This is one half of a dueling column about Fox’s new fall comedy, Red Band Society. See the argument against Red Band Society here.
To be honest, I really didn’t think I was going to like Red Band Society. I’m not a fan of medical dramas, and the only teen shows I like are the quietly philosophising ones filled with wise-beyond-their-years characters like One Tree Hill, The O.C. and Greek.
But the Red Band Society pilot showed so much potential, I suspect it can go beyond the vapid, empty TV tropes so prevalent in modern network dramas, and actually add some kind of value to my life.
Of course, the sum of its parts contain nothing we haven’t seen before. To crudely categorize the show, it is a mixture of Glee, Grey’s Anatomy, and The Fault in Our Stars.
But let’s get real: everything in the media these days is a mash-up at best, and a poorly disguised copy at worst. What is original about Red Band Society is its unique blend of genres, and its obvious heart.
It is immediately obvious when watching the pilot that the teenage cast members have a strong familial bond off set, which bleeds into their performances. This fact has been heavily publicised by the network, but I can forgive this obvious ratings ploy because it’s clearly the truth.
The star power of Octavia Spencer, and the creative influence of Steven Spielberg, also speaks to the show’s strong premise (teens with life-threatening illnesses living and socialising in a hospital), and the fact that they’ve got two real doctors working as consultants on the show means that they’re taking their subject matter seriously. It may prioritize character relationships over realistic medical drama, but there’s still a heavy burden lying on all the characters due to their setting and individual situations, which only serve to make the relationships feel that much more important.
One of the most intriguing things about the pilot is the idea that in any other setting, the characters (particularly the teen group) would not be friends. But they bond together, solely because of place and circumstance, and it allows them to discover and explore new sides of themselves. This was touched on very briefly in the pilot episode, showing glimpses of Leo (Charlie Roth) and Emma (Ciara Bravo)’s failed attempt at a relationship.
And while the threat of the everyone-dates-everyone trope certainly looms over the show (as with every teen drama), I actually like that Red Band Society is planning to focus on the relationships between the characters. Relationships are what make characters grow, and ultimately, the best shows are the ones that feature realistic, multi-layered characters who actually develop from episode to episode.
Sadly, there are a few characters that, at least based on the pilot, feel much too stereotypical and underdeveloped; the one-note patient Astro (Dash Hosney) and the much too naive nurse Brittany (Rebecca Rittenhouse) are in need of unique personality traits STAT.
And then there are characters that feel like they’ve been lifted directly out of other shows and given new faces: Octavia Spencer’s Nurse Jackson is almost identical in personality to Bailey (Chandra Wilson) in early seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, while cheerleader-turned-heart-patient Kara (Zoe Levin) is like a reborn Regina George (Rachel McAdams) from Mean Girls with a little pre-pregnancy Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron) thrown in for flavour.
But considering that the pilot had to introduce nine main characters, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Kara’s storyline (head cheerleader turned heart patient in dire need of a transplant) opens up the possibility for a major character transformation, while on the other end of the spectrum, the seemingly well-adjusted Emma has severe psychological issues brewing just under the surface, just begging to be explored.
The strongest characters, in my opinion, are the teen boys Jordi (Nolan Sotillo) and Leo. Their unlikely friendship might quickly prove the cornerstone of the series, especially considering the likely love triangle with Emma.
And let’s not forget the adult cast; Spencer and Dave Annable (Dr. McAndrew) are both very strong, capable actors, who can add a stability to the series – both through their interactions with the kids, and through their own storylines. Thomas Ian Nicholson (of American Pie fame) was one of the most interesting characters introduced in the series, and while Nick is not a regular character, we can probably expect a lot of interesting storylines with him and his comatose son Charlie (Griffin Gluck).
Ultimately, what I’m getting from the pilot – and what I hope is true for the rest of the series – is that Red Band Society will live up to the promise of its name. Unlike Grey’s, it’s not about telling the characters’ personal stories in the context of the patient-of-the-week, and unlike Glee, it’s not about manipulating scenarios to fit whatever weekly song roster is scheduled. It’s about a set group of people, and the way they live and grow as a community.
The pilot episode is live on Hulu, and premieres on Fox tomorrow night at 9/8c. Have you already watched it? And if so, what did you think? Share your positive and/or negative first impressions in the comments!