Is it possible to be a normal teenager when you’re dealing with incredibly challenging odds? What happens when you try to balance homework with getting chemo therapy? Can you stay sane or will you fall apart in the process? That’s part of the premise behind Fox’s new show “Red Band Society,” which had one small group of teenagers asking themselves those questions daily. The show’s premise is a touching one, but it’s hard to tell whether it could survive on the network’s fall schedule just yet.
“Red Band Society” followed a group of seemingly ordinary teenagers who came from very different family and social backgrounds. They likely wouldn’t be hanging out together if they all went to the same school. The reason that they’re even friends was because they’re all long term patients of a hospital with various health concerns that ranging from eating disorders to cancer. Long time patient Leo Roth (Charlie Rowe) has been dealing with the affects of his cancer for years: the chemo and losing a part of his leg in the process. He’s waiting to see if his latest treatment will have a positive affect or none at all. It also didn’t help matters that he was given a new roommate in Jordi Palacios (Nolan Sotillo) who took it upon himself to conning his way into getting an appointment with Dr. Jack McAndrew (Dave Annable). Dr. McAndrew was recommended as the top doctor to help Jordi through his cancer, which was the same one that Leo had. Jordi was going to have to lose his leg the same way that his new roommate did as well. While Jordi and Leo bonded, they were starting to compete for the affections of fellow patient Emma Chota (Ciara Bravo) who had an eating disorder and an inability to tell anyone what she was truly feeling. The arrival of mean girl Kara Souders (Zoe Levin) definitely made things interesting, even though it drove Nurse Jackson (Octavia Spencer) crazy. She was supposed to stay in the hospital for a short time, until it was revealed that she had a fatal heart condition that would one day kill her if she didn’t get a new heart. Will the kids be able to overcome their illnesses or die trying? Will Emma choose Leo or Jordi?
In terms of questions, the show’s biggest one ended up being whether it had the staying power to last past season one. Sadly, it’s too early to tell because the series premiere had only begun to set things up for viewers. Things won’t be fully clearer until at least a couple of more episodes into the season before viewers will decide whether they want to continue to tune in or out. The show’s tone could be an even riskier proposition, because the series is both part dark comedy and even darker drama as the characters deal with life and death decisions on a regular basis. Viewers might find it hard to laugh after a particular character they’ve grown attached to might have been dealt with a devastating blow. The first episode seemed to have a hard time balancing the stories involving the patients and the employees (doctors and nurses) in a way that neither was shoved into the background. In the pilot, Spencer’s Nurse Jackson was more of a background player than a fleshed out character. Future episodes should likely remedy this by focusing on more than just the patients to give viewers a broader perspective of what happens in a hospital. The show had found a proper narrator in Griffin Gluck’s Charlie who was an impartial observer because the character wasn’t directly part of the action, since he was in a coma in the first episode. He did make a brief appearance in a pivotal moment in the episode when Levin’s Kara had a major health scare. Gluck did share a nice rapport with Levin’s Kara that wasn’t fully explored. Hopefully, the two of them will have another opportunity to share a scene or two together sooner rather than later.
As for breakout performances, Spencer, Levin and Rowe led the pack for very different reasons in the first episode. Spencer’s Nurse Jackson was more than a mere cardboard cutout of the Hippocratic Oath and she was no Nurse Ratched either, which was quite a feat. She designed her character to be a no nonsense type of nurse who knew when the wool was being pulled over her eyes. Spencer also provided Nurse Jackson with a rare sense of humanity as she watched her young patients struggle with major life or death decisions. She was able to say much in one scene where she simply listened to Rowe’s Leo telling Sotillo’s Jordi about how he might lose his leg, but not his soul. Her eyes softened as she listened to the boys talking and it hinted that there was more of a story to tell with her character that hasn’t been revealed just yet. Levin, on the other hand, had the challenging task of trying to make a mean girl likable when she was nothing but. She started off the episode barking orders at anyone who dared to listen and ended the episode realizing that her actions could lead to her dying a lot sooner than she ever thought. In that scene, Levin made Kara relateable as she realized that her mistakes had consequences. Let’s hope that the character doesn’t change too fast, because she also managed to deliver some moments of comic relief whenever Levin’s Kara was mean to someone. Rowe’s Leo was the show’s main protagonist and the character that viewers related to in dealing with a long term illness. He made the character to be a rebel and a romantic at the same time, but viewers need to get to know the character as well. A few well placed flashbacks should remedy that. Only time will tell if that’s truly the case.
"Red Band Society" premieres on September 17th and airs Wednesdays at 9:00 PM on Fox.
Verdict: The show demonstrated some potential in the first episode, but it's too early to say if it has the staying power to go the distance past season one just yet.
TV Score: 3 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)