This time last year, “Life Unexpected” creator Liz Tigelaar was anxiously anticipating the launch of the series she’d poured her heart into. Tomorrow, one year to the day of the series’ premiere, the show will air its Season 2 finale, and Tigelaar is preparing to move on to begin working with ABC, with whom she’s signed an overall deal.
Reps at The CW stress that the show hasn’t been officially canceled, though the cast and crew don’t seem particularly optimistic about their chances at a Season 3. The show, plagued by a difficult time slot and a notable lack of Season 2 promotion, has struggled in ratings, but maintains a small, dedicated fan base (including us at Zap2it!) with an active online presence.
“She had to film her biggest moment of the episode right after, and it kind of worked out perfect because she was a total wreck,” Tigelaar laughs. “She was a mess through the whole thing, which is great. I thought it was great timing!”
Polaha, who has emerged as the clear heart of the show, recently secured an Alex O’Loughlin-type talent deal with CBS. “Kris wrapping was kind of the saddest part,” says Tigelaar. “There’s a scene in the episode that’s our five original people from the pilot, so Cate, Baze, Lux, Math, and Jamie, which was supposed to be our last shot, but Kerr [Smith] was so sick and lost his voice, so we had to reschedule everything. Somehow Kris ended up shot out earlier than everyone else. Once he wrapped it felt weird, continuing.”
Most criticism of “Life Unexpected’s” second season has been rooted in the idea that Season 2 didn’t feel an awful lot like Season 1. Lux’s secret relationship with her teacher, Eric Daniels (Shaun Sipos) was skewered for being both too soapy and too reminiscent of storylines on “Pretty Little Liars” and “Gossip Girl.”
“I actually really do understand the criticism, because I feel the same way. It is a little soapy,” Tigelaar says. “We’re on The CW. They wanted some level of a show where more happens, that branches out. They didn’t say, ‘Lux has to be with a teacher,’ but they really responded to that story in a positive way. My own criticism of the story would probably be that it happened quickly. That was always a story that was supposed to be told over 22 episodes.”
The student/teacher storyline will come to a head in the first hour of Tuesday’s two-hour finale, when Cate (Shiri Appleby) and Baze finally realize that something has been going on behind their backs with their teenage daughter and the man who they trusted to protect her.
In fact, it’s Daniels’ good intentions that make the story stand out from the pack.
“To me, that’s what’s interesting about the story. It’s been done before, it’s soapy, or whatever, but we’re telling a story about a person who really has done nothing but be a positive influence in her life,” says Tigelaar, noting that it’s Daniels who helped diagnose Lux’s learning disability, and who gave her the confidence to come clean about the sexual abuse in her past.
“He’s clearly been the best relationship she’s ever had. He hasn’t slept with her. He’s just drawn to her, and it was always this story of a guy who’s drawn to helping a girl who he probably should’ve stayed away from.”
Unfortunately, his good intentions backfire when Cate and Baze clue in. “It’s a huge betrayal for the parents because they’ve put a certain amount of trust in him and they’ve had certain interactions that have kind of made them feel like he’s on their team. To me, that’s the juicy part of the story, and that’s where the betrayal feels so egregious. As parents, they feel like they’ve been so blind. They think, ‘How could you be so stupid?'”
If Season 2 has felt particularly different to you, it may also be because of the absence of the love triangle between Cate, Baze, and Ryan. When we spoke with Tigelaar at the end of Season 1, the love triangle was in the forefront of our minds – and hers. “I felt like the Cate/Baze relationship is the heart of the show. That’s what’s pumping blood into the show and keeping it alive,” she says.
A note from The CW took the show in a new direction.
“One of our mandates from The CW coming into Season 2 was ‘No more love triangle. No more Cate and Baze.’ We’d told that story in Season 1,” Tigelaar says. She admits that it was one of the more discouraging notes from the network. “They knew how I felt about it, and I knew how they felt about it. We’d have these meetings and I’d be like ‘Please!’ It was a really hard mandate that I struggled with creatively, thinking ‘Well, maybe I’m not the best person to do this show.'”
Luckily, she wasn’t ready to jump ship quite yet, and say what you will about the lack of love triangle action, there was one clear upside to the note. Emma Caulfield‘s character, Emma — so named because the character was written with Caulfield in mind — turned out to be an unexpected (ha!) bright spot in Season 2.
“I’m obsessed with Emma Caulfield!” Tigelaar says enthusiastically. “She’s an amazing person and an amazing actress, and she and Kris have great chemistry. Emma was a perfect vehicle for Baze to grow. He grappled and struggled, and maybe ultimately it was different than what he wanted it to be, but I loved her for him.”
Still, Tigelaar’s intended endgame of the show didn’t factor Emma in. With the possibility of cancellation looming, we had to take this opportunity to ask Tigelaar what her plans for the show would’ve been had “Life Unexpected” lasted for five or six years.
“Yes, the endgame of the show was either Cate and Baze together,” she says. “Or, depending on the length of the show and how things went, maybe getting together and realizing why they shouldn’t be together, but still coming to a good place. All of us always wanted Cate, Baze, and Lux to be a family in the end. The show was created that way, the characters were created that way, and for me, that family unit was always the endgame. For all of us.”
Despite not really having the chance to tell the whole story, Tigelaar hopes that the two-hour season finale will offer fans closure, whether or not Season 3 ever happens. The 13th episode was always intended to wrap up a lot of storylines and launch the characters in a new direction for the back nine, so while adjustments had to be made to turn it into a finale, it’s a satisfying conclusion. In these thirteen episodes, Tigelaar says, they’ve managed to build a complete character arc for their three leads, with each of them showing distinct growth since the pilot.
“Listen, all I know is that Act 6 begins and I start crying and I do not stop until the episode is over, and Act 6 is
11 minutes long,” Tigelaar says. “I have seen it 25 times and there’s not a single time where I’m not a total mess. I know that I’m crying harder because it’s the last one, but even when we conceived what the end of the series would be, I literally feel like I started crying right then and haven’t stopped.”
We’ll stock up on tissues. And postcards addressed to The CW.