"Life Is Wild" is about as lame as its name. The CW's latest family drama makes a feeble attempt at keeping a finger on the pulse of today's youth, but just ends up like that embarrassing uncle who can't keep hip-hop lingo straight. Add in a gorgeous environment, fuzzy critters and family altercations, and you have a program that struggles to mesh the hip and the wholesome, the domestic and the outdoorsy.
The premise, which takes far too much time in exposition during the pilot, places a blended New York family in a South African game preserve after the veterinarian dad Danny (D.W. Moffett) takes a job there. The kids -- both his biological ones and those of his new wife Jo (Stephanie Niznick) -- aren't too thrilled to be transplanted, but the move is a desperate effort to mend their disjointed family.
Eldest daughter Katie (Leah Pipes) is the purported protagonist and provides a rather sympathetic character since she only occasionally falls into whiny teenager mode. Instead, she leaves that for her stepbrother Jesse (Andrew St. John) and takes on a can-do optimism that only occasionally cracks, revealing how she's inadequately dealt with her mother's death.
That's just one of the family issues riddling Danny and Co. at the Blue Antelope Lodge. Take your pick. There's Art (David Butler), Danny's drunken father-in-law, who never reconnected with his estranged daughter before her death. There's Jesse, who was just shy of being arrested in New York. There's Chase (K'Sun Ray), Katie's younger brother who still misses his mother. And there's Jo, who has to work with Art at making the Blue Antelope a working lodge.
As a successor to the "7th Heaven" timeslot, "Life Is Wild" is similar enough to its predecessor in that it provides ample characters and family situations to create dialogue. Its earnestness suffers from a lack of humor, however, and the added environmental and political messages bog down the series that means well and shows it.
Strangely, one of the unique features of the show -- the presence of wild animals -- isn't handled as responsibly as would be expected or is instead played for laughs. There's a naive disregard for the inherent danger that the creatures pose. Twice in the pilot, a character decides to wave his arms over his head in order to distract a wild animal, and there are quite a few other run-ins that are treated casually, such as the presence of the lodge's resident warthog, Ricky.
So far, the political/ethnic tensions are only alluded to early on, but expect them to get bigger treatment as the show progresses. A saving grace in the show appears to be the friendship between Katie and a local, aspiring veterinarian Tumelo (Atandwa Kani). It doesn't seem forced, and as long as the differences in their cultures aren't handled ham-handedly, it could be an effective tool for subtle commentary.
In addition, the dialogue seems forced, torn between trying to impart a clumsy wisdom ("Things don't have to not come back to never have gone away.") or using rather stale pop culture references ("McDreamy," "Pimp My Lodge" for "Pimp My Ride") to be more relatable.
In short, "Life Is Wild" is a rather jumbled, ambitious project that doesn't quite succeed, and with its incongruous lead-ins "CW Now" and "Online Nation," it's not really positioned to win over many viewers.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times