A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Life Sentence deals with family and marital problems, and issues like terminal illness and death, but it's all through the upbeat lens and chirpy narration of manic pixie dream girl-type main character Stella Abbott (played by Lucy Hale of Pretty Little Liars) -- so things never get truly "heavy" or dark. Adult characters drink wine, smoke joints. Stella's brother is referred to as a drug dealer in passing, but his lifestyle isn't shown or delved into in any way. Her mom comes out as bisexual and leaves the family for a female friend; they are seen making out. There are some mild sex scenes between Stella and her husband, Wes, which don't involve any nudity. She spanks him playfully in one (he is fully clothed). Language is generally mild.
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What's the story?
LIFE SENTENCE tells the story of Stella, a terminal cancer patient since her teens, who has been pampered in a reality-free bubble for eight long years by her family, who only want to provide her with the best end-of-life possible. This includes post-chemo trips to Paris, where she has a whirlwind romance with handsome brit Wes (Elliot Knight, Once Upon a Time). The lovebirds are soon engaged, and rush back to the States for a quick backyard wedding with twinkling fairy lights galore. Stella is living for the moment, determined to make it all count before her time is up, when she gets the shocking news that she's not dying at all and has been completely cured by a trial cancer medication. She now finds herself with a new lease on life at 23 -- but her family is in shambles, she's married to a man she barely knows, and she has no real life skills or career prospects, as she was never expected to make it to the next year, much less to college.
Is it any good?
The concept itself isn't a bad one (How would you live if you thought the next few months were your last -- and what would you do once you found out that was a mistake?), but the show plays it far too safe, and strays too deeply into the saccharine tones and lightweight emotional stakes of the "sappy cancer dramas" it claims to be mocking. In the right hands, Life Sentence could have been pushed into a darkly humorous or straight-up dramatic, emotionally resonant direction, but the show is overly concerned with having its star be at all times scrappy, optimistic, and likable. She comes across more like an old-school Disney heroine than a real person, even in flashbacks of her "sick" years, in which she lays in her hospital bed with lustrously thick eyelashes and brows, a downright glamorous headscarf the only indication that this is supposed to be someone with a terminal illness. Dylan Walsh (Nip/Tuck) and Gillian Vigman (New Girl) star as her embittered parents, who are apparently struggling financially yet still find the means to host impromptu dinners for 30, outfit their home like a Pottery Barn catalog, and pay the rent on their daughter's hip, artsy loft apartment. If viewed as fluffy escapism, the show is a pleasant enough way to spend an hour, but it could have been so much more.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the decision Stella's family made in Life Sentence to keep her in the dark about unpleasant things, all because she was sick and they didn't want to upset her. Do you agree with their decision to keep her in a "bubble," away from reality? How might she and her family have benefited from being honest and open with one another?
Talk about the comedic tone of the show, and how it fits (or doesn't fit) the subject matter. Is it ever OK to laugh at a serious topic like cancer?
Stella's illness is mainly shown in flashbacks -- did you find these to be realistic? Given what we know now, is the way she reacts to being cured understandable?