Monday, March 29, 2010

Poodle Bitch Did Not Expect to Love "Life Unexpected"

Poodle Bitch has first paw experience with adoption, as she herself was adopted as a mere pup. She considers herself lucky to have found the human companions that she did, as she has heard the most dreadful stories – stories she has neither the desire nor the stomach to relate here – of canine adoption nightmares.

Nevertheless, Poodle Bitch has on occasion wondered what her birth mother was like. What kind of bitch would Poodle Bitch be today, if that now nameless, faceless Poodle Mother had raised her? Poodle Bitch’s curiosity is idle at best, woolgathering for those times when she is otherwise unpreoccupied by important subjects and diversions. Diversions such as the television program “Life Unexpected.”

Poodle Bitch did not watch the first few episodes of this series because (a) it was on “The CW,” and Poodle Bitch was given to understand that “The CW” was exclusively for teenaged girls and dirty old men who write for glossy entertainment magazines about the "cultural relevance" of shows about teenaged girls engaging in three-ways, and, (b), it concerns a human teenaged girl who finds her birth mother after spending the first 15 years or so of her life as a “foster child.”

Poodle Bitch now regrets that she missed those early episodes. And she hopes that others will learn a lesson from her – that lesson being, don’t prejudge a show just because it appears on the same network as such tedious fare as “Gossip Girl,” and, well, to be honest, Poodle Bitch does not know any other CW shows by name.

But Poodle Bitch loves “Life Unexpected.” This was unexpected.

Poodle Bitch forgives herself for waiting until recently to give "Life Unexpected" a try. Who would blame her, when "The CW" marketed it by comparing it to the arch and artificial movie "Juno" and the equally glib and remote "Gilmore Girls"?

Tonight’s episode began with Cate and Ryan, hosts of a popular Portland morning radio show, deciding once again to get married. This is big news to viewers of the show, but if you haven’t been watching, Poodle Bitch will excuse you if you scratch your head. You see, Cate and Ryan were the engaged co-hosts of a popular morning radio show when their lives were turned upside down by the appearance of the teenaged daughter that Cate had put up for adoption back when Cate herself was a mere 16 years old.

16 is very, very old for a dog to be giving birth, but apparently for humans it is considered very early. So much so that Cate decided she could not provide her daughter with as good a life as some nameless, faceless adoptive parents. That is why Cate decided to do what she thought was best for her daughter, and let her go.

In a touching scene last week, Cate informed Ryan that she couldn’t even bear to hold her daughter, because she was afraid she might not want to let her go; even though she felt that this was in her daughter’s best interests.

Anyway, the reason that Cate and Ryan’s latest engagement is so important is that Ryan called off the engagement a few weeks ago, when he learned that Cate had slept with Baze when the two of them, Cate and Ryan, were technically not seeing each other.

And just who is Baze, Poodle Bitch can here you inquiring through the internet tubes. Well, Baze is the father of Cate’s daughter, Lux.

Speaking of Lux, she has some trouble of her own. As she arrives to school she encounters Jones, the star quarterback of the varsity football team. All that Poodle Bitch knows about football is that one of the quarterbacks in the NFL had a dogfighting ring, and that the man who is married to one of the Victoria Beckham, AKA Posh Spice, is also a player, although on another continent. Nevertheless, Poodle Bitch doesn’t hold this against the sweet Jones, who tried so hard to impress Lux a couple of weeks ago, when he drove her three hours to visit her friend Tasha who had been recently adopted.

Poodle Bitch implores the reader to keep up with her.

Jones took Lux to the winter formal, or some other type of cotillion that human teenagers enjoy. However, Lux’s former boyfriend, Bug (he has a tattoo on his neck), showed up, and the two of them engaged in the act of coitus immediately before Jones took her to this dancing event.

Baze found one of Bug’s condoms, and, thinking it belonged to Jones, went to the dance to confront Jones. Jones of course didn’t know what Baze was talking about, but Lux admitted that the condom was Bug’s, that Bug had returned to Portland from the hostel in Sacramento, and the two were picking up where they left off.

Jones, heartbroken, left the dance. Lux stayed, and Bug arrived with a bouquet of flowers.

And now, for some reason that Poodle Bitch doesn’t quite understand, Jones has invited Lux to his party. He encourages her to bring her boyfriend, Bug. “It will be great to see him again,” he says, ironically.

