We’ve seen so many characters suffer through cancer on TV and in the movies that it’s become predictable. Characters die bravely, leaving behind devastated loved ones.
“Life Sentence” turns that trope on its head in the most unlikely of ways.
The new series (Wednesday, 8 p.m., The CW/Channel 30) centers on Stella (Lucy Hale, “Pretty Little Liars”), a young woman who has been battling cancer for eight years. Determined to live life to the fullest, she’s done things like, oh, travel to Paris, meet a guy, fall in love and get married.
Elliott (Wes Charles, “Once Upon a Time”) is a great guy and he loves Stella, but marriage to someone who has been told she has six months to live is not a long-term commitment.
That is, until, minutes into the “Life Sentence” pilot, Stella learns she’s been cured.
Hurrah! Great news! Joy all around! Except that Stella also quickly learns that her family — at the advice of her doctors — has been keeping things from her. A lot of things. Her father, Peter (Dylan Walsh), and mother, Idah (Gillian Vigman), have drifted apart, and her mother is romantically involved with her godmother. Her sister (Brooke Lyons) isn’t as happy about being the mother of young twins as she appeared. Her brother (Jayson Blair) is a child-man whose life is a mess.
Turns out “Life Sentence” really isn’t about cancer, it’s about life.
It’s a family drama that sort of feels like something that would’ve aired on one of The CW’s predecessor networks, The WB. And that’s a compliment, as anyone who watched shows like “Gilmore Girls,” “Everwood,” “Felicity,” “Jack & Bobby” and “Dawson’s Creek” knows.
“This is about life after coming through a terribly hard time and starting over and starting again,” said creator/executive producer Erin Cardillo. “That’s what we were really interested in exploring in the show.”
Her real-life circumstances weren’t as extreme, but Cardillo and her siblings didn’t tell her father “anything about what was going on in our private lives” while he was battling cancer.
When he got a clean bill of health and they came clean, “definitely, he was shocked.”
“We were like, ‘Whew! We’re really glad we don’t have to keep anything from you anymore because that was exhausting,’” she said.
It’s an interesting premise. Yes, this family definitely has problems — without conflict, there’s no drama — but “Life Sentence” is not a downer.
Cardillo’s partner, creator/executive producer Richard Keith, said they were drawn to the “notion that there is hope and that there is life afterwards. … And it is worth fighting to get a chance to live it fully, if you are lucky enough to beat cancer.”
It’s not perfect. The best of the three episodes screened for critics is the first, which has to make you wonder if the concept will hold up.
And the premiere is definitely worth watching.