Review: Red Band Society

So a producer walks into a network executive’s office and says hey I’ve got a great idea for a TV show. It’s a mix of Grey’s Anatomy and The Breakfast Club. And without hearing another word, the executive says yes and it appeared on Fox network last night under the title “Red Band Society“. Okay I don’t know that for a fact but after watching the first episode it has to be something like that. (On further research this is actually a remake of a Spanish TV series of the same name.)

And they are none too subtle about the references to those two shows. Octavia Spencer plays a short, rotund, hard-nosed, African-American nurse who even gets referred to as “a Nazi” just like Chandra Wilson’s Dr. Bailey in Grey’s. The head doctor is named McAndrews which might as well be McDreamy. It’s their job to take care of the group of about six teenagers in various stages of death living in a Los Angeles hospital pediatric ward. Among the kids we have a former jock, a bad boy, a basket case, a stuck up cheerleader, etc. etc. There is a voiceover narration throughout the entire show just like Grey’s except there’s a surprise. We will get to that surprise in a minute.

Trying to repeat the success of two other successful franchises can be a challenge that is too big to meet especially throwing two of them together in the same show. The real test will be the writing and the acting. Once I realized what the show is about I got a giant chip on my shoulder because I knew each week that was going to be some teenager who had a chip on his shoulder because he was sick. And in some respects we’ve got that. However the chip seems to come and go frequently. Part of the time the kids have an attitude of “I wish people wouldn’t treat me special because I’m sick”. And the rest of the time they expect people to treat them special because they are sick. They gratuitously playing the “pity me” card but it’s not because they really want pity, they do it because they know they can manipulate people with it. In a strange way that actually works. One of the reasons I’m going to be somewhat judgmental and picky about this show is because it strikes a little bit close to home having grown up with a disability of my own and having friends who dealt with their own disabilities with varying degrees of success. Also having to have face the loss of friends due to their disabilities at an early age influence is my perspective.

The title of the show comes from the red paper wristbands that the kids get when they go off to surgery.

There is a risk that a show about kids many of which you have terminal illness can get overly melancholy, overly melodramatic and just plain sappy. I held back lots of reservations about the show until the last quarter of it in which it tiptoed up to all of those lines that managed not to cross them. It’s actually written with quite a bit of heart and it will tug on your heartstrings and maybe have you reaching for the tissue but I don’t think it goes too far.
However, there are problems. And they are big ones.

The voiceover narration is actually a kid who is in a coma. Even though he can’t move or speak, he claims to be able to hear everything and to tell you the story as it unfolds. His hearing must be supernatural however because he also comments on things that don’t occur within earshot. Another problem with coma boy is a scene where one of the other kids passes out and as she is unconscious she has a vision wherein she can communicate with the boy in the coma. And in another scene one of the patients reveals that he too was able to speak to the coma boy while he was under anesthesia during surgery.

If you could get past that strange plot point there are some other unrealistic things going on. The coma boy has a girl for a roommate. Despite the fact that he’s in a coma he would never see mix male and female patients in the same room at a hospital in the US or perhaps the world. In another scene, they are wheeling a kid off to surgery and he asked if they could wait a minute. The doctor agrees and the kid jumps up off of the gurney, runs down the hall to give something to one of the other patients and then comes back again. You think they’re really good to let you get away with that?

If you can overlook these plot devices and just roll with the story, this has a lot of potential. I mentioned it tiptoed up to the line of being overly melodramatic. Different viewers will draw that line in different places and who is to say that the writers will continue to be as skillful at not crossing it as they were in the first episode.

I’m giving it a “Could Be Watchable” on my rating scale. It could get upgraded the quality is sustained in future episodes.

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