Summary: Set in the children’s ward of a Los Angeles hospital (and narrated by a kid who’s in a coma), Red Band Society is a coming-of-age drama that follows a Breakfast Club-esque group of patients as they face life-changing (and life-threatening) challenges like cancer and heart defects. Griffin Gluck, Zoe Levin, Charlie Rowe, Astro, Ciara Bravo, and Nolan Sotillo star as the young protagonists, while Dave Annable, Rebecca Rittenhouse, and Octavia Spencer take on the adult roles of the doctors and nurses who mentor them through the ups and downs of adolescence.
Ever since a certain Shonda Rhimes show about a group of doctors working at Seattle Grace Hospital and their love entanglements premiered ten years ago, I have been relatively unable to watch any other doctor show. Grey’s Anatomy has been an incredibly well written, well developed character show, and while its had its ups and downs, it’s about to enter it’s eleventh season and I can proudly say it’s mostly been ups. I tune in to all the new doctor shows, wondering if any of them will satisfy a similar craving. But I always end up disappointed – I find that time after time these shows just feel like copycat Grey’s Anatomys.
That’s why I find it completely refreshing to finally see a hospital show from a different perspective. Red Band Society revolves around teenage patients with long term hospital stays, rather than adult doctors who work in the hospital. And on top of being original, I found the pilot to be completely charming.
Now, that does not mean I’m positive this show has a bright future. I know a lot of people have had some issues with the show. I’ve heard it criticized for the teenagers being too much like adults, and for the kids not seeming sick enough. I myself took a lot of issue with the portrayal of Emma (Ciara Bravo), who despite being anorexic looked completely healthy. This is kind of disconcerting, considering it romanticizes having an eating disorder. Additionally, Bravo is just dead in the eyes and has no presence among this cast of outstanding young talent.
But honestly, if you can just accept that this is a TV show, and that if the show portrayed sick teens to be completely sick, it would be telling a different story. My number one rule with any show is that a show needs to cultivate a set of rules for its own reality, and stick to them. If Red Band Society can do that, it can still be successful and probably pretty good.
We may have a breakout star here in Zoe Levin, who plays Kara, your Regina George-esc high school cheerleader with a heart defect (who of course really has a heart). She is the most interesting and layered character, with the second best performance. The best performance, of course, goes to Octavia Spencer, who plays one of the few adult characters. But, I mean, she’s Octavia Spencer. So… duh.
What I would want for this show in the future, is to get that damn kid (Griffin Gluck) our of a coma ASAP and stop his damned narration. I would also like to see it take a page from Grey’s Anatomy, and allow characters to cycle through. I’m not sure this current cast are the stories I’m interested in for the long run, but I do think it could last for a while by introducing new teens and phasing out healthy teens or ones who have unfortunately been taken by their illnesses.
I’m not sure where the story will take us this season, but I do think it’s worth tuning in.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Marla Pachter is a comedic writer, obsessed with all things television. She doesn’t discriminate against TV shows, which either results in pleasant surprise or an eviscerating review for your reading pleasure. Marla loves Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine Nine, and she will probably be watching new seasons of Grey’s Anatomy until she’s 90. Sometimes she writes TV shows herself, but they don’t air on television. She also likes big butts and she cannot lie. (That was a lie). @MarlaPachter