Sometimes growing up has little to do with attaining a certain age. Someone might be a teenager and have a surprisingly clear-eyed view of life, while someone else might be twice as old but still not have a clue.
That's the dynamic at play in a wonderfully warm-hearted TV series called Life Unexpected, which premieres at 9 tonight on the CW network.
The one-hour family drama revolves around a bright, feisty 15-year-old named Lux, who has been kicking around in a series of foster homes in Portland, Ore., since she was born. Anxious to assume control of her own life, as her 16th birthday approaches she decides to ask the family court to declare her an emancipated minor.
One small hurdle, though: She must get her biological parents to sign the paperwork. These are two people that Lux has never known and who haven't seen each other since they conceived their daughter during a one-night stand in the back of a van in high school.
When she tracks down her father - apparently that's not too difficult in a city the size of Portland - he turns out to be a thirty-something slacker named Nate "Baze" Bazille who owns a failing bar and lives above it with two loser buddies. He has no idea that he ever had a daughter, always assuming that the child was aborted.
Next comes Mommy. She's Cate Cassidy, a local radio host who has commitment issues and spends most of her on-air time joking - or is she? - about her messed-up love life. Cate always believed her out-of-wedlock baby had been adopted years earlier, but it turns out the girl had a minor heart defect that required surgery, and that made her unappealing to prospective parents.
Despite some misgivings, both birth parents agree to sign Lux's papers, but the judge refuses to grant the young girl emancipation, instead assigning temporary joint custody to Baze and Cate.
Neither of the self-absorbed young adults is ready, or willing, to assume the role of parent, and Lux herself isn't sure that's what she wants, either. Sure, it would be nice to have a place to call home, but after all, these were the same two people who skipped out on her at birth.
Slowly, though, Baze and Cate realize that maybe they owe it to Lux not to abandon her a second time.
Life Unexpected is a smart and funny show, full of quick, punchy dialogue and flawed but likable characters. It's reminiscent of some of the groundbreaking series in the early days of the WB (the network predecessor of the CW) - shows such as Dawson's Creek, Everwood, and Gilmore Girls.
Much of the program's appeal is provided by 19-year-old Brittany Robertson (formerly of CBS's Swingtown), who plays Lux with equal parts toughness, vulnerability, and hopeful optimism. Life Unexpected is, more than anything else, a show about relationships. But it's not ponderous, preachy, or sappy. It's fresh and vibrant, and as the complicated relationships among its main characters continue to evolve, it should be well worth following.