ABC Family's new dramedy Chasing Life
is messy and a bit clunky, but its depiction of a young woman with cancer offers a fresh and new perspective on the 21st century plight of being a woman.
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In writing, there is always talk about "the stakes." The stakes being what is at risk for the protagonist. In drama, the greater the stakes, the greater payoff for the story. Walter White and his Breaking Bad team upped the stakes season after season, featuring his own cancer battle and becoming the most ruthless meth dealer in New Mexico.
I doubt Chasing Life is going to have April run a drug cartel or become a baddie nor will Chasing Life undertake the stakes of an entire drug organization, but we do feel the stakes of our lead April Carver (Italia Ricci), 24, who is ready to take on Boston and the world. Until she gets cancer.
Interestingly, ABC Family's Chasing Life, is trying to tell a story of the modern 21st century girl. (The fact that this premieres around the same time The Fault in Our Stars hits theatres proves that there are a plethora of stories that can be told about cancer, but most importantly women). It's seemingly asking the question "plaguing" women for a while: can I have it all? For April this is unclear. She has cancer, something she hasn't quite accepted yet, but she wants to live. And have it all.
Feminism is mentioned a few times by name in the pilot -- which is exciting enough to have a protagonist openly and proudly used the f-word - and the show makes its case for the female perspective. It's a cancer story about the 21st woman. The stakes for April are everything most important to her: her life.
April's an ambitious young reporter on the verge of breaking into the industry, dealing with a demanding boss but also an office crush (Richard Brancatisano). She has a loving and supporting female-centric family led by her widowed mother (Mary Page Keller) and best friend (Aisha Dee). She's also incredibly flawed, stubborn and resentful, refusing treatment from her uncle, an oncologist, because of familial turmoil. Italia Ricci is a solid lead, giving us a character we want to care about. The greatest success of the pilot is making us care about April's fate and giving her this essentially feminist question.
Despite this feat, Chasing Life is not a revolutionary show. It isn't. A lot of the tone and beats make for a messy pilot. Awkward humor does not land (though, it greatly improves). Most plotlines without April as an anchor feel weightless, burdened by April's lack of involvement and lack of drama. Any plotline with April's teenage sister Brenna (Haley Ramm) needs to die a quick and painless death. Dominic, the love interest, is a bit of a dull, though there is some intrigue at recurring Scott Michael Foster of Greek fame. And of course the last beat of the pilot - a dramatic soap opera turn inspired from its Televisa Spanish-language Mexican television series source material, is silly.
Luckily, the show improves over the next two episodes, still stumbling for its breath, but still likable. Like its protagonist, it's hanging and on and chasing something far more ambitious than what appears.
Get a sneak peek at two scenes from the premiere:
Chasing Life premieres Tuesday June 10 at 9pm on ABC Family following the premiere of Pretty Little Liars.
(Image courtesy of ABC Family)