Stay Tuned: TV Preview: ‘Life Sentence’
“Life Sentence” focuses on Stella Abbott, (Lucy Hale, “Pretty Little Liars”), a millennial who decides to live like she was dying after finding out she has cancer. Stella’s narration of her illness and her adventures living freely skip all of cancer’s hard truths. Even when she is shown in the hospital, she looks camera ready. When she finds out she is cured, she must deal with her choices over the last eight years and the impact her diagnosis had on her family. The tone is breezy rather than serious. So, before you can enjoy “Life Sentence” for the lighthearted family show that it is, you have to get past the idea that terminal illness is depicted as a somewhat carefree experience.
Thankfully, that depiction is over in the series’ first few minutes and the plot focuses on how Stella, her husband and her family adjust to life post-cancer. Having been told that terminally ill patients should live in an optimistic world so they don’t feel like a burden on others, Stella’s family do everything they can to make her life beautiful and create a happy, positive environment. The consequences of their choices are revealed when they learn she will survive. Her parents spent their retirement savings supporting her. Her sister, who finally admits “your cancer always came before my happiness,” confesses that she got married and had children in order to give their mom and dad something good to focus on. Her still-lives-at-home adult brother says that he plays the cancer card to manipulate the soccer moms he sells ADHD drugs to into sleeping with him.
It’s a sad state of affairs in this family’s post-cancer world but this show doesn’t want you to feel depressed about financial ruin, differed dreams and the callous selfishness of a drug dealing man-child. It keeps things light as Stella learns the truth, even from the husband she adores. He charmingly rattles off a list, confessing that he really doesn’t enjoy when she falls asleep on his chest every night or her choice of indie music. And, oh by the way, when he said he didn’t want children? Not actually true.
None of these revelations are a blow that Stella doesn’t get through with a can-do attitude, despite some temporary shock and frustration. Her mom’s declaration that she is bisexual and in a relationship with a woman who is a longtime family friend? She can fix it. She just has to get her parents together and convince her dad to apologize about the money thing.
“Life Sentence” has a strong ensemble cast who are all likeable and Elliot Knight, as Stella’s husband, Wes, embraces the storyline’s easygoing tone. Tying it all together at the end of the pilot episode, Stella says that her new world is “the end of my cancer movie and the beginning of my life sentence.” The show’s tone suggests that it’s not going to be hard labor.
“Life Sentence” premieres on March 7 at 9 p.m. EDT on The CW.
— Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.