June 9, 2014

THE SKED Series Premiere Review: “Chasing Life”


CHASING LIFE:  Tuesday 9PM on ABCFamily – Change the Channel

ABCFamily is launching all its summer shows over the next week or two, so it appears to be luck rather than careful planning that’s resulted in its new CHASING LIFE, about a lovely young woman diagnosed with cancer, just a few days after the opening of the giant hit cancer-teen romance The Fault In Our Stars.  Nevertheless, the timing couldn’t be better for the series to get some attention–although it may backfire, since aside from the premise, there’s little in the pilot for Chasing Life that compares favorably to John Green’s novel or its film adaptation.

Based on a Mexican telenovela and adapted for US television by Susanna Fogel and Joni Lefkowitz (they wrote the pilot, which was directed by Steve Miner, but as this is their first series, the showrunner is the more experienced Executive Producer Patrick Sean Smith), Chasing Life suffers from plotting that’s cliched when it’s not outright dumb, and it’s built on a gimmick that will quickly become infuriating:  heroine April Carver (Italia Ricci) decides not to tell anyone in her life about her diagnosis of leukemia.  April is a striving young reporter for a Boston newspaper, and her personal and professional life are both on the upswing.  She’s promoted at the paper–her gruff editor, played by Vondie Curtis-Hall like the second coming of Perry White, has no patience with illness on his staff–and she’s just beginning a romance with hunky reporter Dominic (Richard Brancatisano).  At home, where she lives with her mother Sara (Mary Page Keller), grandmother Emma (Rebecca Schull), and sister Brenna (Haley Ramm), her family is still trying to get over the tragedy of her father’s death.  April doesn’t want to disturb Sara when she’s just stepping back into the dating pool, and her sister is cutting classes and hanging out with the wrong crowd already.  (Brenna delivers a “What would I do if you weren’t here?” speech that’s clumsily on point.)  April also won’t tell her best friend Beth (Aisha Dee), apparently just because she doesn’t want to ruin her buddy’s evening.

What this means in practice is that half the Chasing Life pilot seems to be made up of scenes where April really truly plans to tell one of these people that she has leukemia… and then doesn’t do it.  By the end of the hour, you might be ready to tell them yourself.  The other half of the script has such idiotic sequences as Dominic overhearing just enough of April’s conversation with her uncle George (Steven Weber), the oncologist who diagnosed her, to think that George is a married man with whom April is having an affair, and Brenna looking shifty-eyed when her family congratulates her for not hanging out anymore with those bad boys she’d been seeing and doing community outreach instead, so we’ll know that she’s actually foresaking outreach for tequila.  (Later in the episode, April has to rescue her from some dire selfies.)  A last-second plot twist regarding April’s dead father looks as though it’ll just make things soapier.

After the emotional honesty of The Fault In Our Stars, it’s hard to feel anything but contempt for Chasing Life and its use of cancer as a superficial plot hook (April’s only visible symptom is a brief nosebleed), but even on its own cruddy terms, there’s very little in the pilot to suggest anything promising in the writing or characters.  If the show acknowledged April’s actions as self-destructive and treated her as a character with serious issues beyond her illness, that would be a legitimate justification for the plotting, but instead it seems to think that viewers will only sympathize with April.  Perhaps this is just the set-up for a series that will be more nuanced–we’ll see.  Frankly, it’s hard to be optimistic.  Ricci is a likable lead, but she can’t get past April’s limitations, and the workplace and family characters are stale.  Apart from its timely premiere, Chasing Life will benefit from airing with ABCFamily’s biggest hit Pretty Little Liars, but that will only get it so far, as  last season’s Twisted can attest.  The early prognosis here is grim.

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."