Red Band Society Review: “Pilot”

Ever since John Hughes popularized teen drama with films like The Breakfast Club, the genre has branched out and grown like an angsty, hormonal tree. The latest form of teen drama is dubbed “dramedy,” a mixture of hysterics and heartbreaks meant to evoke a spectrum of emotion. With the recent success of films such as The Perks of Being A Wallflower and The Fault in Our Stars, it’s no surprise that writer Margaret Nagle and producer Steven Spielberg have teamed up to bring teen dramedy to American television.
    Red Band Society, airing on FOX this season, spins the tale of young adults who live in a children’s hospital wing. Leo (Charlie Rowe), the leader, had his leg removed as the result of cancer. His new roommate, Jordi (Nolan Sotillo), is about to go through the same procedure. Dash (Astro), Leo’s right-hand man, suffers from cystic fibrosis, but stubbornly upholds a “YOLO” attitude. Emma (Ciara Bravo), Leo’s would-be girlfriend, is fighting anorexia. The “other girl” is cheerleader Kara (Zoe Levin), who manages to never cheer anyone up. The youngest of the group, our narrator, is Charlie (Griffin Gluck), who went into a coma after a car crash.

Yes, you read correctly: the show’s narrator is in a coma. Charlie is totally omniscient; his voice goes everywhere, from the hospital’s front entrance to the roof. A child’s voice describing the devastating events of a hospital provides a blanket between the audience and the inherent sadness. Perhaps the studio is aiming at a younger audience, and is attempting to make the show less traumatizing. This lightened mood, however, does not always match well with actual events and doesn’t feel real at times.

    The mismatched, rowdy band of kids is kept in check by a similarly misfit group of grown-ups. Nurse Jackson (Octavia Spencer) is the tough-love mother figure, Jack McAndrew (Dave Annable) fills the shoes of a kindhearted doctor, and Brittany (Rebecca Rittenhouse) takes the role of an ignorant, young nurse. The adult cast wouldn’t be complete without Ruben Garcia (Griffin Dunne), a hypochondriac hippie who plans to leave all his money to the hospital. Unlike many teen TV dramas, the show portrays the adults as human beings with lives of their own, which gives more depth to the hospital’s social environment.

In the classroom, the kids are reading William Shakespeare’s Henry V. When asked why warrior King Henry has no close friends, Leo answers, “Cause then, it won’t be hard so say goodbye.” Yet Leo later quotes the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother…” Leo and his newly formed “Red Band Society” are taking their first tentative step away from the “black hole” of despair Nurse Jackson warns them about.

Themes such as death, fear, and hope provide a platform for some brilliant dialogue. It’s the kind of text that people will get tattooed on themselves. One of the best lines, again from our star Leo, is this: “Your body isn’t you. Your soul is you, and they can never cut into your soul.” Though the writing is exceptional, the delivery is often on the light side.

For a brand new series, Red Band Society has made a promising start. The characters are relatable and realistic, the story is full of potential, and the message is encouraging. I can’t wait to see what Nagle takes the story next.

VERDICT : Good
Red Band Society is both sad and uplifting, and has the potential to be television’s next great teen dramedy.
Positives : Interesting characters, brilliant dialogue
Negatives : Light moments often feel out of place