She lived like she was dying ... and found she wasn't

When you hear the plot for the new CW series, you might grimace: A young woman lives zestfully, because she has terminal cancer ... then learns she's not dying, after all.

Yes, that could have been clumsy and cheesy; surprisingly, it's not. "Life Sentence" (9 p.m. Wednesdays, starting March 7) skillfully mixes humor and pain, thanks to sharp writing and the luminous presence of Lucy Hale. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Back in 2004, a
country song offered a basic message: “Life Like You Are Dying.”

Now a TV series
echoes that. In “Life Sentence,” Stella (Lucy Hale) has terminal
cancer. With no long-range needs, she swoops through life zestfully.

“It was fun to get
to step in her shoes and take a chance and fall in love in Paris,”
Hale said.

Then comes the
detour: She's been cured; she's facing a life she never expected.

“It is easy to
live like you're dying when you are,” said Richard Keith, the
show's co-creator. “Then when you're not, to continue to live every
moment to its fullest (is) interesting.”

It's also something
for young people to think about. “Everyone (should) take a note
from Stella and do the things that scare you,” said Hale, 28.
“Travel the world, because nothing's guaranteed.”

But this is about
more than her. Everyone in the story is a cancer survivor, said
producer Oliver Goldstick. “The whole family has been through a
seven-year journey.”

While Stella was
gulping up life, the others had lives on hold. Money dwindled,
relationships crumbled. “All of these things were hidden from
Stella,” Hale said.

Emotions peak at the
end of the second episode, as Stella's mom (Gillian Vigman) rages.
It's a scene packed with pain ... and laughter.

Yes, laughter; “Life
Sentence” has a lot of it..

“My dad suffered
through cancer three times,” Vigman said. “During the bone marrow
transplant, I got him laughing so hard. It felt so good that when I
left, I started crying. They are so hand-in-hand, the laughing and
the crying.”

That's what Hale
found when she visited St. Jude hospital in her Memphis home town. “I
was just blown away by everyone, that they're making the best of an
awful situation.”

-- “Life
Sentence,” 9 p.m. Wednesdays, CW, debuting March 7