in the loft and decides that Jones is incapable of controlling his libido, much as Baze himself was in high school. So he's off to the dance to bust some heads.

Once at the dance Baze and Cate make a scene which prompts Jones and Lux to leave, followed by Baze, followed by Cate. Baze yells at Jones for trying to fuck Lux, Lux yells at Baze because the condom belongs to Bug and her virginity is WAY in the past, and Cate just yells because she doesn't know what the fuck is going on. Jones bails when he hears that she had sex with Bug earlier that very day, and Lux bails after she's hurt every one's feelings leaving Cate and Baze to deal with some of their issues.

Cue the first of two really, really good scenes between Cate and Baze this week which were the only two scenes of the entire episode that didn't make me angry...actually the one scene with Ryan giving Cate a Lux-related pep-talk was not rage-inducing either. Anyway, Cate tells Baze that after they had sex that night in high school, she actually thought she had her first boyfriend. She was happily smitten with him. But then at school on Monday she came upon him and his buddies - they asked him if he had sex with her and he told them, without ever noticing she was standing well within earshot, that the only way he'd ever have sex with her is if there were a bag over her head and tape over her mouth so he would neither see nor hear her. Once again, Shiri Appleby surprises me with her chops.

Anyway, Baze hears the story of what a supreme asshole he was and, to his credit, his face reveals genuine horror and regret. But he sees this as a moment to let his new vulnerability and his true feelings for Cate come to the surface when he touches her arm and tells her that she is beautiful. Unfortunately, the type of rage that is borne of humiliation at the hands of someone you have feelings for - as Cate with by Baze - can't really be lessened with a mere apology 16 years later. So that really only makes her angrier. She storms off and Baze heads home, dejected.

Lux attempts to apologize to Jones but he points out that she knew damn well he liked her as more than a friend, yet still she slept with Bug and played him. She admits he's her only friend and he informs her that he actually isn't - her friend that is. He storms off and when she turns around, there is stupid Bug, with flowers, passive-aggressively telling her that he wants to be her boyfriend bad enough that he'll suffer through her lame high school shit. And he says it just about that nicely too. Dammit! I so want Jones to stick around and for Bug to be exterminated, permanently!

Then Lux and Cate have a nice mother-daughter moment in the hall when Cate tells Lux that the reason she is so awful to Baze is that she hasn't been able to let go of something that happened when they were kids. And maybe that's the same reason that Lux is so hard on Cate - because she can't let go of the hurt and anger she has over being "given up" by her parents at birth. But Cate does realize that Baze isn't the same person who did those things to her in high school and she's really going to try to move past it herself. Then she asks Lux to please try to move past her anger at Cate too because Cate really misses her. And she admits she really misses Cate too.

Back at the bar, Crazy Sister is drowning her jealousy (because, much like Math, after 16 years she still has a monster crush on Baze - seriously, I had some pretty enormous crushes in high school but I would NOT harbour these types of debilitating feelings all these years later. And trust me, I'm a year older than these people so I know exactly the length of time we're talking about, and still if Brent Passey himself fell into my life I would not be transported straight back to my teen years as though no time had passed like these morons. But I digress...) in cosmos when Baze comes in, still feeling the sting of ruining two Winter Formals in his lifetime. He and Crazy Sister talk about how surprised he is to find out that Cate cared about him at all in school and how much he loves her many flaws (including a mention about Shiri's habit of pronouncing a "k" at the end of "ing" words...which I found to be a great shout-out to the completely hilarious recaps of Roswell where Djb used to point that out a lot).

A short time later, Lux answers the door at the loft to find Cate who is actually there lookin' for Baze. She's there to apologize for letting her anger from before make them both miserable now. Lux bursts into his bedroom to let him know that Cate is there and obviously her failure to knock means that he's having sex with Crazy Sister. Lux is disgusted in them both, but mostly in Baze because she clearly wants her parents to be in love with each other (even though she loves Ryan), and she may not know her ass from her elbow when it comes to decent boyfriends, but she has enough sense not to like Crazy Sister.

Anyway, as soon as Baze hears that Cate's there, he's up, dressed and out to the porch to see her. She has attempted to recreate their failed first night with some Spin Doctors and Zima (seriously, sometimes this show gives me such a high school flashback!) to give them the chance to be nice to each other and talk and get to know each other and be friends without fucking it all up with awkward backseat sex and insecurity-masking bravado and unwanted teen pregnancy. And then the show ends right there on good scene number two.

Next week Lux hates Cate (and maybe Baze) again and is leaving. Oh good, we haven't seen that one before!

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