Chasing Life Episode Review 1×03 – “Blood Cancer Sex Carrots”
TV veteran Sam Anderson's portrayal of Gerald - the kindly, philosophical cancer patient who ultimately gives April the confidence she needs to begin to say out loud that she has cancer. Really enjoyed too finding out more about Dominic's deeper character, and was refreshed by the fact that the issues at it heart challenged me as a viewer more than anything for being so superficial.
Brenna is kind of a jerk, to be honest. Getting a little bit over her hurtful attitude.
An Unexpected New Friend Challenges April To Not Go It Alone As A Dinner Goes Not Quite According to Plan in Episode Three of ABC Family’s “Chasing Life”
She’s been hiding it fairly well to this point, but April Carver knows that keeping her illness a secret is going to be far harder if the symptoms she’s suffering keep getting worse. Bleeding gums, bleeding nose, exhaustion…its a secret that’s taking its toll more than ever before in this week’s episode of “Chasing Life” – entitled “Blood Cancer Sex Carrots” – and she has no idea how to deal with them, without visiting her uncle at the hospital and telling him fully what’s happening.
So when an unexpected opportunity arises to meet a local man who apparently sells a vegetable juice that is said to be having great side effects for cancer sufferers, April jumps at the chance. After all, every little bit helps when you’re thrown unexpectedly in the deep end of life. But she suddenly finds it harder to concentrate on the project when an offhanded comment by a co-worker about Dominic – and his dating habits – leads her to be suspicious of his motives in dating her: the last thing she needs considering everything else in her life isn’t exactly running smoothly. Meanwhile (speaking of man troubles) Sara is preparing to introduce her new boyfriend Ben to her mother and daughters over what should be a nice, peaceful and enjoyable meal. If only, Sara soon discovers, when she realises that Ben also happens to be the soon to be ex-husband of a very highly strung new patient. On top of that, Brenna is less than enthused by the prospect of her mother bringing a man who isn’t her father into their lives: a predicament that causes her to rely on the assistance of her sweet, savvy new co-worker and boss Kieran, although he doesn’t know just what kind of assistance he’ll be providing.
Everyone it seems was on a topsy turvy journey this week as they each edge closer towards getting the life they want, or in the case of some, getting the life they once had, back.
Beth Friends Forever
Beth is basically that awesome friend we all wish we had, and if we’re lucky, already do have in one form or another. She’s that confidant and partner in crime who is for the most part unshakable even when you are at your shakiest; you know she’ll always be brutally honest with you about that person you’re seeing; you know you go to them with all the embarrassing, awkward stuff and know that they won’t judge you for it. Basically, they are the friend who’ll tell you with love, the ugly truth about yourself, even when the truth so bad you’d suspect even your therapist would sugar coat it.
Beth: “You’ve been stressing about when to tell him you’re sick and how you’re going to do it, so if you really can’t see this going anywhere then you don’t have to worry about anything but having fun with him. This is liberating.”
That said, I don’t know that Beth’s particularly liberated attitude towards life, love and relationships was the most helpful thing for April this week, and that showed as soon as April took her advice and began treating Dominic more like a piece of meat than a man, all because she suspected his character was less than perfect. But as frustrating as that attitude was, it really reiterated for me just what an important character Beth is, in that she really is the one that most of us can relate to and learn from in this situation. Why? Well I think a lot of it is because she is so real, and like a real person in this situation, she will occasionally give stupid advice thinking she’s helping, and more often than not be the exact and only shoulder strong enough to carry all your tears. She is the character that – even more than April, I think – is evolving as she learns and begins to adapt to the fact that her best friend has a potentially fatal disease. And that kind of character growth? Well this early on it’s really satisfying to see, if only because of how well it bodes for the future growth of other characters.
April: “I kind of want to enjoy it a little more before I put it all on the line. Is that selfish?”
Beth: “There’s no such thing as selfish for you now. You have cancer, you get to do whatever you want. Embrace it.”
In some ways it’s kind of easy for us to sit back as the audience and judge April for not telling her family, or Dominic, what’s going on with her life. After all, she is someone they love: can she not see how their lives are going to be affected by her illness? Haven’t her family already lost enough in her father dying so suddenly and so tragically a bare two years before? On an even more fundamental level, wouldn’t you want your people close to you at a time when you need to draw on all the strength you have to fight for your life? Listening to those kind of questions…well, they’re valid, but in some ways they smack of the same selfishness we could accuse April of.
Gerald: “You that you never truly live until you know you’re going to die.”
