ABC Family’s series have dealt with pretty little liars and twisted adolescents, but a new one involves a subject too familiar to too many: cancer.
Premiering Tuesday (June 10), “Chasing Life” — adapted from the Mexican show “Terminales” — casts Italia Ricci (“Aaron Stone”) as April, a young woman whose journalism career and love life are looking up when her pursuit of a story puts her in a hospital. Her oncologist uncle (Steven Weber) then gives her the news about her health, which she first rejects, then comes to accept as she begins treatment and resolves to live life fully.
Ricci tells Zap2it that “ours isn’t exactly the same” as the original version of the series, one reason she didn’t watch “Terminales” before “Chasing Life” began filming. She did see that show’s pilot afterward, “and it was interesting. That one’s a little racier than ours, which I was pretty surprised by, but I hope I make them proud and do them justice with my interpretation.”
Originating network Televisa is one of the production entities on “Chasing Life.” Executive producer Patrick Sean Smith previously oversaw ABC Family’s “Greek,” and he says the channel has “pushed the envelope” since he made that show, claiming that’s seen by the new series’ third episode when effects of April’s cancer become apparent.
“When you think about the portrayal of cancer on television over the past decade,” Smith reflects, “the character deals with it as part of a story that’s with other stories, then it’s sort of resolved. With this, we can show so many different sides of it for one character. The idea for me has always been that this is about a universal shift in perception for a young person, how they cope with it and how the people around them react to it.”
April’s mother (Mary Page Keller), sister (Haley Ramm) and grandmother (Rebecca Schull) don’t learn of her condition for a while. Even her new boyfriend, newsroom colleague Dominic (Richard Brancatisano), is kept in the dark as April often finds it easier to research her illness as if it’s another story she’s covering. Case in point: her interview with a juicing advocate cancer survivor known as “Carrot Dude” (guest star Sam Anderson) in Episode 3.
“This is a girl who could exist next door to you,” Ricci says of April. “I think she’ll be relatable to people for a lot of reasons other than the illness, and that really spoke to me. I wanted to play someone who would maybe mean a little to a lot of people. A lot of times, I’ve played Hot Woman No. 1 (her actual credit on ‘How I Met Your Mother’) or whatever, so to be able to be a fully formed character is just a lottery ticket.”
The longtime girlfriend of Robbie Amell, who starred in The CW’s “The Tomorrow People,” Ricci is pleased by the order for seven more “Chasing Life” episodes before the first 13 have debuted. She hopes to bring insight as well as quality drama.
“You want to tell the story as accurately as you can,” she confirms, “but what I learned when I was struggling with that is that anyone deals with any kind of obstacle differently. It’ll depend on your environment, your morals, your goals … what’s important to you.
“I had to let go of the idea that there was a right way to play it,” she adds. “I don’t want to say it’s easy, but I believe everything that happens to April, and I hope I’m playing it as genuinely and honestly as anyone would deal with the situation in real life.”