Cate, planning her wedding with real zest, asks Lux to be her maid of honor. Lux is honored by the request, although she doesn’t have a chance to actually say yes before Cate receives a call from her sister, Abby. Abby is miffed because she has only just heard that Cate is now re-engaged to Ryan – why did she have to receive this important information in a voice mail from their mother?

Well, Cate explains, if you were home more, or at least answered your phone, you would know everything that’s going on in my life. But apparently you’ve been “shacking up” with some “mystery man.”

At this point, Lux excuses herself. She knows the identity of the “mystery man.” And she knows that Cate will be upset when she discovers who it is, herself.

It is Baze. The man whose sperm fertilized the youthful Cate’s egg those 16 years before, in the back seat of a car in the school parking lot during the spring cotillion.

But Cate’s more immediate problem is that Abby has just assumed that she will be Cate’s maid of honor, and is already planning whatever types of events those so honored plan. Being a dog, Poodle Bitch has little knowledge of such things. But she does enjoy yoga; or, at least, she does a “downward facing dog” every time she gets up from a nap, so she is sympathetic to Abby’s suggestion that Baze accompany her to her yoga class.

However, Abby has only just suggested that Cate might want to do a workout herself, to avoid the whole “double boob thing,” an absurd suggestion, as the waifish Cate appears to weigh a delightful 98 pounds; but Cate takes the suggestion to heart.

And ends up at Abby’s yoga class. Stretching out next to Baze. At this point, Cate realizes that Baze and Abby are sleeping together. She declares, loudly, “You are th e guy that my sister is sleeping with?”

All of this before the first commercial break.

The episode concerned the attempt of Cate and Ryan to elope, rather than deal with the troubles that spring from planning a wedding involving their “crazy” relatives. They plan to take Lux and go to a bed and breakfast, and be married the next day.

Cate goes to Baze’s to retrieve Lux. Lux, however, is at the party at Jones’s. Because the rain has picked up, Cate is now stranded at Baze’s with her sister Abby, and Baze’s roommates. For their part, the roommates don’t like Abby – she is encroaching on their turf, and having what they consider a deleterious effect on their friend. They confront him to try to apprehend the real reasons for Baze’s sleeping with Cate’s sister.

Baze explains that he is really concerned about his daughter, Lux. You see, Lux walked in on Baze and Abby the morning after they’d spent their first night together. He wants to show Lux that it was actually more than just a “one night stand.”

Poodle Bitch knows only a very little about humans; mostly what she has read in the works of Mary Robinson and Samuel Johnson, but she can tell you that this sounds exactly like the type of thing that a human would say. Humans are very good at rationalizing their decisions. She understands that they must derive some comfort from that, and to a certain extent, she envies them.

Mary Robinson, the great author and dog companion, might have been at home writing for "Life Unexpected."

Abby claims that Cate is upset because she is jealous. She, Cate, really wants Baze. But Cate explains that her problem is with Abby, not Baze. Abby insinuates herself into Cate’s life “in the most insane ways.” Just as Abby “insinuated” herself into the maid of honor role, so has she “insinuated” herself into the bed of the father of her child.

That child, by the way, is having problems of her own. In a fit of jealousy, she confronts Jones after seeing him kiss another girl. Why is he “moving on,” when earlier that very day he claimed that he would have a hard time “moving on” from her?

Why does she want to be with Bug, but when she sees Jones with another girl, she becomes jealous? She can’t have it both ways, he tells her. She replies, incoherently, that she isn’t trying to have it both ways. But of course she is, which is another all-too-human characteristic.

Poodle Bitch lives her life in a way that is unequivocal, and uncompromising. That is an all-too-canine characteristic. But she will admit that she envies that humans can be so straight-faced in their schizophrenia.

Lux calls Ryan, and asks him to retrieve her from Jones’s party. Ryan does so, but with the rain coming down in hammers and nails they are unable to make it back home, so they must stop at the radio station where, apparently, they don’t have generators, as the power is out there, as it is back at Baze’s. Poodle Bitch knows little about radio, but she wonders why a radio station would lose power but that is a small quibble, as Ryan brings Lux into the radio booth, where the two seek to get to the root of Lux’s problems with Jones and Bug.