Which is why I think the appearance of Gerald was so important to April’s journey, and indeed to ours too, I think, as the audience following her down this path of illness and, hopefully, recovery. He had some poignant and on occasions surprising things to say: things that in many ways reflect an attitude that we shouldn’t wait until we know we’re fully aware of our mortality, to have. For one, I loved the fact that he wasn’t all simply “live like there’s no tomorrow”; doing so would have understated the fact the road ahead between life and a possible death sentence from her cancer, will be a hard one, but no less worth living in the right way. Instead, he said something really beautiful, courageous, unexpected and profound that for my part really confirmed what a deep heart this show has. It was that line about learning to ‘forgive the cancer’, and his subsequent reasoning behind the statement – there was something so freeing in that sentiment, and I loved that, mostly because it made me feel something I hadn’t expected to, and did so with a level of grace and honesty that really hit me where I stood. If anything, that’s the line I’m going to remember about this episode, I think.
Gerald: “You’re more focused today.”
April: “I am?”
Gerald: “Would you just play along and say you are? That would make me feel like I’m actually helping people with this stuff, which would help me forgive the cancer.”
April: “How do you forgive cancer?
Gerald: “Well cancer led me to the juice, and if the juice is helping people, then it gives me some reason as to why all of this is happening to me.”
April: “Trying to make sense of why this is happening to you is one of the hardest things.”
Meet The Parent’s Boyfriend
Sara has been a warm and loving (if emotionally very jumpy) presence in this show as Brenna and April’s mom, and knowing that she has so much still to offer the world – let alone the courage to actually put herself out there again on the dating scene: not the easiest thing to do by a long shot – just kinda makes you want to want her succeed, even when her methods at other stuff make your skin crawl with their awkwardness. Indeed, it’s not exactly a comfortable moment when we discover that Sara’s highly strung new client is actually the ex wife of her new boyfriend (I’d question whether this was just too great of a coincidence for us to be asked to believe, but having seen a similar situation actually occur before, sadly I can’t suspend that disbelief entirely!). And lump on top of all that the fact that she already has it organised for her kids to meet the guy? Well. Don’t you just have a recipe for potential distaster a la carte, Mrs Carver.
Kieran: “I came here to dinner tonight just to be there for you, no so you could piss off your family…You know, if it was my mom, and she was out there, alone, trying to meet someone…you know whatever. Forget it. We’re just different.”
Meanwhile on the opposite side of the table, we get a deeper look at Brenna’s changing attitude and heart now that Kieran is on the scene: a character who I really think balances her out with just the right amount of kindness and calm to temper her angry and sometimes even arrogant attitude: the kind she only exhibits when she really wants to bait her mom for deeper emotional attention. Augusto Aguilera and Hayley Ramm really play off each other well in these respective roles, and their chemistry makes for very real, very earthy relationship that’s beautiful as it is real and flawed by insecurities and hurt pride. I love that their interaction is almost totally devoid, too, of that superficial ‘Gossip Girl’ type teen romance mentality; in a lot of ways you might even go so far as to say that there’s something very healthy in the portrayal of their bond, in that encourages kids that age to see past the superficial flaws in people we care about and teaches them to value the person for who they are. Now granted, this isn’t a Sopranos or a West Wing when it comes to formidable TV drama, but there’s an honesty to it in the relationships within it, and Brenna and Kieran in their interaction are no different.
Kieran: “Sorry I freaked out on you.”
Brenna: “Yeah you kinda did. I had no idea you were, like, that…sensitive.”
Kieran: “You’re right though. I’m not usually that sensitive. I was just…confused.”
Brenna: “About what?”
Kieran: “About whether you like me or not.”
We All Go A Little Crazy Sometimes
It was only a matter of time really before April found a way to start giving Dominic the nudge in order to push him away. Her personality is just that type after all: she cares so much about how everyone else is feeling, and how much their stress levels are going to increase with news of her cancer, that she doesn’t stop to think that maybe she needs them, and that more than that, she needs to trust that they’re people who care enough about her to stay, regardless of the road that lies ahead.
April: “Whatever. It’s over. And I’m totally okay with that. I definitely don’t need any more stress in my life. Everything is different now.”
Beth: “Yeah, except you.”
