Fall 2014 Review: Red Band Society

17 Sep

Red Band Society pilot

Red Band Society is the story of a bunch of teens who live in the pediatric ward of an Los Angeles hospital, struggling with all the same hopes, fears, emotions, and bodily changes of normal teenagers, while constantly having to deal with the spectre of sickness and death.  There’s Leo, the popular kid who runs the ward, and has cancer, Dash, his running buddy, and Emma, his anorexic sometimes love interest. The two new kids are stuck up mean girl cheerleader Kara and good guy orphan Jordi who shows up hoping to get his cancerous leg cut off by a top doctor. These people, we’re informed, have little in common and would not have said as much as “hello” to each out in the regular world, but in the pediatric ward, they’re stuck with who they’ve got, and they simply learn to make due. The adults who watch over them are nurse Jackson played by Octavia Spencer, and Dr. McAndrew.

The show isn’t good. Instead of transcending cliché, it walks right into it. In trying to be different – and I’ll grant there’s not a show I can think of about a pediatric ward, which I should credit it for, since new subject matter is rare enough in network dramas –  Red Band Society instead feels the same. Everything about the show felt paint-by-numbers, rather than original; the show still felt like it was going through the motions. The writing wasn’t particular sharp, and for a show featuring Oscar winner Octavia Spencer in top billing, she basically gets nothing to do in the first episode. The show felt Lifetime movie inspirational; it hit the notes that everyone knows will elicit emotion, of which sick kids are at the top of the list, without ever even attempting to being to earn it through story, build up, and plain old good writing. Obviously it’s very difficult to earn emotion in a first episode, but it’s certainly possible to work towards it.

As I spent the lash paragraph discussing, the show is mediocre, largely unremarkable, and will be easily forgotten. Here’s the one thing we need to talk about though. The narration. The show is narrated by a 12ish year old boy in the pediatric ward who is in a coma.  The boy tells us, the audience, all about the ward, and all of its residents within. He’s apparently omniscient while in the coma. He sees everyone in the hospital, and reports on their doings. What are the limits of his vision? It’s unclear. Can he see outside the hospital, throughout the entire hospital, or only within the ward? Is it assumed that everyone on the ward comes and talks to him in private as a sounding board? Is he a reliable narrator?

Not only this, but two of the characters meet with the narrator while they’re unconscious and he gives them messages. Apparently, there’s some magical nether world where people in comas can interact with those otherwise living people who are just temporarily below the surface of consciousness. The kid in the coma has the cheerleader give his dad a message about how the accident the put in him a coma wasn’t his dad’s fault fault and the kid commands her to bring him pizza, which he believes might break him out of the coma. We later find out that one of the other boys got an inspirational message from coma kid as well, making it seem unlikely that the kids are hallucinating and more likely that coma kid is actually transmitting messages. I’m going to take this bizarre coma kid narrator as the one memorable aspect of this show over anything else.

Will I watch it again? No. It wasn’t very good. They wanted us to feel feelings, but the feelings are cheap, manipulative and the show is poorly writter. There’s nothing to see here.

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