The 20-something protagonist in “Chasing Life” receives an unexpected cancer diagnosis early on, and no, she does not begin selling crystal meth. Adapted from a Mexican TV series, this youthful drama feels well suited to ABC Family, with an appealing lead in Italia Ricci and enough soapy doings to keep its audience intrigued, despite clunky moments and another groan-inducing screen representation of newspaper life. In terms of timing the show also happens to arrive not only paired with “Pretty Little Liars” but following the big box-office weekend for “The Fault is in Our Stars,” another tale of the young and cancer-clouded mortality.
Ricci’s April is floating (her grouchy boss, played by Vondie Curtis-Hall, says it sounds better than “intern”) at a Boston newspaper when, while pursuing a story, she happens to faint dead away at the same hospital where her estranged uncle (Steven Weber) works. Conveniently, he’s an oncologist, and runs some tests; not so conveniently, he informs her that she has leukemia, and must seek treatment quickly.
“I’m 24,” April says, as if that, by itself, should be some sort of get-out-of-cancer-free card. And the timing really is bad, since she’s not only starting to make some headway at work, but advancing her flirtation with a dreamy entertainment writer (is there any other kind?) named Dominic (Richard Brancatisano), who she doesn’t have the heart to tell about her condition.
That questionable strategy also applies to April’s family, including her mom (Mary Page Keller) and younger sister (Haley Ramm), who is exhibiting a rebellious streak that mom wants to attribute to the death of the girls’ father.
With mom reentering the dating scene, romance occupies quite a lot of “Chasing Life,” which is just as well, since the fictional newspaper seems to be funneled out of an old “Lou Grant” episode, as if nothing has happened in between. Still, writers Susanna Fogel and Joni Lefkowitz (Steve Miner directed the pilot) have done a creditable job of quickly introducing the show’s scenario and getting the audience to feel for April — including a clever first-episode twist that expands the narrative possibilities.
At some point, of course, April is going to have to come clean to everyone and start facing up to her illness, but through three episodes the series manages to mine the arbitrary nature of her predicament without being cloying — no small feat, given the venue and subject matter.
Whether that can be sustained, of course, is potentially another matter, and the title hints at a certain “Live like you were dying” vibe. The early diagnosis, though, is that for an audience susceptible to such stuff, “Chasing Life” looks worth catching.