'Chasing Life' react: When cancer meets melodrama

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Image Credit: Eric McCandless/ABC FAMILY

If you haven’t gotten your fill of Young People With Cancer stories after The Fault in Our Stars this weekend, ABC Family is here for you with its latest television version of a YA novel plot, Chasing Life, a dramedy that merges The Big C with the standard combo of melodrama and quips that viewers have come to expect from the network that brought us Secret Life of the American Teenager and Switched at Birth.

Meet April Carver (Italia Ricci): She’s a 24-year-old big Boston journalist looking to make her mark on the world and date a cute guy while working for a newspaper straight out of the 1990s.The perfect rom-com set up! But, as viewers who saw the previews are well aware, we’re about to get a lot darker than Gilmore Girls here.

The premiere starts off clunky, opening with April attempting to get into a no-press charity blood drive for an interview with a disgraced athlete. After failing to sweet talk her way past a line, she meets up with her estranged uncle, doctor George to get her into the event. When she’s giving blood, she again tries her luck with the athlete, but he quickly figures out she’s a journalist. (Maybe it was her pointed questions about drugs?) As he’s getting upset, she faints, and before we know it we have a meet-cute on our hands. Or at least a meet-job. Sitting in a hospital room afterwards, he gives her the interview. “First question: What was the last thing you put up your nose?” she asks with a smile. Flirting on the job!

Of course, this whole bit is merely exposition for the real bombshell: Thanks to some super convenient blood test by her uncle, April learns she has cancer (a revelation she is told in a dark ally, natch). Because of her ensuing shock, dealing with that revelation is put on hold for most of the premiere, which allows the writers to set up all the other stuff that’s going to be filling this hour-long show. The basics: April’s dad died a few years ago, and she lives with her mom, grandma, and Walking Cliche troubled sister, Brenna. There’s also a nerdy guy at work whom she’s BFFs with (I’m going to save this show half a season and point out that he loves her), as well as a cute older reporter, Dominic (Richard Brancatisano), whom she goes to a concert with and kisses a little bit (pre-diagnosis).

I know dating drama is par for the course in ABC Family dramas, but, God, viewers deserve better than Dominic, a cute guy who seems eager to jump to conclusions. Was I the only one rolling my eyes throughout the last ten minutes of the episode when he thought he overheard April confessing her love to (her uncle) George? Communication! Teens — and the twenty-something women who watch the shows aimed at them — should try it sometime.

I’m sort of surprised at all of the melodrama that was packed in pre-cancer diagnosis. I assume creators Joni Lefkowitz and Susanna Fogel don’t want the cancer stuff to turn people off and decide it’s “too dark” of a show for them, so they rushed to also include all of the Issues that regularly turns up on these types of programs: The acting-out younger sister (Haley Ramm); the beginning-to-date-again widow mom (Mary Page Keller). A positive for the whole show is everyone in the cast is doing a lot with a little, and it’s all more engaging than one might expect.

It’ll be interesting to see as the show progresses how the program balances the heavy cancer stuff (April still hasn’t told her family about her diagnosis) with the lighter Woman Staking Her Claim In The World plotlines. In the latter group, here’s hoping April gets a better boss soon.

Other lingering thoughts:

- “You’re a private school girl, you probably only spread your legs for a horse.” What show are we watching?

- April’s mom has a 79% match for her online date. That seems low, yes? I mean, clearly it worked out — they were making out outside the house by episode’s end!

-Feminism is name-checked twice in the episode, and only one of those times was negative!

-There’s still mystery about why Uncle George is estranged from the family, and what exactly went down with April’s father’s accident. ABC Family experts, I eagerly await your theories.

-“It’s not like I’m gonna drop dead any second. I’m not, right?”

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