August 13, 2014

THE SKED Summer Finale Review: “Chasing Life”


CHASING LIFE, which aired its not-quite-half season finale tonight, could better have been titled What Not To Do If You Get Cancer.  That, in itself, isn’t a criticism:  a story about a narcissistic idiot who gets sick and does absolutely everything wrong once she finds out about it is a perfectly valid subject for a drama, or for that matter a dark comedy.  (The excellent movie 50/50 wasn’t quite that story, but its hero made his share of dumb decisions.)  Treating that character as though she’s somehow heroic, and everything she’s doing is inspirational and life-affirming, however, is something else, and Chasing Life, which has had some of the most maladroit writing on all of television, seemed to think this was the tale it was imparting.

Tonight’s hour, written by US series creators Susanna Fogel and Joni Lefkowitz (the series is based on a Mexican telenovela, and Fogel and Lefkowitz work with showrunner Patrick Sean Smith) and directed by Michael Grossman, was in keeping with the rest of the season.  April Carver (Italia Ricci), having spent many episodes in utter denial about her leukemia, refusing to take treatment or even tell those close to her that she was sick, and instead obsessing about her budding career and love life, had finally checked into the hospital for her round of chemo.  It wasn’t long before she’d ripped out her IV tube and started wandering around the hospital, ending up (of course) in the chapel.  In a heavy piece of foreshadowing, she’d been told that her medication might give her hallucinations, which in her case consisted entirely of visits from the dead, especially her father (guest star Tom Irwin), who first seemed to foretell her death, and then delivered an “attaboy” that she’d be fine.  The writing of these scenes was so bad that when an actual person appeared, fellow cancer patient and occasional lover Leo (Scott Michael Foster), it wasn’t until his sequence was almost completely over, and a third party saw him talking to April, that it was clear he was really there.

From start to finish, Chasing Life has been presenting a string of overdrawn, self-obsessed characters who speak in flat dialogue.  April’s incessantly bubbly best friend Beth (Aisha Dee) was alone enough to make one reflect that sometimes the wrong people were stricken with severe illness.  Chasing Life is the kind of show where April’s therapist mother Sarah (Mary Page Keller)–she helps other people, but her own life is a wreck!–and her former brother-in-law, April’s oncologist uncle George (Steven Weber), having been introduced as loathing each other, were of course romancing a few episodes later, and where April’s own love, fellow journalist Dominic (Richard Brancatisano), ran home from Europe, where he’d been following a band, as soon as he finally learned about April’s disease–only to stalk out of the hospital almost immediately, upon learning that April had kept her sickness a secret from him.  The contrivances literally continued to the last few cliffhanging seconds of the final episode, with April listening to a ridiculous phone message from Leo saying he had to tell her something critical, literally as she watched his parents rush into his hospital room looking dire.

Chasing Life wasn’t any better when it spent time away from April’s illness.  The sequences of April Carver, Cub Reporter, were sparked by one of the most retro depictions of a female colleague as a backstabbing bitch that you’ll see this side of a 1950s soap.  About the only part of the story that wasn’t painful was the growing relationship between April’s sister Brenna (Haley Ramm) and her lesbian friend Greer (Gracie Dzienny)–although that, too, was abruptly smashed by Greer’s cartoonishly snobby parents in the finale.  Ricci is an appealing actress, and some of the rest of the cast can hold their heads up, but mostly it’s been an ordeal.

In the ratings, the series has been the definition of a bubble show, losing much of its Pretty Little Liars lead-in but holding onto a decent number, doing about as well as any other show that’s followed that hit.  Chasing Life still has time to turn itself around:  it returns for a Christmas-season special, and then has 10 more episodes to air next Spring.  (The Fosters, another ABCFamily show that seemed to be heading straight downhill in the latter half of its first season, has gone a fair job of getting back on track this summer.)  But the series has lots of work to do, and the first step may require some changes in the writing/producing staff.

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."