Shameless summer TV addictions: a review of ‘Chasing Life’

While it’s highly unlikely that another TV show will suck me in like Breaking Bad did, I’ve become semi-addicted to ABC Family’s Chasing Life. The premise is a twenty-something journalist, April, who is about to strike gold in both her career and love life, until a cancer diagnosis threatens to throw it all off-kilter (if you haven’t finished the first season, don’t read on – there will be spoilers).

I know this probably seems like an odd choice of entertainment for me. Why would I want to immerse myself in a cancer-centered drama after losing my dad to cancer? I haven’t even taken the plastic wrap off my Fault in our Stars DVD – it may be a while before I can watch that. I guess I chose Chasing Life for two reasons: 1, it’s ABC Family, so you know there’s going to be way more to the plot than a soapy, Touched by an Angel-esque cancer drama, and 2, sometimes it’s comforting to watch something that lets me know I’m not the only one touched by this, even if the characters aren’t real.

I’ll say this for The Fault in our Stars: it goes out of its way to depict cancer as real, gritty, and destructive as it actually is. Main character Hazel drags an oxygen tank everywhere she goes because her lungs are filled with fluid. She can’t run, play sports, or even make out like other teenagers can without losing the ability to breathe. Love-interest Augustus loses a leg to the disease. I was extremely pleased with the realness in that story. I wonder if the wild success of Fault has anything to do with the rise of “cancer dramas” on TV lately: from Lifetime’s The Big C to Kristina’s diagnosis on Parenthood (which, in my opinion, went absolutely nowhere).

Is Hollywood realizing that cancer patients watch TV too, and might want to watch something that helps viewers understand their struggles? Hardly. Just like pregnancy is the most predictable “twist” in romance genres, so too is cancer on television. Nothing quite tugs at the heartstrings like watching a couple fall in love despite knowing that one of them might not make it.

So where does Chasing Life fall into this? Well, what does this poster from Netflix tell you?

p9942511_b_v7_acAn attractive woman is sitting on the edge of a casket – filled with lemons! I see what you did there, ABC! Very punny of you. But also how about…melodramatic? And the tagline “cancer sucks”? Yeah, no kidding. How long did it take to come up with that one?

But as previously mentioned, it’s ABC Family, so melodrama is an essential ingredient. The cancer angle isn’t enough, of course – the script writers had to throw in a single mom struggling to find a man to date who isn’t secretly married, a grandma realizing that she too shouldn’t give up dating just because she’s in her seventies, a bi-curious sister who is two-timing her lesbian classmate and her boyfriend, a secret half-sister who is the result of April’s dead father’s affair (who just so happens to be a match for April’s bone marrow transplant, ZOMG I DID NOT SEE THIS COMING), and two men who end up falling for April (of course).

I can honestly say, having finished the first season, that the drama is keeping me interested more than anything having to do with the cancer. That’s because April is an attractive working woman with cancer, not a cancer patient who was attractive and wanted to keep her job. There is a difference. The cancer, at times, is treated more like an inconvenience than a genuine life-or-death struggle.

The one time I was tempted to throw in the towel was in the middle of the season when April finally starts her treatment – and is home within a month (only two episodes in TV Time). Sure, she loses her hair, and that’s hard to watch. But does she lose weight? No. Does she even lose her eyebrows (how many people are aware that chemo makes you lose ALL your body hair)? Nope! She’s still cute as she was before, just bald. She looks darling in little knit hats when she goes back to work (oh yeah – she’s back at work by the end of that month, too).

But then I got to the last two episodes, when April relapses. Her oncologist encourages her to let out her anger by swinging a baseball bat at drywall in a “Venting Room” (now that’s a cool idea). And so she does: she’s angry that she has this disease when she’s so young and finally finding her way in life – and rightly so. She’s angry that cancer got in the way of her first real relationship and limits her ability to be intimate. Now that, I get, because I watched my Dad cry a handful of times as it slowly became apparent that he’d never be able to run, coach, play golf, or even walk long distances as the cancer did its work. It’s a tragic, completely unfair thing to happen to anyone at any age, but since April is a character my age, I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d react if it happened to me. So the final episode did make me cry – and when a show can do that, that means it’s a keeper, despite its flaws.


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