March 8, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Life Sentence”


LIFE SENTENCE:  Wednesday 9PM on CW – Change the Channel

Last season, CW aired No Tomorrow, a madcap romp about a couple who lived every day as though it might be their last, because a deadly meteor was supposedly on its way to destroy the Earth.  The series flopped, but now the network has come back with its spiritual cousin, the new LIFE SENTENCE, a madcap romp about Stella (Lucy Hale), who’d been living every day as though it might be her last because of a cancer diagnosis, only to discover that she’s been cured and now has to deal with life’s realities.

Because Life Sentence is set after Stella’s party is over, it’s a bit more grounded than No Tomorrow, and Hale is a charming, plucky heroine, but the pilot alternates between silliness and messages–most of them delivered via Stella’s non-stop narration–that thump us in the back of the head.  Series creators Richard Keith and Erin Castillo were last responsible for CW’s painful summer half-hour Significant Mother, and Life Sentence feels like it’s been stretched into a 60-minute form against its will.

Apart from the mundane facts of life like needing to get a job, Stella’s biggest personal post-illness adjustment is the result of her splurge during her illness, a trip to Paris to find true love, which she did in the person of Wes (Elliot Knight), whom she impulsively married.  She doesn’t know him very well, but he turns out to be as caring and decent as he is hunky.  That leaves most of Life Sentence‘s conflicts to arise from Stella’s family.  Her brother Aidan (Jayson Blair) is a slacker who dates married women and still lives with their parents, while sister Elizabeth (Brooke Lyons) abandoned her dreams of being a writer in favor of career and children of her own.  The bigger drama comes from Stella’s parents:  mom Ida (Gillian Vigman) announces that she’s bisexual and leaving college professor dad Paul (Dylan Walsh) for a family friend, which prompts Paul to lounge on the front lawn with Aidan, drinking beers.  They also have to sell the family house, since they looted their savings to fulfill Stella’s dreams.  (Her medical bills are never mentioned as an issue, perhaps as a salute to Obamacare.)

All of this is hugely contrived, and that’s not even to mention the extended sequence of Elizabeth’s little daughter swallowing Stella’s engagement ring while her aunt is babysitting, requiring the girl’s waste to be combed through the next day.  Keith and Cardillo don’t appear to have the nerve or the craft to deal with what it might actually feel like to have a fatal illness and somehow survive, using that as a pretext while reaching instead for the feel of something like Heart of Dixie (which was itself a watered-down Gilmore Girls).  Hale is likably Rachel Bilson-esque, but her family isn’t nearly as quirkily eccentric as the residents of those small TV towns.  This bunch is just a mess in the way of countless sitcom families.

Life Sentence doesn’t have much to offer beyond Hale’s presence and some general amiability, and it’s only going to get a so-so lead-in from Riverdale.  Its own term seems likely to be much shorter than life.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."