So having a work colleague tell her the she’d had a bit of a fling with Dominic was, in a lot of ways, just the subconscious out April was looking for. It feeds into her mentality so clearly displayed when she sits down with Beth after she’s broken up with Dominic, when she blurts out the fact that she no longer believes she can be The One for anyone, because of her cancer. She is already thinking like she’s a lost cause in that way, and perhaps – like most of us deep down – she’s just looking for reasons to validate that. But I really loved the reality check that Beth gave her here, if only because of the fact that it was the best indicator yet that April’s cancer could be crap for how quickly she saw through it. I love how Beth – as she’s grown with the knowledge of April’s leukemia – has become adept at seeing April and her cancer as two separate, mutually exclusive things. She refuses to let April let her cancer become her identity, and in this I think we’ll ultimately see one of the more important – if not biggest – story arcs play out.
Then of course there’s the man himself. I really appreciate how with Dominic, they don’t skirt around the fact that he is a beautiful man. They don’t treat it as the norm that in the real world, every workplace is full of beautiful people who don’t know they’re beautiful, and are always hooking up with other beautiful people. That’s not what this show is about. Instead, I loved the fact that this was the content they chose this week with which to flesh out Dominic’s behavior. How he was tired of people treating him like a piece of meat – April included after her ill advised ‘take what I can get’ approach to sleeping with him at first – as opposed to a man that maybe just maybe might have real, valid relationship desires of his own. I loved that they raised the theme of identity again here, but from another angle, and it only went to show yet again just why this drama is so refreshing compared to a lot of other stuff that’s current out there on our TVs.
April: “A friend died today…He was a really good man. Why him? He wanted to help people. Why did he have to die? He had a family, he had a job. He cared about so much. He didn’t deserve this. It’s not fair.”
Dominic: “No…Sometimes the best people just aren’t the ones who get to stick around. That doesn’t mean that they’re not the best people.”
Probably my favorite moment between these two was the heartbreaking talk they had after April found out Gerald – the man who had probably been the first to speak real hope into her new life situation – had succumbed to his cancer. It was such a beautiful turn of phrase in how Dominic comforted her in her grief, and I loved the depth that that gave him yet again. Honestly, it’s rapidly made him into the exact kind of person that it seems April would need to go through this life or death scenario: someone who would care for her enough when she would not care for herself, out of concern for the feelings and burdens of others. I also think it made a massive difference to her in that it boosted within her the awareness of her need for support from people who understand her situation best: other cancer sufferers.
In all honesty, I’d say out of the four episodes so far, this was the strongest. It was so grounded and honest and spirited, and I loved that I got to the end of this episode feeling like I wanted next weeks, and the week after that’s, to be waiting there for me: so much will this story make you want to turn your TV page and see what happens next. It doesn’t give you that feeling because it’s action packed, or in your face with gratuitous shock and edge. Instead the power of Chasing Life – as so eloquently demonstrated with this week’s episode – lies in the fact that it has so much heart to its reality.
In the case of this episode, much of that stemmed from the insightful dialogue as penned by Patrick Sean Smith in his screenplay: especially that between Gerald and April as they discussed his life with cancer and hers since her diagnosis. I loved the hope and honesty Gerald’s words spoke into April’s life, and yet that were still said without sugar coating the truth. That takes skill to do that, and even more to do it with such a humble, understated attitude. Joanna Kerns’ directing meanwhile was also very much on par, particularly in the sense that the scenes were well blocked and executed this week, which is important given the fact that the environments these characters exist in speak very much in regards to their emotional state. It was subtly, quietly and kindly done in any case.
So what next for the intrepid April Carver, especially now that she finds herself face to face not only with a new group of supporters with the Cancer Support group, but also in amongst the crowd, the son of the man she has been tasked to profile: the bad, arrogant and yet brave Leo Hendrie. Will it encourage her to finally tell the people around her what’s happening? Or will she be too tempted by this big opportunity to let a little think like cancer get in the road of what could be her most massive scoop? Who knows. Either way, tune in next week to find out.
Final Thoughts & Questions…
- Cute, smart, ambitious and shares cancer in common with her: could Leo be some competition for April’s heart long term as opposed to the sweet, drama hating and still oblivious Dominic?
- Really loved TV veteran Sam Anderson’s portrayal of Gerald in this episode – he was so authentic, and kind. And call me crazy, but kind is becoming a less and less common trait in TV characters these days, so I’ll appreciate it where I can get it.
- Has Dominic tried to date you as well?
- Can we just clone Beth already? Like not Bad-Advice-Well-Intentioned-But-Not-Exactly-Helpful Beth, but definitely Smart-No-Longer-Going-To-Work-For-Sleazy-Boss-With-Coffee-Froth-Obsession Beth. Like she would be super helpful.
- Ben you sly, cheating dog for going back to your ex when you’ve just started dating Sara. In other news, look out this September for the Fall 2014 smash spinoff series #8SimpleRulesForDatingMyHighMaintenanceMom.