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Family Matters

By Belinda Acosta, January 8, 2010, Screens

Oh, it all seems so quaint now. Back in the day, when George Burns and Gracie Allen were the most adorable married couple on TV, followed by Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, and then Rob and Laura Petrie, the televised idea of love and marriage and parenthood was so pristine. Married couples on TV didn't touch each other beyond chaste kisses and hugs above the waist. Heck, it wasn't even until Mike and Carol Brady that a married couple was shown sharing the same bed – albeit, a very large, king-sized bed with yards of fluffy comforter between them – but it marked a change from the norm of showing married couples bunking in his-and-hers single beds.

It wasn't until the 1970s and '80s that you got a broader idea of domestic life, including the previously unspoken topics of divorce and pregnancies out of wedlock (the so-called "bastard" child – do people use that language anymore?). These topics were broached under the "a very special episode" banner and often featured the poor, the ghettoized (e.g., people of color), and women of questionable virtue.

Fast-forward to 2007 with Juno, and all of a sudden, being knocked up is discussed with, well, not exactly a light touch, but not nearly the sense of shame as in the past. Now, with TV's low-rent Knocked Up knock-off, the Jenna Elfman vehicle Accidentally on Purpose, not only is the unwed mother continuing with her life as usual, but with a laugh track to remind us that it's not rocket science – it's just pregnancy (she said sarcastically).

I was thinking of all this history of being knocked up, on and off the TV screen, when I was watching the first three episodes of the new CW series Life Unexpected. In this series, we have a young girl named Lux (Brittany Robertson), the product of a backseat romp during a school dance. She's in search of her birth parents – not because she is longing to be reunited with them, but because she is seeking emancipation from the foster system she's been in since she was 3. At 16, she is dying to take her life in her own hands. She couldn't do any worse, she figures. And by the trail of irresponsible adults she left behind, it's quickly determined that she is probably right.

Some dangling piece of legal business was left undone in the past, and all Lux needs is their signatures to gain her emancipation. Yeah, that stretches the imagination a little. But this niggling detail is easy to ignore because the larger premise of the series is so tantalizing: What would it be like if we could revisit those big crossroads moments for our teenage selves and do things differently – or at least better – in the present? What have our present selves learned from the past, and more importantly for the premise of Life Unexpected, how are we the same?

It would be easy to write off Life Unexpected as just another soapy young adult drama, but for all its narrative flaws, it has some real heart. Although the circumstances are very contemporary, the idea that family – finding it, loving it, being driven nuts by it – is at the core of this new drama is really very comfortingly quaint.

Life Unexpected premieres Jan. 18 at 8pm on the CW.

What Else is On?

On Jan. 12, KLRU will air Young@Heart, a documentary about a choir of elders (with an average age of 81) singing rock tunes. If the idea of senior citizens singing Sonic Youth tunes makes you roll your eyes as being something much too precious to endure, rest assured that not only will this documentary surprise you, it will delight and make you look at all seniors in a new light. The film is unexpectedly buoyant and touching and funny in all the right ways. If you missed Young@Heart during its 2008 appearance at South by Southwest, now's your chance to view it in the comfort of your living room. Not to be missed.

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