First episode impressions: ‘Life Sentence’ (TV review)

“Life Sentence” (9 p.m. Eastern Wednesdays, CW) is notable for being a rare CW show not based on comic books or the supernatural, and unfortunately it’s also notable for being really bad. You’d think there’d be something special about it if the network is willing to push aside its DC superheroes for a whole hour, but the premiere episode plays like one of those unaired pilots you’d come across on YouTube and then say “Ah, so that’s why it wasn’t picked up.”

The premise of “Life Sentence,” as the previews make clear, is that 20-something Stella (Lucy Hale of “Privileged” and “Pretty Little Liars”) has lived her whole life knowing she’s going to die from cancer, and she has long since come to terms with it. But then she’s cured by an experimental treatment from her local doctor (Anna Enger).

Such a development would take a delicately crafted indie movie, filled with emotional ups and downs, to ring true, so I give “Life Sentence” a free pass for breezing through the set-up in a voiceover montage. I don’t give the rest of the episode a free pass for being boring, though. Created by Erin Cardillo and Richard Keith, the show aims for a quirky vibe in the vein of “No Tomorrow” or “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World,” and that might’ve worked except that the characters are stridently myopic and self-centered, and – a much worse fault – they aren’t funny.

The de facto funniest line the pilot comes when the doctor tells Stella she doesn’t know what to do with her life now that she has found a cure for cancer. Stella wryly suggests curing more people. And that’s about it for chuckles.

The idea is that Stella, formerly coddled because everyone thought she’d die young, is now starting the adult portion of her life a bit late. She’ll have to adjust to the fact that her husband Wes (Elliot Knight) doesn’t actually like all the same things she does, and now that their marriage will last their whole long lives, he’s not going to continue stepping outside to fart. (Actually, that’s a reasonably funny line, too, but it’s delivered too flatly.)

Similarly, Stella learns that her sister is bitter about her kids coming before her career; her brother is lazy and still lives at home; and her mom and dad are getting a divorce. Her dad has lost his job, her mom has a female romantic partner (so she’s “a bi,” everyone says, apparently because their unfamiliarity with nonstandard sexual orientations is good quirky fun), and the family is behind on house payments.

I don’t care about any of this, largely because the characters are unlikable, but also because “Life Sentence” doesn’t take place in any semblance of the real world. It’s set in Asheville, N.C., which is far too distinct-looking of a town for Atlanta to pass as a stand-in. The doctor’s cancer cure should be worldwide front-page news for at least a month, and that’s assuming she only cures one specific type of cancer and it doesn’t lead to further breakthroughs. Instead, she’s doing pediatric grunt work later in the episode.

The CW usually gives its low-rated shows at least a season – see last year’s “No Tomorrow” – but those shows are usually passably entertaining. “Life Sentence” is not, and it deserves a quick death sentence.

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