New Series: Red Band Society

Fox’s Red Band Society could easily be mistaken for a Ryan Murphy show.  It looks like a teen comedy-drama, but instead of being set in a divisive choir room, it takes place in the pediatric wing of a hospital. Comedy and chemo? Life lessons and eating disorders? While some may roll their eyes at the archetypes and glossiness of Red Band Society, this show has a lot of potential, and it could gain a big audience with its likable characters.

Since this is the beginning of an ensemble driven show, the pilot spends a lot of time establishing the characters and learning about the various illnesses these kids are going through. We are also introduced to some of the staff and see how they interact with the patients in this ward.  Our narrator in the first episode is Charlie (Griffin Gluck), a young kid who is in a coma.  Yes, Red Band is narrated by a kid who isn’t even conscious, but the show fully embraces this aspect.  “This is me…talking to you…from a coma.  Deal with it.”

Charlie explains that living in the hospital is not unlike a boarding school, and he introduces a kind of hospital that some people may never have seen before.  Personally, I didn’t know that hospitals had schools in them or the kids were allowed to decorate their own rooms to fulfill their own artistic needs. Charlie introduces us to the other veteran patients in the ward.  Leo is a cancer patient who lost his leg, and has been in the hospital for 2 years.  He’s the closest thing Red Band has to a Fault in Our Stars-esque heartthrob. Leo used to have a thing with Emma, the hospital’s school overachiever who happens to be in for an eating disorder. We also meet Dash, the hospital’s horniest patient who is trying to lose his virginity to one of the doe-eyed nurses by pretending to like Twilight.

The two newest patients at Ocean Park Hospital couldn’t be any different. Jordi (Nolan Sotillo) walks right into the hospital and forces himself into becoming hunky Dr. McAndrew’s latest patient. He has osteosarcoma and needs his leg amputated.  McAndrews (Dave Annable, a clear descendant of the McDreamy line) pretty much takes Jordi on as a patient, because Jordi “doesn’t have no in his vocabulary.”  You know, because healthcare works that way.  The other is Cara, the epitome of a spoiled bitch in a cheerleader skirt.  She collapses in an after school cheering practice, but she doesn’t get any sympathy from her teammates. Cara has an acid tongue that would make Sue Sylvester raise her eyebrows in shock. Within 2 minutes, I was hoping the other characters would throw her out a window.  Turns out Cara needs a heart transplant, but her extracurricular drug habits are going to make it difficult to find a donor.

Octavia Spencer is probably the character everyone will love the most. She doesn’t take kindly to the bubbly other nurses, and she can dish out insults even better than Cara (“You want to know what happens to patients who cry wolf?  We sell their organs for cash on the black market”). Spencer is perfect, and her relationship with Wilson Cruz (who plays a fellow nurse) is one that I’m looking forward to be developed.

It’s interesting to see a medical drama that primarily deals with the patients and the faculty is more in the background. Shows like Grey’s Anatomy and ER dealt with the private lives of physicians with a rotating clan of guest star patients, but Red Band focuses mostly on the kids. Is it glossy and do the hospital room colors pop like an IKEA store display? Yes. Are cancer dramas that make you feel all the feels the new thing (like Fault in Our Stars)? Here’s hoping it’s just a coincidence. The young newcomers are engaging and the veteran adult actors ground it for those who might be skeptical. Charlie’s narration can be a bit heavy-handed and obvious (just let the characters interact!), but I won’t begrudge a boy in a coma.  Charlie needs something to do for the first episode. It’s definitely a show to watch, and it’s easily better than anything Ryan Murphy shoved into Glee in the past 3 years.

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