Lux and Bug have been together, “off and on,” for about two years. That is a lifetime for human teenagers. We are treated to a couple of flashbacks to Lux’s difficult life as a foster child. She has terrible abandonment issues. Poodle Bitch cannot imagine what it would be like to spend the first 15 years of your life moving from one temporary living situation after another.

But back to Cate and Baze, et al: Baze, having been convinced that he should stop seeing Abby, attempts to break up with her. She, being a therapist, is adept and parrying all of his reasons – he is just afraid of going after what he wants, because he’s afraid he’ll lose it.

No, Baze says, finally. I can’t see you anymore because I actually have feelings for Cate. “I had no idea,” Abby says. “Neither did I,” says Cate, who has been listening at the door.

It is unclear if Baze was being truthful, or if he was merely trying to get Abby to break up with her. But he’s stuck with his story, and he has to play it out.

“It’s going to be so weird now when we’re together,” Cate says. “Weird for Lux, weird for Ryan…”

Abby screams at Cate: “You bitch about us being together, and you bitch about us not being together,” she declares, using Poodle Bitch’s name inappropriately. “This isn’t Burger King, you don’t get to have everything your way!”

In this way, Lux’s and Cate’s stories mirror one another. They are truly mother and daughter, and this is a story worthy of the great Mary Robinson. This is the way human beings act, and interact. They are messy, selfish, sincere, selfless, pitiable, enviable, confusing, engaging, striving, contradictory. Human beings do not, and can not, react in predictable or even completely coherent ways. That is something that Poodle Bitch admires about this show.

If Cate didn’t have feelings for Baze, Abby explains to Cate, then it wouldn’t matter that Baze has feelings for her.

Having watched the program for the last six weeks, Poodle Bitch cannot understand why anyone would be conflicted about the choice between Ryan and Baze. Ryan is clearly and logically the better man. He is sincere, earnest, trustworthy, kind, loyal, and the actor who portrays him, Kerr Smith, has absolutely dreamy, bedroom eyes. Baze is an irresponsible schlub. But he is also good-looking, in a disheveled sort of way, and he is endearing in his infrequent attempts at self-improvement, spurred on by the appearance of his daughter. He’s helped by the fact that he is portrayed by Kristoffer Polaha, who is no Kerr Smith, but is not without charm.

Yet Baze displays his venality when Cate confronts him later. I lied to get Abby to break up with me, he explains. He doesn’t have any feelings for Cate. The actress who portrays Cate, Shiri Appleby, manages to convey apprehension, hurt, anger, and disgust with a single glance. Ms. Appleby has been gifted with a pair of eyes that are unusually large, bright, and expressive, and she uses them to great effect; there are times when the writing is uneven, but Ms. Appleby’s eyes can cover almost any weaknesses in the writing, as infrequent as those are.

When Cate asks Baze, “You want to know what I think of you?” and then answers her question with “Not much,” it’s the look that gives the line its power.

Back at the radio station, Ryan is able to help Lux understand the extent to which she hurt Jones’s feelings by rejecting him. It’s not unlike when Lux was an orphan, and she was rejected by a certain foster family. Rejection hurts, no matter the size of the rejection, or the circumstances. Lux needs to be more empathic – a quality that might have hurt her during her life as a foster child.

Even Baze grows up a little bit, telling Abby that he lied about having feelings for Cate. He lets her down nicely. But Abby thinks Baze is lying about lying. “The fact that that was your go-to lie – there’s probably more to it than you think.”

For her part, Cate admits that she is a little jealous of Baze and Abby, and she is afraid of what that means. Later, in talking with Abby, Cate comes to realize that much of the strain on the sisters’ relationship was caused by her resentment over the fact that during her pregnancy, she felt like no one was there for her – not even her younger sister. Abby has felt shut out of Cate’s life since the time when she was pregnant with Lux, and maybe that’s why she started dating Baze; it was a way to “insinuate” herself back into Cate’s life, in a meaningful way.

This leads to a tearful hug between the sisters. It also leads to Poodle Bitch fighting back tears. Cate and Ryan decide not to elope, but they are going to get married in two weeks, which, Poodle Bitch notes, is the season finale.

Poodle Bitch sincerely hopes that Cate doesn’t mess things up before then. Poodle Bitch also must admit that she kind of hopes that Cate does “mess things up.” That’s what humans do.

Mary Robinson photo source.

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