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Chasing Life - Mid-Season Review: "Summer Win"

I didn’t know what to expect from “Chasing Life.” As with any new show, it had the potential to be really interesting but that depended on the unknown plots, cast and tone. And it ran a risk. It’s a show about cancer, and viewers don’t want to watch something that brings them down. But “Chasing Life” has been the biggest surprise of the summer for me.

At the heart of the show’s success is its well-developed cast of characters. April Carver, the young ambitious 20-something who learns she has leukemia, is definitely the soul of the show. But the other characters are interesting in their own rights and many have their own engaging storylines. I love that the show focuses on all of them and not just April.

Typically in TV shows about young adults, the focus narrows in on them and their friends while the adults are simply an afterthought. Family is often left by the wayside. But “Chasing Life” offers a realistic portrayal of an interesting, vibrant family – one that smothers and supports, frustrates and uplifts. Just like in real life, April’s family makes mistakes but also stands by her when she needs it. That emphasis on family is appropriate in a crisis situation.

I’ve found April to be a pleasant, enjoyable main character. Most primary characters these days seem to be reckless and spontaneous and crazy. So it was almost a unique and challenging choice to write a central character who was responsible. Characters like this can run the risk of seeming too perfect, which easily translates into boring. But April is not perfect. She is someone who is struggling to make the right choices but doesn’t always make them. She is a person who looks out for everyone else. But that need to hold it together for her family has also become her vulnerability. Her quest to do everything right just emphasizes that she can’t. And that makes her relatable.

Actress Italia Ricci can take a lot of the credit for that. The young, relatively inexperienced actress has risen to the challenge of the role, showcasing a large range of emotions in April. In Ricci’s capable hands, April has become a layered, complex character who reveals different sides and different feelings all the time.

For the most part, the rest of the main casting is just as strong. Haley Ramm has been captivating as April’s sister who is struggling to find her own identity. Aside from April, her character has been the most intriguing to watch as Brenna has grown and developed the most since the first episode. She feels like a completely different person now with different priorities. In addition, Mary Page Keller easily personifies a frazzled but caring mother. Aisha Dee is fun as the charismatic best friend. And Scott Michael Foster adds a sparkling charm to the initially unpleasant Leo.

I must say, for me the character of Dominic hasn’t been nearly as dynamic as Leo. That was likely the intention. But because of that, the love triangle has not been as interesting as it could be. I like that none of the men has been demonized – that would be an easy cop-out. But the writers have certainly given more air time and interesting storylines to Leo. Although Dominic is nice, he hasn’t really had much to do. And sending him on a music trip to get him out of the picture felt like an obvious plot manipulation. But these kinds of misfires are relatively minor and infrequent.

When it comes to the show’s topic, the series has proven to be about more than just cancer. Sure, that’s a dominant part of the plot. But many interesting non-cancer-related twists have developed over the first half of the season: an unknown sister that the girls’ dad never told them about, an uncle who seemingly abandoned the family but was actually asked to leave, and now a history between the mom and uncle that seems to pre-date her marriage. April also spends a majority of her screen time dealing with normal things like relationships and family drama and trying to get ahead in her career. The stories are deftly balanced so as not to overwhelm you. And when cancer is the main focus, the writers have successfully infused serious moments with humor and truth.

I believe the series also presents a slice of life that anyone can relate to. It’s about dealing with all that life throws at you and learning how to “chase life” and fight when life throws you curveballs and tries to cut you down. Just substitute cancer with any other challenge and the theme is applicable to anyone.

It didn’t take long before this series quickly became a must-see for me. Throughout the summer I looked forward to it every week. After the mid-season finale cliffhanger where Leo calls April to tell her he has something important to share, I can’t wait for the rest of the season. (My guess is he has elected to have his potentially life-saving surgery after all.)

But wait we must. “Chasing Life” will return for a Christmas-themed episode in December as part of ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas” programming. The last 10 episodes of the season will air in early 2015.

Related: "Chasing Life" star Italia Riccia talks to SpoilerTV about her role

What have you thought of “Chasing Life” so far? What have you liked about the show? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

About the Author - Tonya Papanikolas
Tonya Papanikolas is a freelance journalist who loves covering entertainment and television. She spent more than 10 years as a broadcast news anchor and reporter. Now she does everything from hosting to writing. She especially loves writing TV articles and reviews for SpoilerTV.