"Fight cancer" should never worm its way onto anyone's to-do list. And April's list was quite full already, thanks very much.
She's a fledgling reporter for a big-city daily in Boston (yes, apparently newspapers do still exist) looking to climb the journalistic ladder. She's living at home with her mother, grandmother and younger sister—all of whom have their own issues to sort through. She's got friendships to cultivate, men to smooch, the gravesite of her father to visit and her unexpected half sister to confront.
She doesn't have time to battle leukemia, too.
Sickness never comes when it's convenient, though, and April must tackle this potentially life-threatening disease head-on, all while still writing front-page stories and keeping an eye on her wayward sister and helping guide her mother through the perils of the dating scene and exploring that scene herself. If her time is limited—and it very well may be—she's got to make the most of the moments she has.
Chasing Life is a soap-riven drama built to play on the funny bone and tug on heartstrings. And it offers up some very nice messages about family and getting one's priorities right. Quirky though they may be, April's family is loving and supportive. April, at 24, is the clan's stabilizing rock—a calming presence for her kinda flaky mom and a surrogate mother to the teenage Brenna. April sometimes sacrifices her own happiness and even well-being to make sure that everyone else is doing OK. And you gotta like that, right?
But while April's motives are in the right place, her titular morals can stray. While she's "picky" about men, that doesn't mean she won't sleep with them if the inclination strikes. She'll go out clubbing with her friends. She's been known to lie to get a big story. She'll string together some terribly inappropriate and sometimes crass jokes (a trait she says she got from her father).
And remember, April's the familial good girl here. Brenna can get into some huge trouble on occasion: She nearly flunked out of school the year before April got sick, hanging out too much with an older guy, we're told. She drinks till she pukes, flirts with boys with no honorable intention and generally falls under whatever bad influence might walk past the house. She lies and cheats, leaving her poor (but not always innocent mother) in a state of perpetual worry.
Then there's one other element that I'm not quite sure what to do with: Chasing Life's potential to romanticize a deeply unromantic disease.
The series premiered on the heels of the movie The Fault in Our Stars, another story of young, pretty people stricken with a terrible sickness. Fault is a deeply touching tale that has, according to ABC News, even spawned something like cancer envy. Matthew Zachary, who founded a group called Stupid Cancer, says he's overheard people leaving the theater wishing that they could get sick in order to find love.
It's an interesting reaction. While Fault is indeed a romance, it goes out of its way to make the disease itself seem pretty much the antithesis of romantic. The lead character is tethered to nose tubes the entire movie. She can't run or jump for joy. People get sick and they die. In the movie, as in real life, cancer is horrible.
Which makes me wonder if Chasing Life will deal with leukemia with such honesty. Will ABC Family want its beautiful lead, Italia Ricci, to look unhealthy or lose her hair? Will her disease put anything more than a superficial crimp in her ambitions? Will it make leukemia look like little more than a superficially tragic backstory—a disease that causes few lasting problems while engendering a great deal of sympathy? If so, how much stronger might teens react to this lighter TV treatment when some already get the wrong message from The Fault in Our Stars?
This is nothing new, of course. Back in Victorian England, reports surfaced of impressionable young girls longing to contract consumption (tuberculosis) so they could waste romantically away—a phenomenon mocked at times by Charles Dickens.
Maybe some youth have always been attracted to tragic diseases. So maybe it's not the healthiest thing to wallow in the sort of superficial tragedy we see in Chasing Life.
Right out of the gate, April learns she has cancer. With her mother preoccupied with a date, her sister too untrustworthy to tell and her friend to boy-crazy to listen, April at first admits the sad news only to her dead-and-buried father. "Maybe you already know," she says. "I don't know how this all works."
April twice kisses a guy she knows from work. When she worries that the relationship is going south, her friend Beth suggests picking up another beau for the night. April declines. And Beth says, "If you change your mind, come and dance with me. Guys love lesbians." Other lesbian-oriented quips are made as well, along with crass remarks about dating habits and sexual desires. Brenna's preference for bad boys winds up getting her into a bit of a sexually threatening situation inside an alcohol-filled flophouse. And her predicament is reinforced with base sexual comments.
Somebody thinks April's doing cocaine when her nose starts to bleed. People are shown with beer and other drinks, and April interviews an athlete suspected of having a drug habit. Mom takes sleeping pills. Brenna guzzles tequila before April finds her passed out (while people take mocking pictures of her). April promises to keep Brenna's exploits between them, and she lies frequently elsewhere.
Jokes are made about illegitimate kids, STDs and suicide. April's grandmother plays online roulette. Characters say "b‑‑ch" and "h‑‑‑" a time or two each, and they misuse God's name a half-dozen times.